Students tackle tough topic with production of ‘Laramie Project’

Loriah Challman and Mara Burns, during a rehearsal. - Elizabeth Shepherd/Staff Photo
Loriah Challman and Mara Burns, during a rehearsal.
— image credit: Elizabeth Shepherd/Staff Photo

This weekend and next, theater students at Vashon High School will perform “The Laramie Project,” a powerful play with an important message.

“The Laramie Project,” a documentary-style play by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, won immediate acclaim when it premiered in 2000. Since then, it has been performed all over the world and made into a film.

Based on interviews, transcripts and news stories, the play tells the painful story of how the murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard affected the town of Laramie, Wyo., where the hate crime took place in 1998.

According to theater teacher Stephen Floyd, who is directing the performance, the play is as timely as ever.

“One reason we have chosen to do this play is the very real presence of homophobia, and really any form of prejudice, in our culture and how that type of prejudice hurts all of us,” Floyd wrote in an email about the play. “The play is dedicated not only to the memory of Matthew Shepard, but also other LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) individuals who have been murdered in the United States over the past few decades.”

This is the second time the play has been presented on the Island. In 2004, Islanders Maryam and George Steffen produced a production of the show directed by their son Eli Steffen.

Floyd said his students chose to perform “The Laramie Project” from among several other options presented to them at the start of the school year.

And in the midst of rehearsals, Floyd checked in with his students by giving them an assignment to write a short paragraph that expressed their feelings about working on the play.

The completed assignments are filled with earnest insights.

“Doing this play has made me realize that the arts can make a difference, not just in the lives of us kids, but in the world,” wrote Hailey Quackenbush.

“People may not realize it, but there is still lots of bullying and hate going around in schools and towns,” wrote Peri Roberts. “It isn’t a traditional play, more like a living newspaper. The words we say are the words people actually said.”

“Homophobia isn’t something that is easily eradicated from the culture, and that’s why this play is still applicable,” wrote Anna Rose Warren. “It’s still an issue, and Matthew’s story should still be told.”


“The Laramie Project” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 11, 12, 18, and 19, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20. The matinee is a benefit for the Vashon Youth & Family Services program serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people and will include a panel discussion. Tickets are $5 for each show, with an additional donation requested for VYFS at the matinee. Tickets are available at the high school office, at the door and Books by the Way.



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