High school shifts theater production to streaming event

KENT, Wash. — Most theaters across the United States are shut down, but Kentridge High School is preparing a one-of-a-kind student production set to be unveiled later this month.

There will be no line at the box office, no popcorn at the concession stand. In fact, there will be no one inside the theater.

Instead, this year’s production of The Laramie Project was shot one actor at a time—no small feat for a cast of 45, including 16 students, and it will be available only online.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to provide an example of what getting something really good out of something really bad can be,” explained Jennifer Grajewski, a drama teacher at Kentridge High School who also directs the production.

She said it is a play that makes sense on multiple levels for our current times. In fact, it wasn’t originally scheduled to run this season, though it was always on Grajewski’s bucket list to direct.

The Laramie Project is a true story, brought to life through interviews following the murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard. A gay college student, Shepard was beaten, tortured and left to die. He was discovered and struggled for six days before succumbing to his injuries. The play is a portrait of Laramie, Wyoming and how its people were forced to confront themselves after the murder of Shepard.

Grajewski noted that it made sense to put on this specific show during a pandemic because of its format. The action is portrayed through interviews which allowed for shooting one actor at a time over the course of many days. More importantly, Grajewski said she saw parallels to a nationwide confrontation over the death of George Floyd. One of Grajewski’s former students, saw it too.

“You begin to realize it’s tough,” said Emilio Miguel Torres, who stepped in to shoot and edit the entire project. “You get angry and you want to create change and I think it’s important because you take that step back and realize you have to come to terms with the fact we’re all people. We experience things in life and how we grew up, or what we’ve learned. It shapes who we are. I think stories like Laramie can show us this is what happens when two sides that oppose each other get so violent that innocent people get killed.”

“Hearing about it, reading it, gave me chills about what Matthew Shepard went through,” said Guthrie Bettinger, a junior who serves as an actor in the show. “So, I think it’ll have the same impact on people.”

There was a side effect, as well. Both Grajewski and Bettinger noted the difficulties of surviving a pandemic—Grajewski as a teacher struggling to connect with students the way she always has, and Bettinger as a student who misses daily interaction with friends. Both noted that the experience of shooting an entire play one actor at a time had it’s challenges, but it also was a relief just to see the miniature crews at a distance.

“I need to create with the kids and feel like I’m making a difference,” Grajewski said. “This project has given me hope. I think that’s key right now, giving people hope.”

The Laramie Project will be broadcast online four times over the course of three days, Oct.15-17. Tickets are $5, with proceeds going toward the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Watch a trailer for the production, when you click here.

Find out more on how to purchase tickets here