From Feb. 3-6, Samford’s Harrison Theatre was home to “The Laramie Project,” one of the most unique student productions in recent memory.
As part of the Michael J. and Mary Anne Freeman Theatre and Dance Series, the show utilized a distinctive style that set it apart from the theater productions of Samford’s past.
The show was headed up by two student creators: Carson Blalock, the producer and production manager, and Scott Baron, the director of the production. The play serves as the pair’s senior project, and has been in the making for almost two years now.
Blalock initially conceived the idea to bring the play to life at Samford when she read it during a lighting design class.
Unsure that anyone outside of the theater department would be likely to read it otherwise, she remembers thinking, “this is something that would benefit the whole campus to see.”
The theater department had been interested in doing the play before, but no one until now had really pushed to make it happen. Blalock really wanted it to be heard by the campus community, so Samford students were admitted for free.
The plot centers around the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay university student, and the fallout of the hate crime committed in the town of Laramie, Wyoming.
The play is unique in that it is a docudrama, meaning that all the dialogue spoken was actually said in real life.
After the murder, Baron explains, “the playwrights actually travelled to Laramie, Wyoming, and conducted interviews with the people of Laramie, Wyoming. So all the dialogue that you hear in the play is the verbatim transcripts, which is probably the best word to use here, of those interviews.”
Baron likens the experience to watching a documentary unlike a typical play, creating a unique experience.This docudrama style is the first show of its type that Samford has done during its mainstage season. With “The Laramie Project,” the school has branched out into more contemporary modern theatre, and Baron believes that this speaks to the breadth of what students can accomplish.
With this documentary style came a massive amount of research that went into the production. The team, for instance, brought in experts on the show and its subject matter to speak to the cast and crew, so that they could be well informed about it.
Another large part of that research came courtesy of student dramaturg Lana Stringer.
“(Stringer) could answer any question that you possibly could have about the events of what happened with the murder of Matthew Shepard,” Baron said.
Auditions first began back in the spring of 2021, with rehearsals starting in early January 2022 and continuing every week since in preparation for the Feb.3 opening.
In addition to her roles as producer and production manager, Blalock codesigned the play’s set, along with Associate Professor and Technical Director David Glenn. They spent almost a year bouncing ideas back and forth as they worked from the first conceptual ideas to the final design.
Even with assistance from the faculty, students still made up the majority of the crew.
“Every aspect of this is run by students, so I thought it was the voice of the students in our theater department,” Blalock said.
Additionally, the production connected with the Matthew Shepard Foundation — a nonprofit organization started by Shepard’s family that runs education, outreach, and advocacy programs — and the Magic City Acceptance Center, a local group that helps support LGBTQ adolescents in Birmingham. The two organizations visited the theater to speak during the week’s showings, with The Matthew Shepard Foundation speaking at Friday’s show and the MCAC speaking at Thursday and Friday’s showings. Those interested in learning more about the organizations can visit their sites below.