Back on Stage: Laramie Project

Sometime around the New Year I made a decision to start auditioning again, and signed up for a few that particularly interested me.  I honestly, wasn’t sure what to expect and decided that I would just take things as they came, enjoy the feeling of stretching those muscles again and not be daunted by my shockingly thin acting resume. I enjoyed the slightly surreal experience of being on the other side of the audition as I did my quick 2-minutes, especially since I was auditioning for people I’ve worked with in various other capacities before. I was pleasantly surprised to hear I’d been called back and had a lot of fun reading sides, as well as talking with other actors I’d not known before and ones I’ve known for years. Earlier today Left Coast Theatre announced the cast for their April production of The Laramie project and I’m thrilled to be one of the actors.

“In October 1998 Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, severely beaten and left to die, tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming.  Five weeks later, Moisés Kaufman and fellow members of the Tectonic Theater Project went to Laramie, and over the course of the next year, conducted more than 200 interviews with people of the town.  From these interviews they wrote the play The Laramie Project, a chronicle of the life of the town of Laramie in the year after the murder.” – Tectonic Theatre Project website

I don’t have clear memories of the Matthew Shepard story as it unfolded in the news.  I know that at the time I was fully aware of it, but I don’t remember it as distinct moments now.  In October 1998 I was 27 and living in Seattle.  I had moved to Seattle from San Francisco hoping to escape the ghosts and demons that haunted and taunted me in every street, building, and breath I took there.  After eighteen years in the heart of the American AIDS crisis, with my neighborhood and my community devastated by the disease as well as the national apathy that was punctuated by bouts of hostility, I’d had enough.  The neighborhood I’d grown up in seamed overrun with people who had no memory of – had not lived through – the trauma of the previous decade. They proudly proclaimed indifference to the grief-hazed denizens they encountered. I was an unwanted stranger in my own community.  A cis straight girl, reeking of grief and emotional exhaustion; unknown, resented. So I moved and discovered you can’t escape your demons that easily.  So in October that year, I was more or less a shell-shocked mess.

What I do remember about Matthew Shepard is two emotions: annoyance and hope.  Annoyance that this attack was so shocking and surprising to most of the nation, because for me it was another heartbreaking demonstration of human cruelty and maddening homophobia I’d witnessed or heard my whole life.  It was a familiar story.  The vitriol directed at my community had been a regular part of my existence as a kid and it had only escalated with the AIDS epidemic. The reality of gay bashings was something I lived with; echoing off the buildings and hills late at night, recounted in shaken tearfilled voices in living rooms, witnessed in set shoulders and hard stares of invaders from the suburbs, their violent intentions reverberating off of them as they shoulder blocked passerby, tolerated by the tour bus occupants staring and pointing gape-mouthed at “a child in this sin hole”, and demonstrated in tight-lipped, rhetoric-stained politician’s commentary on the nightly news.  So sadly, there wasn’t anything surprising to me about the Matthew Shepard case. But I remember the seeming groundswell of attention and the public debate and feeling like “finally.”  Finally other people couldn’t ignore it or pretend it doesn’t happen.  Maybe something would shift.

Earlier this month I read about Blaze Bernstein, killed because he was gay and Jewish.  Not that he’s unique or that there haven’t been dozens of these stories in the last twenty years, but the timing was a punctuation mark on my decision to audition for The Laramie project.  We still have to tell the stories, we still have to strive to seed the empathy necessary to stop the pull of apathy that enables our society to debate the existence of hate crimes. To allow it to happen.

I’m incredibly grateful to be able to be part of that on any level.

You can see The Laramie Project, directed by Stuart Bousel April 6th through 21st at The Exit Theatre in San Francisco.


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