The resurgence of UK theater: Department presents ‘The Laramie Project’


The Laramie Project on October 29, 2021. Photos by Mark Cornelison | UKphoto

Anna Byerley

After a non-traditional season with a mix of live and pre-recorded performances, the UK theater department is eager to return to a full season of live indoor performances with in-person audiences. 

During the height of the pandemic last year, the UK Department of Theatre and Dance had a non-traditional season called the Relevant Creativity Series. This series included live and streamed performances that focused on where humanity is as a society and as artists in particular. 

Last year’s Relevant Creativity Series included two video installation pieces, a musical theater Cabaret and three pre-recorded and streamed plays — two recorded in UK’s Guignol Theatre and the other recorded over Zoom — for the theater. The dance department included two live, in-person concerts, one in the fall in Kroger Field’s Orange Lot and the other in the spring at the Arboretum. 

“This is not a return, but a resurgence,” Tony Hardin, theater and dance department chair said. 

“This year we are continuing this trend but returning to more live, in-person events.”

Last month, students performed “The Thanksgiving Play” to a live, in-person audience inside the Briggs Theatre in the Fine Arts Building. Later this week, audiences are invited to join the cast in viewing “The Laramie Project” in the Guignol Theatre.

Both fall productions rehearsed for approximately five weeks. Safety was always paramount, and several students needed to miss rehearsals due to potential quarantine scares and other COVID-19 stressors. 

“The students, staff and faculty have met the challenges with, to borrow a phrase from President Capilouto, ‘grit and grace,’” Hardin said. “What we are discovering and leaning into is the idea that this is our new normal, and I am proud of the students, faculty and staff for continuing to create our art forms in this pandemic.”

“The Laramie Project” is about the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, in Oct. 1998. 

“Although it is 20-plus years later, the play remains an important reminder of LGBTQ+ rights and issues and is an important platform for our students and the university community,” Nancy Jones, director of “The Laramie Project,” said. 

The story is told via interviews that the Tectonic Theater company conducted with the Laramie community in the weeks following Matthew’s murder.

“This play was very intense and emotional for our students to work on,” Jones said. 

Physical distancing, mask-wearing and other protocols complicated the traditional rehearsal and production process. 

“As director, I held auditions for the play in early September, and the 13 members of the cast rehearsed in masks for seven weeks,” Jones said. 

Due to the university’s continued mask mandate and the important of language to the play, Jones chose to film the play outdoors so that the actors could be unmasked. 

On Oct. 30, the cast was able to perform “The Laramie Project” with the costumes and props at the Buckley Wildlife Center right outside of Frankfort, Kentucky. 

“We did the show under a pavilion, with the bucolic sounds and sights of nature surrounding us,” Jones said. “It was a very moving day.”

The video team is now editing the film, and “The Laramie Project” will be available for audiences to enjoy Nov. 18-20 at the Guignol Theatre at 7:30 p.m. and on Nov. 21 at the Gatton Student Center Cinema at 2 p.m. 

“This was a very different experience for our actors,” Jones said. “They will be attending the showings next week and are looking forward to engaging with our audience after the show.”