“Laramie” Actors Hope for Community Impact and Open Discussion


Credit: Willistonian Staff

The actors of “The Laramie Project,” are hoping to involve the Williston community in the worldwide discussion of human rights and hate crimes that the play introduced.

“We want to get the message out, and we want people to talk about the issues,” said Bruton Strange ’22. Bruton plays three roles in the play, which opens tonight (October 25 – 27): Jedadiah Schultz, Phil LaBrie, and Father Roger Schmit. “The themes that ‘The Laramie Project’ discusses and deals with are universal and still go on today,” he added.

“The Laramie Project,” a documentary-style play made up of interviews of more than 200 people, has its origins on October 6, 1998, when Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old freshman at the University of Wyoming, was robbed, beaten, struck 27 times with the butt of a gun, and left for dead tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Shepard’s murder.

“The message is important and present in our society, and everyone needs to know and understand what’s going on,” said Bruton.

To get those messages across to the Williston community, junior Liam Shields explained that the actors are taking advantage of social media, posting pictures of themselves introducing the roles they’re playing and the messages they want to convey. They also began a paper heart campaign in the dining hall, a raffle, and are donating proceeds from a bake sale to the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

The cast also put posters up around campus with tags on the bottom that can be ripped off which say “Talk to a Cast Member.” It’s the goal, both Liam and Bruton, as well as Theater Director Emily Ditkovski said, of getting the difficult messages of this play out in the open.

“It’s everyone’s wish that we just talk about the questions this play raises,” Ditkovski said.

“The Laramie Project” is composed of 17 different actors playing 72 characters. It’s one of the largest casts the theater department has had in a long time, Bruton said.

Aside from the words the actors speak, the stage itself can be seen as another character in the play. The stage is made of a ring of 26 light bulbs on poles coming up from a circle. On the theater drapes is a projection of the town boundaries of Laramie as seen from above. There are also light bulbs hanging from the catwalk, which are intended to make the audience feel as if they are included in the action of the play. With the houselights off, the ring of lights emphasizes the contrast between light and dark, and sets the tone for the play.

“I wanted the actors to be constantly inside this ring of light as a design motif,” said Charles Raffetto, Theater Production and Facilities Manager, who told The Willistonian he had been planning the stage setup since last spring, and began building it the first day of afternoon program.

“So much about this play is about Laramie and the town of Laramie,” Raffetto said. “It’s  about the town of Laramie and how they reacted to it than just the murder itself. We wanted to make sure the town was rightfully represented.”