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Triumphant production of The Laramie Project in Durham

The cast and director, after Saturday’s matinee performance (thanks for letting me take the pic).

[As I’ve been posted over the last day or so, Fred Phelps and his hatemongers were scheduled to descend on my town to intimidate residents and the Durham School of the Arts, which put on The Laramie Project this weekend. Fred didn’t show, but a number of his diseased family members came and put on a pathetic display of hate performance art of their own. Enough on the Phelps freaks, though. You can click on that link and see my coverage of that nonsense, and the counter-protest.]

This post is really to thank and congratulate the students of Durham School of the Arts for an incredible staging of The Laramie Project. Kate and I were deeply moved by the depth and range of these young people (ranging from freshmen to seniors). Each and every one did amazing work on stage in what is an emotionally draining piece for all of them, tackling multiple characters, often with diametrically opposing viewpoints.

I spoke wth director Douglas Graves during one of the intermissions, and afterwards, and he noted that a challenge of producing Laramie is that Moises Kaufman’s play is an almost completely blank slate, with little direction indicated. What we saw at The Black Box Theatre Saturday afternoon was Doug’s (and assistant director, senior Elizabeth French’s) wonderful creativity in giving dimension to a series of monologues based on interviews with residents of Laramie by Kaufman and his Tectonic Theatre Project in the year and a half after Matthew Shepard’s murder. I’ll also mention that the “backstage folks” deserve a big cheer; lighting, sets, costume changes, sound — all were so impressive.

“I am very proud of these young people before you today and I am encouraged by the outpouring of community support for them. I feel honored that I have been given this golden opportunity to produce such a play with these students. This play has afforded us the opportunity to step into these characters’ shoes and voice their diverse opinions. What a wonderful teaching tool this is — on both sides of the footlights.

— Douglas Graves, director of the production

Cast: Eliza Bagg, Lucas Campbell, Tulani H-K, Ryan Deal, John Douglas, Carmen Ivey, Max Kaufman, Cristiana Krtalic, Colin Moore, Charlotte Valentine

Assistant Director: Elizabeth French
Stage Manager: Sam Hensen
Technical Director: Daniel Deter
Lighting Design: Ryan Kay
Light Board Operator: Chris Austin
Assistant Light Board Operator: Anni Simpson
Set Design/Powerpoint Design: Douglas Graves
Set Construction: Tech Crew and Production classes
Projector Operators: Bill Blake, Ryan Kay
Costume Coordinator and Prop Mistress: Adrian Boyes

We know that we’ll be returning to see more of the productions this school puts on. As I said above, each actor had an incredible challenge, switching characters on a dime, staying on point and delivering a believable performance — they all succeeded at the highest level. Kate and I were both blown away by the unbelievably gifted performance of junior Max Kaufman, who tackled characters as emotionally wide-ranging as a Laramie police sergeant, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, Fred “Rotting CryptkeeperTM” Phelps and Matthew’s father, Dennis Shepard. Those were red meat characters and his work seemed effortless, especially so, given Phelps’s nutcase family was screaming nonsense outside the theatre.

The funds from ticket sales will be earmarked to help support the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and donations for the Matthew Shepard Foundation were collected at the event.

[UPDATE (5/10): I received an email from a DSA student, Matt Criscenzo, who took photos for the school newspaper during the Wednesday dress rehearsal of The Laramie Project. He sent these wonderful shots to me (click to enlarge). Thanks Matt!

More info:
* The Matthew Shepard Foundation, founded by Dennis and Judy Shepard
* site on the HBO film version and action items at

Earlier posts on the hubbub surrounding this:
* Triumphant production of The Laramie Project in Durham
* Photos from day two of the Phelps Hate Machine in Durham
* Local media coverage of Phelps clan’s visit to Durham
* First shots from the Westboro Baptist Church protest in Durham, NC
* Off to see The Rotting CryptkeeperTM Fred Phelps
* Reminder: Triangle folks please buy tix for “The Laramie Project” to counter-protest Phelps
* My dream come true — Fred Phelps is coming to Durham!
* Daily Kos diary: Westboro Baptist Church protest in Durham, NC

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding