"The Laramie Project" Inspires Students to Educate Around LGBTQ Issues

by St. Andrew's Communications Staff
Students performing in this weekend’s production of “The Laramie Project” were not alive when Matthew Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming, was murdered, but his story has resonated in the St. Andrew’s community this month 20 years after his death.
“The Laramie Project” was created by the Tectonic Theater Company, a New York-based ensemble that traveled to Laramie, Wyoming within weeks of Shepard’s death in 1998. The show explores the murder of Shepard, an openly gay student in a small town, and its repercussions through a series of monologues and short scenes based on interviews company members conducted with Laramie residents, friends of Shepard and those involved with the case.
Director and theater teacher Ritchie Porter said he felt now was the right time to revisit Laramie’s story, as the issues of LGBTQ rights and hate crimes are still prevalent, but students may not be aware of Shepard’s murder and the groundswell of reactions.
Members of St. Andrew’s Gay Straight Alliance worked to share the story during the Ally Week Chapel on Oct. 19, when several cast members performed monologues from the show.
Leo Bernstein ’20, a cast member and the co-president of the GSA, said the show holds personal meaning for him as a member of the LGBTQ community.
“I don’t think people really understood the gravity of the situation until Matthew Shepard happened,” Leo said. “I feel like that experience (of “The Laramie Project”) is very powerful because you’re telling this story about real people who were interviewed.”
Michaela James-Thrower ’20, also a cast member and GSA co-president, said she hopes students seeing “The Laramie Project” will come away with a perspective on how people outside of St. Andrew’s see the LGBTQ community.
“We can be kind of privileged when it comes to understanding how other people view race or gender because of the school and because of how we deal with it here,” Michaela said. “I think that it’s good for people to see that it’s not always just sunshine and rainbows – it’s so much more on so many levels.”   
Devin Lucas ’19 said rehearsing her roles and hearing her fellow cast members perform has helped her recognize other views.

“It’s given me a little insight into the way people think with whom I don’t necessarily agree,” she said. “I may disagree with them, but it’s interesting to see them presented on stage and get a look into the lives of these people.”
Devin, Leo and Michaela all agreed that it’s important to stage “The Laramie Project” today because there is still work to be done to end discrimination and hate crimes targeting members of the LGBTQ community.
“I think it’s important to remind people that it happened then and it happens now,” Devin said. “It’s important to both commemorate that and to keep people thinking about how the world and society can improve.”
Tonight, the 20 actors performing in “The Laramie Project” will depict 60 different characters impacted by Shepard’s death. They will remain on stage throughout the show, watching their peers perform and assisting with costume and scene changes.
“As a result, there seems to be a lot of ownership of the material, and general enthusiasm for the show,” Porter said. “The students also appreciate being trusted with the difficult themes and language of the script.”
“The Laramie Project” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26 and Saturday, Oct. 27, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28. All performances will take place in MacDonald Hall. Tickets are $3 for students and seniors; general admission is $5. Due to language and themes, this show is recommended for Middle School students and older.

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St. Andrew’s Episcopal School is a private, coeducational college preparatory day school for students in preschool (Age 2) through grade 12, located in Potomac, Maryland.