In early March a post on Facebook announcing open auditions for ‘The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later’ caught my eye. I’m not an actor by any means of the word, but I found myself very interested in auditioning. I called my sister and asked her if she would like to branch out a bit and audition with me. Being the amazing sister she is, she jumped on board. We knew the chances of being cast were minimal at best, but we decided to at least give it a try. On a cold Monday evening we found ourselves completely lost trying to find the side door entrance to the theatre. It took us three trips around the building before we discovered the unmarked door that looked as though we really shouldn’t be using it. I can’t tell you how many times in that fifteen-minute trek I contemplated just leaving. I had rationalized that since we couldn’t find the door the universe obviously was trying to tell us something. But just when I was about to give up entirely we found the door and entered the green room.
We were met by the director and a few other auditionees. Sister and I completed the audition paperwork and began looking over the material. As we watched more people filter into the room I couldn’t help but think we were in way over our heads. These people all knew each other and had obviously done this many times prior. There was absolutely no way either of us would be cast. Of course we were perfectly fine with that. While we both would love to work on such a powerful piece, we knew it was a long shot when we decided to audition. Then we began the readings.
Sister and I sat quietly, our attention on our fellow auditionees. I found myself in awe of these people. How they could pick up a piece of paper and put so much emotion into it after one reading was beyond me. That whole self-doubt feeling snuck in as it tends to in these situations. Suddenly my name was called. My inner monologue went something like this:
I can’t. What in the hell have we gotten ourselves into now?!
Oh get over it. You’re here now… breathe in and out and just read the damned piece.
And the words flowed from my mouth. I had picked a monologue from Romaine Patterson. She was a friend of Matthew Shepard and the section I read was the closing to the play. It struck a chord because all I could think of was ‘what if this was one of my friends’. It was a moving section of the play. I can’t remember if I read it perfectly or just rushed through it. I remember taking a deep breath and then sitting back down. I watched the remaining people read their sections, including my sister. I can’t say enough how proud I was of her. This was entirely out of her comfort zone and definitely all my idea. She tagged along in support of my latest crazy whim and had to go through the whole audition process because of me. I owe her big time for that. She stood and read a piece for Nikki Elder. I could tell she was nervous but she got through it beautifully.
Once readings were finished we handed back our script pieces, thanked the director and headed for home. The cast list would be posted on Friday but neither of us expected to be cast. I was at a going away party for a dear friend when I received the call.
Sister: So our first rehearsal is April 15 at 7.
Sister: Both of us.
Me: …. *blink* *blink* Are you serious?!
Me: Oh wow… umm wow!
It was crazy! I announced to my group and seriously needed to finish the beer I had been drinking. It was by far one of the biggest surprises I’d had in a while. I was certain I wouldn’t make it. Maybe Sister would, but definitely not me. Alas, I was totally wrong. It was exciting and scary and I’m not entirely sure what else. Nevertheless, it was great and I was super excited to get to work on this piece.
A few weeks later we found ourselves in the same green room where we auditioned. There were 14 of us total, counting the director. We would all be cast for multiple roles and would be on book. There were only nine rehearsals and two performances. Our director assigned roles and we began reading. I was assigned Leigh Fondakowski and Romaine Patterson. Sister was assigned multiple roles as the friend or a student throughout the play. The first night we read through the entire play and then began the blocking for Act 1. It was fast paced and a lot to learn for someone who had never performed at this level. It was a wonderful challenge and definitely fulfilled my goal of trying something new.
Over the course of the next three weeks we ran through the play multiple times. We practiced lines and blocking not only during rehearsals but at home too. It was a long three weeks but also a lot of fun. Sister and I enjoyed rehearsals and getting to know the cast. Everyone was wonderful. They were so much fun to work with and I can’t imagine doing the show with different actors and/or a different director. I learned a lot from everyone, whether or not they realized it.
This past Saturday was opening night. It was a bit nerve-wracking but also rather exciting. Here we were nine rehearsals under our belt and we were going to present this very moving play to a live audience. Crazy! I was definitely worried I’d lose my place on stage or forget my lines (even though I had the script in hand). It was one thing to mess up during rehearsal, an entirely different thing to do it in front of the audience. But as the lights came up and I took a deep breath, I reminded myself that I knew the material. I knew where I needed to be and when. Also, it wasn’t about us as a cast, it was about the text. It was about the story. We were there to deliver a story about a tragedy in history. That was it. And that is exactly what we did. There were minor flaws but nothing anyone noticed.
All in all the play was very moving for me. The content was heartbreaking and there were moments throughout that I had to blink back tears. It breaks my heart knowing that there are people out there so filled with hate they can brutally beat the life out of someone. It’s horrific and I couldn’t help but think that this could happen anywhere to anyone. Listening to my cast-mate portray Judy Shepard where she describes that she is ‘just doing what a mother does’ chokes me up no matter how many times I’ve heard it. The entire play is a buildup of emotion from start to finish. By the time I recited my final lines of the show, those very lines I read during auditions, I had tears streaming down my face. I wept for Matthew’s family and friends. I wept for the community of Laramie still struggling to deal with this tragedy. I wept for those who face such hatred and close-mindedness daily. I wept for those who suffer in silence alone.
As Sister and I exited the theatre last night we both felt a bit melancholy. While I am glad to return to my daily routine and actually see my kids for more than a few minutes a day, I will miss our cast. I will miss working with these wonderful people who were very kind to us. I will miss the material. Yes, it was very intense material, but it was thought provoking. I truly hope that through our production we were able to start those tough conversations. I hope we brought to light that hate exists in our world, big or small. I hope that by starting these conversations we can grow as individuals, a community, as humanity to help ensure atrocities like the murder of Matthew Shepard do not continue to happen.
For More Information on ‘The Laramie Project’ or ‘The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later’ – www.laramieproject.org