Kirt Bateman has appeared in Plan-B’s Script-In-Hand Series (including DEAR GEORGE: LETTERS TO THE PRESIDENT, THE NORMAL HEART and THE LARAMIE PROJECT: TEN YEARS LATER), A PERFECT GANESH, THE LARAMIE PROJECT, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, ANIMAL FARM, AMERIKA (also Toronto’s Fringe Festival), EXPOSED, GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL! (twice), DI ESPERIENZA, AMERIGO and BORDERLANDS; directed TRAGEDY: A TRAGEDY and participated in several BANNEDs and every SLAM.
I’ve been putting off writing this blog entry for weeks, actually months. Not because I haven’t wanted to write it, but because I’ve had the hardest time deciding which of my Plan-B Theatre roles has meant the most to me.
For the last decade, Plan-B has been home. Every experience has become an important thread in the oddly-shaped, color-incomplete, frayed fabric that is my life (I love a good fabric analogy, don’t you?). But the one that has meant the most to me personally was one of the very first, THE LARAMIE PROJECT.
It’s hard to describe why it was so meaningful. Do I think it was my BEST acting work? No. Was it the most FUN? Not compared to, say, GUTENBERG! THE MUSCAL! Was it the most challenging role I’ve had? No, that would be ANIMAL FARM. Was it the hottest…literally? Yes! Did I sweat the most in that one? Mmmm…probably not (again, that goes to GUTENBERG).
Let me ‘splain. Even just a decade ago, life for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens of this country was a lot different (I speak in general terms and really from my experience and point-of-view). LARAMIE ran in July/August of 2001, right before 9/11, and although we had reached the new millennium, growing up gay in a conservative environment could be a life-or-death situation (both physically and emotionally).
THE LARAMIE PROJECT tells one town’s story as both Laramie and its residents are thrown into the media spotlight following the horrific beating and murder of Matthew Shepard.
Wyoming and Utah are brothers (or sisters) in many ways. I lived in Salt Lake at the time of Matthew Shepard’s death, and my partner Jerry (as of three weeks ago, my husband – see, a lot changes in 10 years!) was commuting to graduate school in Logan. Laramie and Logan are incredibly similar and the beating and death of young Matthew made me look around every corner and feel the need to call Jerry every hour to make sure he was safe. It was a frightening time for us. It was also a time of great compassion, with people from different walks of life coming together to show the best of human nature as the media focused on the worst.
I’m not debating whether Matthew’s murder was a simple robbery gone wrong (as the perpetrators claim) or a hate crime against Matthew just because he was gay in a small western town (as THE LARAMIE PROJECT posits) or maybe a combination of both. What I know is that the play is funny and emotional and devastating and cathartic and beautiful. It has become one of the most produced plays in the world, with several college productions here in Utah. But Plan-B was the first theatre in the world to stage the play (besides Tectonic Theatre, the creators). Being new to Plan-B, I had no idea what kind of production we’d have in the end.
I’ve had the opportunity since THE LARAMIE PROJECT to play actual, still-living people. But LARAMIE was my first such experience. In fact, Jedadiah Schultz, who remains a close friend (and one of the witnesses at our recent wedding) came to Salt Lake from Laramie to play himself…Jed from Laramie playing the character of Jed Schultz from Laramie, Wyoming. His presence constantly reminded all involved to ‘get it right’ – to work harder than maybe we ever had before because we were playing real people who were sharing their actual experiences with the audience through us. Healing happened in us and in the audience.
One of my dozen or so characters was the doctor who announced to the world that Matthew had died from the injuries he sustained in the attack…I tear up just thinking about it more than 10 years later. What an incredible opportunity I had to ‘be’ this person for just a moment in what was an extraordinary moment of his life. And be part of an important and vital and current and educational piece of theatre. It’s not often that you feel that what you are doing is vital and has a life of its own. The cast (me, Jed, Colleen Baum, Anita Booher, Cheryl Cluff, Joyce Cohen, Charles Lynn Frost, Carl Nelson), was the internal organs. The theatre was the skin that held us together. Moises Kaufman and Tectonic Theatre Project, the playwrights, were the brain. And Jerry, our director, was the heart.
This part is cheesy. But I can’t help it.
I still get teased by my LARAMIE castmates because I used to break the 4th wall (a big no-no) and would sometimes stare at the audience during performances. I’ve often wondered why I would do that. I think, after writing this and remembering the love circling the theatre during that production, I just had to see people watch the show. I had to watch them watching because their emotional journey filled me with hope and love.
I’ve told this story before – many times, in fact – but it bears repeating here. After the closing performance of THE LARAMIE PROJECT, we were crying (some of us (me) ridiculously hard) as we exited the stage for the last time. We got down into our little green room and hugged each other in a big, loving group hug. We knew that we had participated in something special. Joyce said “It doesn’t always happen like this. It doesn’t always feel like this.” (I paraphrase.). After many, many years working in the professional theatre Joyce really knew what she was talking about. We cried and hugged and we knew it was special. And it was. I was changed forever.
Joyce was right, it doesn’t always feel like that. But when I am working for Plan-B Theatre Company something about the experience is ALWAYS amazing.
THE LARAMIE PROJECT was my introduction to what good theatre (and I’m talking about the experience beyond well-reviewed, or well-attended, or well-awarded) FEELS like! It’s amazing. It’s why I am a theatre geek. It’s why I work for Plan-B. And it’s why I am beyond grateful that they let me.
6 of the 8 members of Plan-B’s 2001 cast of THE LARAMIE PROJECT performed the world preview staged reading of THE LARAMIE PROJECT: TEN YEARS LATER in 2009 (pictured above), which happened to be the very week that the federal hates crimes law, dubbed the Matthew Shepard Act, was enacted.