This fall, the Harwood Theater Department is putting on a production of “The Laramie Project,” a show about the 1998 hate crime and murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. The show’s format is i unique in that all characters are real people, and all dialogue is pulled from audio and written interviews with Laramie residents. Each actor plays around five characters, all different — the show takes place all around Laramie, including in the hospital, in a courtroom, and in a local bar.
“It’s really cool that people actually said the things we’re saying,” said junior Zoe Blackman, “and that they actually trusted people to be able to say the same thing they said and trusted them to say it with integrity and to not say it in a different context.” She later added, “It’s something that you take home with you at the end of the day, something that really makes you think, especially because we’re all stuck in our own worlds, and we live in such a safe state.”
Juniors Seneca Whittingham and Theo Ritter added their own perspectives. When it was first announced that Harwood was putting on “The Laramie Project,” they said that they were both shocked. “We FaceTimed each other and we were both like, what is this? It felt crazy for a high school to be putting on,” said Ritter. “I’ve come to realize the importance of this show. It’s really important for people who say homophobic things but don’t even realize it. People need to realize the gravity of what they say and how that impacts other people. Even I’ve educated myself because of this show. And a lot of schools don’t get the opportunity to do things like this, but because we go to such an accepting school, we can put this on without worrying about facing major backlash.” Whittingham agreed, saying the show’s differing perspectives add to its complexity. “It really makes viewers think.”
Director Scott Weigand picked the show for a reason. “Even though it happened in 1998, it’s still very relevant today. I think of trans kids, in particular, and what they’re experiencing.” According to NPR, 86% of the 306 anti-trans bills introduced between 2020 and 2022 targeted transgender kids. These bills limit the ability of minors to receive gender-affirming care, to use the bathroom that matches their identity, and to participate in sports. “Hopefully we’re retelling this honestly,” Weigand concluded.
“It’s a great honor to be able to partake in this show and to spread this case and its message,” said senior Ben Robinson. Freshman Camille Edgcomb added, “It’s kind of intimidating because it’s such an honor and we have to show these real people and this real story justice.” Marley Greene, a freshman narrating most of the play, agreed and said, “This is good to show people so that they understand what happened and that people go through this for something biological and out of their control. I just hope that after seeing this, those people change their views on this and become more accepting of the fact that you can’t change something about yourself you were born with.”
The unique format of the play poses a challenge for the actors. There are no props and no interaction with other actors. “You’re solely responsible for how well your part of the scene goes. No one else has influence over what you do,” Robinson said. This new style of acting creates new skills for the actors, who usually rely on their fellow actors or the props to save them if something goes wrong. “You have to find so many different things inside of yourself,” freshman Tarin Askew explained. Since all dialogue is from real interviews, it presented an extra challenge, said Edgcomb. “All these people didn’t want people looking into their lives, so it’s basically acting over someone else’s acting.”
Show times are 7:30 p.m. November 9 through 11 at Harwood.