Bringing Laramie to Orem

This post was written by a student in Utah Valley University's dramaturgy program. A dramaturg is the member of the creative and technical team for a production who researches the history, context and details of a performance, ensuring accuracy and clarity for all.


This play is unlike most you might have seen here in Utah. It takes recorded interviews from the residents of Laramie, Wyoming during the aftermath of the 1998 murder of young Matthew Shepard. Because the play captures the stories of real people in a town 400 miles away, a lot of preparation was done to create an authentic experience back here in Orem.

The People

As incredible as it would be to have a time machine to take folks back to 1998, the director and creative team instead decided to capture the essence of that time and place. The actors went through a series of method exercises like Laban and Suzuki to make them more aware of their physicality, one tool to help them portray as many as ten different people. “They’re not really characters; they’re actual people,” actor Tristan Smith says. “It’s been a lot of fun diving into the world of this person, and it’s helped me as an actor to find the reality of each…because each is so different.” Indeed, the actors change from portraying one person to another in a matter of seconds, all the while giving an honest and fair portrayal of that person.

The Place

The play interviews people from all over the town of Laramie. To show the different locations, set designer Janice Chan created a floor plan that guides “visitors” around. Her inspiration came from the Laramie Mural Project, an initiative that supports local artists in beautifying the town. Her design features colors of the landscape, as well as a blue streak that resembles the Laramie River that divides the town.

The Idea

The Laramie Project documents a tumultuous time in American history. It interviews everyone from President Philip Dubois of the University of Wyoming, a Home Teacher of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and friends of both Matthew Shepard and those of his murderers. It explores how a town reacts after such an event, showcasing the many different voices that make up a community.

As we ramp up for performances, consider your own experiences. How do you define yourself? Why do you do the things you do? Who do you choose to interact with? What makes them who they are? Who are your neighbors? As we understand those in our communities, we can better appreciate them and our own role we play.