The Laramie Project – Final Show

This afternoon is the final matinee for The Laramie Project, the show we’ve been rehearsing since back before Christmas. The show that when our director said “I want us to incorporate audience members into the show every night” we all said “You want to do WHAT?” and then looked at each other and silently said (as only actors can do) 1. He’s kidding, right? 2. He’s NOT kidding! 3. What have we gotten ourselves into?

As with all big shows, we lost a few cast members early on and picked up those characters (our little troupe plays the entire town of Laramie, Wyoming, plus the members of the original theatre company who put this thing together in the first place, plus all the mayhem causing folk who flocked to Laramie, with a side trip to a Colorado hospital). We all play a horde of characters each, characters we have to make distinct without the luxury of wigs and entire outfits for each character. Some of us had worked together before. Many of us were strangers. We became friends. Now we’re family. And we discovered some of us have blogs! Pop over and check out my castmate’s blog.)

As it turns out, Spring Awakening (another show where I looked at my director and said “You want me to do what?”) was a great training ground for this show. I had never played multiple characters in a show before. It stretched me in ways playing the same character from beginning to end does not. Every once in a while I can look back and see how one show prepared me (unbeknownst to me) for another show later on. I am very glad I did Spring Awakening before I tackled this one.

For this show I had to make a flight plan.

Who am I? (the head of the theatre department at the University of Wyoming? the narrator? a reporter? a mother in ICU with her seriously injured son? a grandmother pleading for the life of her grandson? a New Yorker come to Laramie, Wyoming to interview people about something they don’t want to talk about? a Baptist minister’s wife balancing the need for outreach with protecting her husband, who has been mercilessly hounded by the media? the girlfriend of one of the accused? a nasty e-mail writer? a highway patrolman’s wife distraught over the death of a young patrolman who was ignored in the media frenzy? a jury foreman?)

Where am I? (in court as a reporter covering the trial? in court as the jury foreman? in court as the grandmother of one of the accused? outside the courthouse as a reporter covering the trial? covering the homecoming parade? interviewing the governor? interviewing family of one of the accused? at home as a minister’s wife trying to keep home a safe place for her husband, trying to be the buffer between him and those darned reporters and New York theatre people? Am I at the funeral? at the vigil? at the bar?

What just happened?

What does this character know or not know at any given moment?

What don’t I know yet?

How do I feel about it?

I really learned to live “moment to moment” in this show – to try to keep so many characters straight for three acts in a long show would have left me in a sobbing heap under a costume rack somewhere otherwise. One act a time. One scene at a time. One line at a time.

This is a risky show. Our director’s vision of it was even riskier.

Letting audience members volunteer every night to actually be on stage, with real lines? In addition to remembering the show itself, we have to remember to grab audience members at various points and intermission, put some of them into costumes, let them know when to come up, what to say, when to leave, and still keep the pacing of the show with absolutely no rehearsal beforehand – are you kidding me? Giving them candles? Are you trying to set the theatre on fire? The entire audience was part of the vigil every night – and it worked. And that is one of my favorite scenes.

To do a show like this requires an incredibly tight cast. Everything is fluid, while still sticking to the script. Blocking changes every night (last night we had an audience on 3 sides – hurrah!) It’s essential to have a cast you can trust, a cast who works together, helps each other out, knows each other’s parts as well as our own. This is that cast. It’s one of the best casts (and best directors) I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with (and in over fifty years of doing theatre, that says a lot).

This afternoon is our final performance. Our audiences have laughed with us, have cried with us, have told us how much this show means to them. Many have come back more than once and brought others with them, who have also returned with others.

Tomorrow all of this will be over. Tomorrow we go back to work, to school, to our other lives.

But today, we still live in Laramie. Today we will bring Laramie to life one last time.

The Vigil

The Vigil

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