The Laramie Project

Studio Theatre, Virginia Tech (October & November 2002)

American College Theatre Festival Regional Competition

(February 2003)

Entry in the Barbizon Design Awards Regional Competition

Lighting Designer

"On November fourteenth, 1998, the members of Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie, Wyoming, and conducted interviews with the people of the town. During the next year, we would return to Laramie several times and conduct over two hundred interviews. The play you are about to see is edited from those interviews, as well as from journal entries by members of the company and other found texts…."

The opening lines of The Laramie Project describe the play perfectly. The text of The Laramie Project is a combination of the memories of various people surrounding one subject - the beating and death of Matthew Shepard. Each voice adds a different side to the story, from the effects of this event on the town and its people to eyewitness accounts of the beating and its aftermath. The Laramie Project is more about telling a story, in all of its many facets, than about following a single plot through to its end.

Like memory, the physical reality of The Laramie Project is largely devoid of place and time. The set is a simple platform, backed by a wall with three windows, all in muted shades of gray and black. The life of the piece is in the words of the characters, not in a fantastic setting or flashy lighting. The text speaks for itself. The lighting strives to allow this to happen by using simple, muted colors for the most part, adding deeply saturated colors only when the mood of the moment calls for a more intense atmosphere.

No two people remember an event the same way. Some remember words spoken, some the atmosphere of the location, some just a simple picture of the one speaking. Therefore, not every character and moment in The Laramie Project are lit with exactly the same quality of light. Their words contributed to the text through the memories and journal entries of the different members of the Tectonic Theater Project, no two of which would an event or interview in exactly the same light.

The production team for the Virginia Tech production of The Laramie Project envisioned two basic differences in the quality of light in the piece: mottled or patterned light and isolation spot. Because the Theatre Arts department rarely works with such specific isolation specials, the scenic designer prepared a scenic breakdown with his ideas about the quality of light and the staging of each moment to help clarify the production concept for the company. A mock up of the window wall was built, rehearsal lights were hung, and a basic cue list was set up for rehearsal, both to help clarify the design concept further and to allow the cast to get used to the idea, which was very different from what they were used to.

"A Definition" Moment 1

The set for Virginia Tech's production of The Laramie Project consists of a steel grid platform with tiles covered in black marley dance floor. A smoked Plexiglas panel with a neon light beneath it divides the floor down the middle. Behind the platform is a steel-framed wall containing three windows and two doors, each with a sliding cover. Above the two doors were additional sliding windows covering two video monitors used for both live and taped video feed. The wall treatment is a light gray Formica counter top treatment.

The costumes are modern day dress.

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Rehearsing a window moment with the set mock-up

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Moment 43 as performed

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Scenic Designer's scene breakdown

CAD Drawings

Concept Sketches

Lighting Design: Cathy Bowren

Scenic Design: Randy Ward

Director: Susanna Rinehart

 

Pattern Choices

 

The story of The Laramie Project is a progression from order to chaos to a new, different order. The patterned moments in the show needed to reflect that progression. With that in mind, the patterns used in The Laramie Project design could be layered, so that an increasing amount of chaos and uncertainty would be visible in the previously "perfect" world of Laramie, Wyoming.

The Fence

"The Fence" Moment 16

 

 

Isolation Spot

Although there were moments when patterned light became a part of an isolation special, many of the moments in The Laramie Project were simply that - a simple picture of the person speaking, completely devoid of time or place, a brief glimpse into a single perspective or memory. In some moments, such as the opening sequence of the play, many isolation spots combined to show a picture of the community, whole, yet still separated by their individual beliefs and opinions.

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"A Definition" Moment 1

"Ready to Walk the Line" Moment 39

The neon light built into the downstage platform, a simple symbol of the fence, also became an isolation factor, dividing the stage into camps - Phelps on one side, friends of Matthew on the other.

"Medical Update," Moment 22

Medical Update

 

 

 

The Laramie Project, which consists of 53 scenes, or moments, can easily become a show about transitions. With literally hundreds of costume changes taking place backstage and entire groups of actors to get on and off stage between moments, keeping the transitions in the piece as smooth as possible became important. The concept of staging some scenes in the windows helped with the constant issue of how to get people on and offstage smoothly, but we still didn't want the basic logistics of the transitions to become the focus of the piece. This is where the timing of the light cues came into play. They needed to help keep the transitions smooth while also unifying the many small moments of the piece into the whole.
Cueing
 

"Live and Let Live" Moment 20

 

 

  • A monochromatic palette of pale to more saturated blue and purple
  • Selected scenes needed the addition of saturated red or amber for contrast to earlier scenes and to add extra atmosphere.
  The Fireside
  Shannon & Jen , "The Fireside," Moment 39

 

 



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Cathy L. Darrow
Lighting Design & Stage Management
cathy@cathybowren.com
8301 44th Street, Lyons, IL

Last Updated 7-30-2003