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Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

A murder and a message

Fall play “The Laramie Project” invites audiences to reflect on the importance of tolerance and inclusivity
Jonathan Szeto
Sergeant Hing, portrayed by Thomas Campisi (10), gives a monologue to to other members of the Tectonic Theater Project in this year’s fall play “The Laramie Project.” The production performed in three shows and presented the murder of gay student Matthew Shepard and its aftermath.

Trigger warning: This article involves topics including assault and death. We advise readers who may be sensitive about these topics to reconsider reading this piece.

A pale-yellow spotlight illuminates a table at the center of the stage. Sergeant Hing, played by Thomas Campisi (10), slings his feet onto the tabletop and delivers his thoughts on living in the small Wyoming town of Laramie. Rebecca Hilliker, portrayed by Holly Templeton (10), joins him, voicing her thoughts on happiness and self-reflection. Characters file on and off-stage as the story progresses, each divulging their fragment of the greater story.

So begins this year’s fall play, “The Laramie Project,” written by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project. The production takes its audience through bars, courthouses and media frenzy while emphasizing the necessity of compassion in the face of hate. The cast performed shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Patil Theater of the Rothschild Performing Arts Building (RPAC). Tickets cost $8 for students and $15 for adults.

Fern Biswas (11), who plays a juror in the case of Matthew Shepard’s murder, recites a speech in the spotlight as the two suspects, played by Michael Harley (10) and Venus Perkins (10), stand in the background. The fall play “The Laramie Project” included many monologues and speeches from characters in the play to tell the story of Shepard’s death. (Jonathan Szeto)

“The Laramie Project” tells the story of the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay University of Wyoming student, due to his sexual orientation. After Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson beat and tortured Shepard on the night of Oct. 6, 1998, the Tectonic Theater Project traveled to the titular town of Laramie. Through the voices of Laramie residents, law enforcement and Shepard’s family and friends, the play examines how the murder affected the town’s reputation. It highlights the stark divisions in public response, from shock and grief to anger and confusion.

Unlike a traditional narrative, the play unfolds as a series of interviews, monologues and reenactments based on real conversations by members of the Tectonic Theater Project with Laramie residents following Shepard’s murder. Audience member Sophia Bagley (10) recognized the importance of continuing Matthew Shepard’s legacy to help increase awareness of LGBTQ+ discrimination.

Shiv Deokar (11) as Rulon Stacey presents a speech to the audience as his face is projected onto a screen behind him. His character Stacy is the CEO of the Poudre Valley Hospital and a devout Mormon. (Jessica Wang)

“[‘The Laramie Project’] has a really deep, meaningful story,” Sophia said. “It was a really important story to tell. My biggest takeaway was learning about Matthew’s story and being more aware of hate crimes. This really educated me on the story of Matthew Shepherd, which I had no idea what it was about.”

Initial rehearsals focused on blocking, involving positioning and interactions with props. Duncan Marquart (9), who played Moisés Kaufman, the leader of the Tectonic Theater Project, appreciated working as a member of the production and bonding with his fellow cast mates.

“I really love everyone here because they’re just so welcoming and exciting to be with,” Duncan said. “Although we were tired and drilling over and over again and everyone was exhausted, we all were still having fun and giggling because we were together as a cast.”

As each member of the cast performed for three or four characters, the emphasis of rehearsals in October shifted towards character development, delving into the intricacies of the characters each actor portrayed. Students in the technical theater program built the set, and rehearsals moved to the Patil Theater so that the cast could practice their scenes with the stage. 

During “Tech Saturday,” on Oct. 21, the cast executed a full run with costumes and lights. Actors spent the entire day from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. working on their performances. The show, which included over 350 cues, proved a challenge for first-time stage manager Maggie Yan (12) to maintain organization. 

Bee Chadwick (10) as Doc O’Connor raises their hand as they deliver a soliloquy. O’Conner is a limousine driver and friend of Matthew Shepard who loves Laramie and pleads for community healing. (Jessica Wang)

“I have the master book of all the cues,” Maggie said. “So every time something on stage changes, like a lighting change, a sound cue going on or off, I call out when everything happens so that people don’t have to look up and down at the script and up and down again. It’s how to get everyone to cooperate smoothly.”

The week leading up to the final show was designated as ‘tech week,’ encompassing costume changes and the integration of lights and sound. Wardrobe team member Cindy Yu (11) ensured costumes were in the correct places, oversaw the quick-changes between scenes and steamed the clothing.

“Working with all the other tech people was very interesting,” Cindy said. “Everyone’s a little sleep deprived and a little crazy, but that’s a part of the fun. There are a lot of interesting conversations going on over the headset.”

Upper school drama teacher and “The Laramie Project” director Brandi Griffith held the first round of auditions over Zoom from Aug. 28 to 30 where actors auditioned with two-minute monologues. The next day Griffith sent callbacks, which she hosted on Aug. 31 and Sep. 1., and specific monologues for actors to perform.

Not only a tribute to Matthew Shepard’s memory, “The Laramie Project” urges its audiences to confront prejudice, homophobia and violence against the LGBTQ+ community.

Holly Templeton (10), who plays Rebecca Hilliker in this year’s fall play “The Laramie Project,” performs on stage in the Patil Theater. The production tells the story of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay colllege student, in the small town of Laramie, Wyoming. (Jonathan Szeto)

“[‘The Laramie Project’] is very important and, unfortunately, still relevant to today,” Duncan said. “It’s a very important message that we’re sending out, and it’s kind of sad that we still have to have this kind of play. But I definitely think that these are the kind of things that promote change, change minds, change opinions and ultimately shape society.”

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About the Contributors
Jessica Wang
Jessica Wang, Co-Opinions Editor
Jessica Wang (11) is the co-opinions editor for Harker Aquila and the Winged Post, and this is her third year on staff. This year, Jessica wishes to cover a greater breadth of content in the articles she writes and publishes, as well as improve on her illustration and photography skills. In her free time, she enjoys making up new instant ramen recipes (influenced by her YouTube Shorts content) and playing with her cat (of which she is unfortunately allergic to, but loves all the same).
Jonathan Szeto
Jonathan Szeto, Reporter
Jonathan Szeto (10) is a reporter for Harker Aquila, and this is his second year on staff. This year, Jonathan hopes to improve his photography skills and interview more people around campus. In his free time, he enjoys playing piano and learning more about aerospace.

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