OC to stage ‘The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later’Production is student directed

After directing “The Laramie Project” in 2013 at Austin Community College, Cristi Lloyd, now an Odessa College student, is sharpening her stage craft skills with “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.”
The play is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. April 6, April 7 and April 8 at the Black Box Theatre on the OC campus. Admission is free. Talkbacks with the cast will be available after the April 7 and April 8 performances, Drama Instructor Mark Kolokoff said.
It is the first student-directed production Kolokoff has tried at OC and it’s also presented in a docudrama, or verbatim theater format so all the words spoken by the actors are real. And it asks the question “How does society write its own history?”
According to an overview from Kolokoff, on Nov. 6, 1998, gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard left the Fireside Bar with Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson.
The following day he was discovered on a prairie at the edge of town, tied to a fence, brutally beaten, and close to death. Six days later Shepard died at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo.
On Nov. 14, 1998, 10 members of Tectonic Theatre Project went to Laramie and conducted interviews with residents. During the next year, the company returned to Laramie six times and conducted more than 200 interviews. The text became the basis for “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.”
On Sept. 12, 2008, five members of Tectonic returned to Laramie to try to understand the long-term effect of the murder. They found a town wrestling with its legacy and its place in history. In addition to revisiting the folks whose words riveted us in the original play, this time around the company also spoke with McKinney and Henderson, who were convicted of the murder, as well as Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard.
Lloyd, a sophomore, said helming “The Laramie Project” at Austin Community College had a lasting effect on her.
“I told Mr. Kolokoff that I was interested in specializing in directing. He proposed we do a student-run production and we threw around a few ideas for shows, but ultimately we decided that ‘The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later’ years later would be a great fit for the first student-run production here. I think the themes are still extremely relevant to what we’re going through right now,” Lloyd said.
As the drama program grows, Kolokoff said he feels it’s important to give his students as many chances as possible to get on stage and develop the skills they work on in class. He also is putting on “The Foreigner” April 27, April 28 and April 29.
He said seven actors were cast in “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” and “The Foreigner.”
“We auditioned everyone together. I auditioned for ‘The Foreigner,’ which is going up at the end of April and Cristi cast this show based on those people that were not cast in ‘The Foreigner,’ so it was concurrent auditions,” Kolokoff said.
Each “Laramie Project” cast member will play multiple roles to portray various members of the town.
Kolokoff said Lloyd chose the play, but he approved it. He said “The Laramie Project” was staged by the late Mark Tenniswood at First Christian Church.
“I have found the Odessa College audience and the Odessa audience to be very receptive to the work that we’ve performed. I think this will be another example of that. It’s also in the Black Box (near the Globe Theatre). We’re going to seat maybe 100-120 a show because it’s … a little bit different than full stage production,” Kolokoff said.
He noted that those attending don’t need to have seen the first play to understand this one.
“My goal since I came here was to do my best to always make theater accessible for everybody,” Kolokoff said. “This is free and we hope people will take advantage of that and see what this is all about.”
He added that he thinks Lloyd did a good job of the initial staging of “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.”
“From this point on, it’s going to be all of that fine-tuning, really bringing out the characters and creating the pace and the tempo that holds excitement,” Kolokoff said.
He said he didn’t find it hard to hold back from stepping in on Lloyd’s production.
“I will add insight, hopefully, and some supervision — if you will an outside eye. But it’s her show. I will continue to attend rehearsals and make sure that I let her know how it’s going and what I think needs to happen,” Kolokoff said.
Lloyd said she started school as a musical theater major and stumbled into directing. She also led a production of “Equus.” She said the shows become part of her because she lives with them so long.
“When I did ‘The Laramie Project’ in 2013, I had no idea what I was doing. I just jumped right into the deep end and just did it. The feeling that it gave me was something I never felt through acting, or through singing. It was just awesome to see this come from words on a page to a full- blown production right in front of me,” Lloyd said.
Actors Lauren Kasinger, Emilio Gonzalez and Alyssa Priest are pleased with how the production is shaping up and said it’s a new experience to play real people with actual dialogue.
Two of Kasinger’s roles are Matthew Shepard’s mother, Judy, and Leigh Fondakowski, one of the writers of the play.
“It’s a very new experience to do a show that is not anything less than word-for-word what these people said. It seemed very interesting and exciting and something that I wanted to be a part of,” Kasinger said.
She added that having Lloyd directing has been good.
“Honestly, she’s great. I can tell it’s a learning process for all of us, but she knows what she’s doing. I think we’re all pretty confident in her and she’s trusting us,” Kasinger said.
Gonzales said learning lines keeps him on his toes because he has to make sure he’s the right person. He hadn’t heard of the Shepard case before he got involved in the play, but he watched a documentary about it and some of the interviews. He has found that useful in portraying one of his characters, former police chief named Dave O’Malley.
For other people he’s playing, Gonzales said he goes with context clues.
“… I’ve never heard of plays done like that. I just thought it was a really cool thing,” Gonzales said.
One of the characters that Priest plays that stands out for her is a reporter for the Laramie Boomerang. Priest said the reporter is in denial that something like this could happen in Laramie and dismisses it in some ways.
She added that issues in the play are still around today.
“It’s very sensitive material,” Priest said. “I think that it’s even today it still kind of an issue –homosexuality, hate crimes. We’re still dealing with those things. Those things haven’t gone away. They’re still happening. The tolerance is better, it seems, in today’s world. But things still happen and they’re still mentalities in certain places that are negative towards that.”