On the Road With
BY Advocate Contributors
September 14 2010 3:20 PM ET
We are rehearsing part 1 now — the original play, The Laramie Project. This is a photo of the original production by our lighting designer, Betsy Adams. The sets are by Robert Brill, and the costumes are by Moe Schell. It is a gorgeous production thanks to these genius designers, and we are lucky enough to have all three of them back for the tour.
I love everything about this play. It is so simple. A performance space, some chairs and tables, a few pieces of video, a box full of prairie grass, one costume piece for each character we play, and a changing landscape of precise and elegant light. With these few elements eight actors tell the story of a typical Western town dealing with an epic tragedy.
The play is an actor’s dream. We each get to play from five to eight characters, many of whom go through Shakespearean challenges. The play requires emotional range and precise character work. It is full of great jokes and wild characters that require comic skill. These are the kinds of typical challenges that actors love and crave. Beyond that, however, this play and 10 Years Later offer another challenge to the performer.
These are ensemble pieces. The entertainment industry is full of stars (real or imagined), and ensemble work is not for everyone. But ensemble work is what makes or breaks any production of The Laramie Project that I have ever seen. The play is not a prurient reenactment that says, “Look what happened to Matthew Shepard and to Laramie.” It is a company of actors meeting an audience and saying, “We went to Laramie. We saw and heard these things. We met these astounding people. Let us tell you about that experience.”
The performers control the drive of the narrative. The process of play-making and storytelling is never concealed. Everything we do, no matter how funny or dramatic, is ultimately functional and in the service of telling Matt’s and Laramie’s story. Besides lighting and video, there is no offstage support. We move each set piece when it needs to be moved, we do our costume changes and character transformations onstage just at the moment that that character is required, and then, when they have told that piece of story, we return to being ourselves. We usually stay onstage to help each other with costume changes or to simply join the audience in listening to and enjoying another company member’s work.