Irvington Drama’s Unprecedented Production: The Laramie Project

The+flier+for+the+drama+production+this+year%2C+The+Laramie+Project.

The flier for the drama production this year, The Laramie Project.

When facing newfound difficulty, fresh methods of creativity and artistic expression often emerge. In the case of Irvington advanced drama, this year’s online production is the quintessence of the adaptive responses to uncontrollable obstacles. The team, set to release their performance on December 11th, will be presenting The Laramie Project, a documentary theatre play about the 1998 murder of a gay student in Laramie, Wyoming. Instead of being hindered by the lack of in-person contact, Mr. Ballin, the Irvington Drama Director, realized that doing The Laramie Project, which is well-known for its solitary scenes, would allow the group to utilize the unique circumstances of online production to enhance the effects of the play about community alienation. In a time when everyone is literally alienated, shining light on an age-old issue of LGBTQ+ hate crimes and the alienation that follows is a powerful decision. Mr. Ballin further expounds on his decision, “I was around when it was done at Newark Memorial High School back in 2002 and it was a big deal because it was after transgender Teen Gwen Araujo was beaten to death. And The Reverend Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church came to protest. So, it’s been on my mind for a long time, [but especially now,] because it is a docudrama [and thus] has a lot of interviews, and is very text based without a lot of physical action, it was perfect for zoom.”

Since the play is done online, Sheryl Lim (12) expresses the expansive benefits including being able to reach a larger audience and perform with actors from all around the nation. For instance, Lim says that their cast is able to include student actors from “our high schools, middle schools, local colleges, and one from the east coast [as well]!” A wonderful example of this point, Lim also reveals, “Our cast also includes several IHS teachers so IHS students, look out for your favorite teachers while watching the show!” Yet the benefits don’t stop there. Another interesting aspect of the drama production this year is that the entire performance will be pre-recorded, allowing those who purchase tickets to watch the show anytime during the second weekend of December. Moreover, Mr. Ballin elaborates that this experience is helping them develop online course content and video editing skills.

In spite of the numerous benefits, performing online has its fair share of complications too. When asked about the difficulties of transitioning online for this production, Sheryl Lim (12) explained that the “greatest concerns we have are technical difficulties. There’s always someone whose camera or mic isn’t working, or whose WiFi might cut out.” To add on the difficulties the cast must overcome, Mr. Ballin clarifies that “it’s hard to get that sense of communication with another character over Zoom.” However, Mr. Ballin also adds that they’re lucky that the play is focused on interviews and monologues, which alleviates this problem greatly. 

On October 16th, Mr. Ballin was able to invite Greg Pierotti, one of the co-writers and original cast members of The Laramie Project, to a Q&A session. A great example of the increased connectivity through Zoom, this session allowed the cast to get in touch with their characters and the themes of the play. Since the play is simply a collection of real life interviews of the Laramie citizens after Shepard’s murder, this session with Pierotti helped facilitate the casts’ analysis into each character and theme. Sheryl Lim shared how she and the cast faced difficulties with portraying a real person, and getting the facts straight. However, as Lim says, Greg Pierotti was able to elucidate, “the most important thing is that we’re telling a story. Sure, we’re portraying real people, but we should worry less about being exactly like our real-life counterparts and focus more on getting the message of the story across.” In response to the lively discussion with Mr. Pierotti, Mr. Ballin also details how he hopes to use this unique situation of online production to work in the Brechtian style of performing which Pierotti intended. This style, which is meant to accentuate the themes of alienation and community estrangement, is made especially effective, as every actor is in separate Zoom boxes and is physically alienated. 

The main takeaway from the Q&A and the play is put into words wonderfully by Sheryl Lim: “How is Fremont similar to Laramie? I’m sure there’s more similarities than you would think at first glance, so I hope people get that while watching. It’s a great way for us to start conversations in our communities about erasing hate.”

With the extreme extent of effort that Irvington Drama is putting into the production, it appears that the play this year will achieve new levels of artistry never explored before. A touching and heart wrenching piece, The Laramie Project will be a conceptual performance everyone can look forward to.