A Look Ahead to The Laramie Project

They say honesty is the best policy—and honesty is exactly what “The Laramie Project,” an independent Theatre 210 project directed by Eli Grober ’09, delivers. “The Laramie Project” is based on a collection of 54 interviews conducted in the town of Laramie, Wyoming after the murder rooted in homophobia of Matthew Shepard. In the wake of Judy Shepard’s February 25th visit to Phillips Academy, Grober’s play is especially relevant—and especially important to watch. “Because everything is done by interview,” wrote Grober in an email to The Phillipian, “almost everything in the play has already happened and is being described by those who witnessed it. The entire play combines exposition with raw emotion and that makes it very interesting to read, to hear, and to stage.” When casting the show, Grober searched for actors who could convey that raw emotion. As part of the audition, the aspiring actors had to explain any embarrassing or traumatic events that had impacted their lives. Because Grober strove to make his production of “The Laramie Project” both authentic and relatable, finding actors with the ability to translate the personal traumas of the Andover student body into a performance about the reactions of a community after the shocking tragedy of Matthew Shepard’s death was imperative. Grober hopes that encouraging the actors to connect to trauma and embarrassment will help the play connect to the audience. “I think people will be able to relate to the play,” wrote Grober. “So many perspectives are brought by the different characters that people are going to find characters they like, love, hate, relate to, sympathize with and empathize with.” It’s certainly not difficult to sympathize with Grober—the senior has been tirelessly rehearsing with his 21-person cast every fourth period since the beginning of winter term. The ambitious play has taken shape over the course of 10 weeks with the help of Judith Wombwell, Instructor in Theatre and Dance, Mark Efinger, Theater 210 Instructor and “The Laramie Project” cast and crew. Judy Shepard’s All-School Meeting visit and subsequent talk gave “The Laramie Project” a new level of accuracy and honesty. “We did meet with her, and that helped the cast to get a new perspective on the material they were rehearsing,” wrote Grober. “It’s even changed how some of the cast are interpreting certain aspects of their characters.” Just as cast members reevaluated their roles after meeting with Shepard, directing “The Laramie Project” has been an opportunity for Grober to reevaluate his role in Phillips Academy’s Theatre Department. Late fall term, Grober, one of four DramaLab Producers, decided to expand beyond DramaLabs and try his hand at directing an independent project. His original intention was to choose an Ionesco play, introducing Andover to the theatre of the absurd. However, when Wombwell informed Grober that “The Laramie Project” would not be produced as a Theatre 520 show as they had hoped, Grober and Wombwell decided to teach pieces of the play in a jointly-taught class as Grober directed the full-fledged production. “Hopefully we’ve put in enough interesting stuff that it holds everyone’s attention,” wrote Grober. Garnering attention shouldn’t be a problem—“The Laramie Project” is completely sold out. The show will open in the Steinbach Theatre on Saturday, March 7 at 7:30 and run again on Sunday, March 8 at 3:00. In light of Grober’s vision and dedication to the project and to Phillips Academy’s Theatre Department as a whole, I say he deserves a packed house.