It was a time I will never forget. I was doing The Idiots Karamazov at A.R.T in the winter of 1999. It was a musical, and our composer, Peter Golub, told me he was composing music for a new piece by the same group that had done The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. He said that they had lost an actor and asked if I would be interested in auditioning for this new production. I said yes and was very glad I did. I closed the show a few weeks later and flew out to Denver the next day to be a part of The Laramie Project.
It is nearly impossible to describe what being a part of The Laramie Project means to me, but I always start with Matthew. I try to connect with this young boy whom I never knew personally, then on a symbolic level, every time I think of the play. For me, the play is both a written text and a living, breathing art form that comes from the voices and stories of real people and always seems to be in performance somewhere. I do my best to honor the infinitely human young boy whose life was brutally cut short. From there I branch out to all the people, known and unknown, whose lives end brutally every day. In performance, part of me dreads the moment when I have to see Matthew on the fence, but I think about the fact there are three people circling him, surrounding this horrendous example of man's inhumanity, with light: the boy who finds him and wants to save him; Reggie Fluty, the officer I play, who says with her simple goodness, "He was doing the best he could"; and the doctor whose own heart is so big that it even has room to feel compassion for "both of them," the victim and the culprit. That tension that exists throughout the play, the tension between the best and worst in us, is what I think makes it a classic, pulsating work of art and action, spurring conversations long after the audience has left the theater.
When I first did the show in NYC in the summer of 2000, everywhere I went -- a museum, a restaurant -- people would stop me with tears in their eyes and their hands on their hearts and say, "Thank you so much for your performance. The Laramie Project meant so much to me." As an actor, you don't always feel that your work is relevant. Sometimes you'd like to be in the trenches of life, truly helping people in a more direct way. But with this play I never felt that. And I remember how I started making subtle shifts in my habits. Whereas before Laramie, I would listen to jazz over breakfast, I would now turn the dial to NPR. I started joining my friends in protests more often. I felt a keener interest in being politically aware of what was going on.
My life was forever changed after becoming so close to the creators of this show and some of the very real people I portray. Being a part of the Tectonic family has been a major part of my growth as an artist and as a human being. I am forever humbled, grateful and thrilled to be a tiny part of this ever-expanding community of people fighting hate in all its forms. And the fight continues with with The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. We hope to see a new generation of actors and audiences moved, angered and hopefully spurred to action in their own lives by these plays.
A new production of The Laramie Project and its sequel, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, is running at Brooklyn Academy of Music through Feb. 24. For more information, see BAM's website here.