Square table on theatre stage with one female student sitting on top, one female student sitting on left chair, one male student sitting on right chair
UC Davis undergraduate students rehearse "The Laramie Project." Pictured, from left: Mia Dunbar, Melanie Garcia, Ryley Sakai.

UC Davis Theatre Students Examine Effects of Homophobia on American Community in ‘The Laramie Project’

It has been just over 25 years since the body of Matthew Shepard was discovered in Laramie, Wyoming. The gay college student had been tied to a fence post, tortured and left to die.

After Shepard’s killing, director and playwright Moisés Kaufman and members of Tectonic Theater Project — including Greg Pierotti, who would later receive his M.F.A. in dramatic arts from UC Davis in 2016 — traveled to Laramie and conducted a series of interviews with members of the community. Combined with news reports as well as Tectonic members’ own journal entries, The Laramie Project was created — a poignant mix of real news reports, and actors portraying friends, family, police officers, killers and other Laramie residents.

This deeply affecting examination of an American hate crime has become a riveting contemporary play that will be presented by the UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance from Feb. 22 to March 2.

“The Laramie Project remains timely and impactful,” said Margaret Laurena Kemp, professor and chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. “The focus on the region, residents and the situations are ideally suited for our students’ performance needs as well as serving the theatre season’s theme of ‘Theatre in the Community.’”

Granada Artist-in-Residence Scott Ebersold, who directs this production, stresses the importance of continuing to examine this tragic murder in American history.

“‘The Laramie Project’ needs to be performed and seen today as it reminds us of the consequences of hate and the importance of acceptance and understanding in fostering a more compassionate society — especially now, at a time when the hard-fought rights of the LGBTQIA+ community are under threat,” Ebersold said. “Productions of this play often foster much needed conversations about the rights of the Queer community, hate crimes and the need for social change.”

An ensemble cast of eight undergraduate students portrays individuals from in and outside the Laramie community — from the distraught student who found Shepard to a local policeman first on the scene — and includes local clergy members, medical personnel, journalists and, most importantly, Tectonic Theater Project members who conducted the interviews.

“I'm so lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of this production. We have an incredibly talented and hardworking company who make tackling the intellectually and emotionally complex material worthwhile,” said Poe Angeles Dayao, an undergraduate cast member. “Playing Greg Pierotti, a UC Davis alum who also studied with my acting teacher (Michele Apriña Leavy – M.F.A., dramatic art, ’94) is wild! He and the rest of the Tectonic Theater Project have constructed an incredibly important piece of theatre, and I hope that we do it justice.”

Eight undergraduate students rehearse The Laramie Project on a 2-level stage, scattered around small tables or seated on chairs
The ensemble cast of "The Laramie Project" in rehearsal.

Creating the unique realm of The Laramie Project is truly a community collaboration. The production has scenic design by lecturer Ian Wallace, costume design by undergraduate theatre and dance student Angelina McClung, and lighting design and projections by Ethan Hollinger, a theatre and dance assistant professor of teaching. Undergraduate student Eli Thoron is the stage manager.

The six performances are Feb. 22, 23, 24, 29 and March 1 at 7 p.m. and March 2 at 2 p.m. in the Main Theatre, Wright Hall. For details, visit the theatre and dance department's website.

Warning: This play is based on a true story and includes strong language and mature content that some may find upsetting, including descriptions of homophobia, violence and death.

The Department of Theatre and Dance’s 2023-24 season also includes a workshop of an original hip-hop performance work in March 2024, a dance concert (RE)Vision, and a production of Our Town in the spring.

Scott Ebersold watches and directs rehearsal of The Laramie Project
Scott Ebersold (left) and student Megan Abbanat

Scott Ebersold, Director and Granada Artist-in-Residence

The Laramie Project director Scott Ebersold recently served as an artistic associate at Classic Stage Company in New York City. He directed the off-Broadway premiere of the new musical The View UpStairs, which was nominated for two Lucille Lortel Awards, three Drama Desk Awards and an Off-Broadway Alliance Award for Best Musical. Ebersold was also nominated as Best Director for the production of the “Viv” Awards by Audelco, which was established to honor excellence in Black theatre and artists in New York City.

Photos by Austin Wang/UC Davis.

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