With ‘Laramie,’ a heavier freshman show

The Dramat's Freshman Show, "The Laramie Project," uses the murder of a gay college student in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998 as a lens to examine themes of intolerance and loss.
The Dramat's Freshman Show, "The Laramie Project," uses the murder of a gay college student in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998 as a lens to examine themes of intolerance and loss. Photo by Annelisa Leinbach.

This weekend, the Yale Dramatic Association will stage its annual Freshman Show — or “FroShow” — featuring an all-freshman cast and crew.

This year’s show, “The Laramie Project,” is about Laramie, Wyo., townspeople’s reaction to the murder of a gay student at the University of Wyoming in 1998. Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project in New York wrote the script based off of interviews conducted with people in the town of Laramie following the murder. Nailah Harper-Malveaux ’16, the show’s director, said “The Laramie Project” appealed to her because it offered the opportunity to remind students who live in an environment as supportive as Yale’s of the intolerance to which they are not often exposed.

Harper-Malveaux added that recent legislation on marriage equality has made the show even more relevant.

“When ‘The Laramie Project’ came out, it was an investigation of something contemporary, pressing and current,” actor Jacob Osborne ’16 said. “Now we can use it for comparison, to gauge progress.”

Past FroShows have been more upbeat: Last year’s show was “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” an eccentric story about a little boy’s spirituality. The year before, freshmen staged “Harvey,” which centers around a giant rabbit as a man’s imaginary friend.

“Unfortunately, it’s easy to think ‘Freshman Show’ and think of a funny, silly, thrown-together production,” said Simone Policano ’16, another actor in “The Laramie Project.” “That we can execute something of this magnitude sends a very powerful message.”

Harper-Malveaux said she thought a show as serious as “The Laramie Project” fit in well with the rest of the Dramat’s season. This season’s mainstage production is “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play),” a comedy about the early history of the vibrator.

Each member of the FroShow’s production staff is assigned an upperclassman mentor in the Dramat who shows his freshman the ropes in a particular field, producer Eli Block ’16 said. While all Dramat productions involve a mentoring system, the advising involved in the FroShow is particularly time-intensive since many freshmen have never worked in these kinds of roles before, Block said.

Harper-Malveaux said the mentoring experience has been her favorite aspect of directing the FroShow.

“The mentors are only as hands-on as you want them to be,” Harper-Malveaux said. “They’re great go-to resources.”

Osborne, who acted in the Dramat’s production of “A Lie of the Mind” this fall, said working with an all-freshman cast makes for sillier rehearsals. He added that without the “arbitrary” hierarchy of class years, there exists a greater sense of equality within the production.

“The FroShow’s not about looking at older, wiser people — it’s looking at people who are my age and know so much,” Policano said. “I’m endlessly impressed.”

In November, the Dramat selected “The Laramie Project” from out of four to 10 proposals for the Freshman Show, Dramat President Yuvika Tolani ’14 said. She added that “The Laramie Project” worked particularly well as a Freshman Show due to its large ensemble cast: “The Laramie Project” features over 60 characters traditionally played by eight actors, though the FroShow makes use of 10 actors instead.

Freshmen began assembling production teams in mid-October to pitch show ideas to the Dramat, a process that Tolani said encourages freshmen to connect with people involved in different facets of theater. Block said Harper-Malveaux approached him with the idea to do “The Laramie Project” since the two had collaborated on a previous show.

Tolani said the Freshman Show is important because it forms a solid theater community within the freshman class.

“Those people go on to work on projects together for the rest of their Yale experience,” Tolani added. “They build professional relationships so early on.”

“The Laramie Project” will run on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Iseman Theater.

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