Do you ever not know what to do on a Friday or Saturday night? Do you feel like there is something going on you’re missing out on?
On Friday night and Saturday night, Berkeley High School’s (BHS) Drama Department will be presenting The Laramie Project. Under the direction of BHS Drama Teacher Jordan Winer, a group of Berkeley High students has produced a spectacular play originally created by the Tectonic Theater Project, Inc. from New York City.
Auditions for the cast began in May.
“To put it simply, I was looking for people who could quickly change characters,” said Winer, in his eighth year at BHS, the past five in the drama department. Around 50 kids showed enough interest in the play to try out, but not all made it. Many were scared at first to try out.
“Well, at first I didn’t really want to audition, because I was insecure about my acting abilities,” said sophomore Emily Fong, who made the cast. “But then I was like, ‘this is The Laramie Project. I have to be a part of it.’ It has so much potential to raise awareness of homophobia.”
Only 19 students were selected to be in the cast, while more than 30 were cut.
Winer told the cast that they needed to memorize most of their lines over the summer. When the kids came back in September, they were ready and they were pumped. Nearly all of the people who were in the play had been in a drama class before or had previous acting experience
For the first month, they practiced in small groups a few times during the week. At these times, they would talk about how to get into the mind of the character. For example, they would discuss how a gay person would act, or how a homophobic person would act. All these things were important for the person playing the character to get in the mindset of their character. During the second month, they started practicing as a whole group.
“It was pretty tricky [to practice as a larger group],” Winer said. “I thought that it was going to be just a bunch of monologues. But to make it dramatic, we had to be creative. It was harder than I had thought.”
This drama enfolds on the night of Oct. 6, 1998 in the rural town of Laramie, Wyo. Matthew Shepherd, a 21-year old gay college student, meets two men at the Fireside Bar. Later he is found by a bicyclist to have been severely beaten and abused, tied up, and left dead off a fence near a road.
This production focuses on the effects that the death of Shepherd had on the people of Laramie. The actors take on the persona of the people in the town of Laramie and it provides quite an insight into how life has changed.
When asked why an average Berkeley resident would want to see The Laramie Project, Winer responded, “Because it’s put on by high school kids who are really at a professional level of acting.”
“And it doesn’t just show one side of the story,” exclaimed Fong. “Someone had sent a letter to the superintendent saying that they had heard about The Laramie Project and thought that it was ‘anti-homophobic’ and ‘pro-gay’. But it shows so many different opinions of so many people, just like people in Berkeley. Anyone who comes to see this play can connect with someone.”
Cast members got a shock during preview week prior to the first performance. Between second and third period, someone had written “I Hate Fags” in the girls’ bathroom in big letters. The incident left many cast members in tears. However, they said the episode made them stronger.
“It just reminded me so much of why I am doing this play,” Fong said. “People can convince themselves that Berkeley is not homophobic and not sexist, but when you walk into the girls’ bathroom at Berkeley High School and see this, something is wrong, Despite all of that, it gave us so much more passion to do this play.”
The production débuted last Friday. It continues tonight (Friday) and tomorrow at 8 p.m. at the Florence Schwimely Little Theater on Allston Way between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Milvia. Ticket are $6 for students and seniors and $12 for adults.
Rio Bauce is a student at Berkeley High School.