H-ton Drama Club’s Laramie Project is Powerful

The Laramie Project hit Huntington audiences hard. (Darin Reed photo.)

November 10, 2016

It was hard hitting, well-acted and meaningful in a variety of ways, many of them personal. The Huntington High School drama club’s production of the Laramie Project last weekend touched each audience member in a different manner and left more than one with a lump in their throat.

The play tells the story of and the reaction to one of the most infamous hate crimes in United States history. A group of teenage actors brilliantly brought the subject to life on the high school stage and laid it in the laps of the crowd to ponder over the course of three shows last Friday and Saturday.

“In October 1998 in the middle of the prairie outside Laramie, Wyoming, Matthew Shepard, a 21 year old student at the University of Wyoming, was tied to a fence post, severely beaten, robbed, tortured and left alone to die,” said Michael Schwendemann, a Huntington High School English teacher who is the drama club’s faculty advisor. “His body, battered, bloody and barely clinging to life was discovered 18 hours later. He was rushed to the hospital and put on life support. He died five days later. The reason for this brutal crime? Matthew Shepard was gay. The hate crime attracted vast attention worldwide, bringing sexual discrimination and violence to the forefront of public discourse.”

It was the last fall play for seniors Andrew Aprigliano, Amara Ayler, Jordan Biener, Luis Cuji, Logan Rice, Nicole Sevilla, and Maddie Shea and it left them with memories to last a lifetime.

“I think the show was amazing,” Ms. Biener said. “It was different to be a part of a show that has more depth. The entire cast is so lucky that Mr. Schwendemann trusted us enough to perform a show like this one. Being able to be a part of this production is certainly one of the highlights of my high school career. I want to thank Mr. Schwendemann for his faith in me to be a part of this show. I want to thank my fellow cast for making this process unforgettable. And I want to thank everyone who came to see this show. I cannot be more proud of this production. I’m so happy I was able to be a part of it in my senior year.”

Mr. Schwendemann served as the show’s director with Maddie Haughwout as the student director and Rob Krakehl as technical director. Dana Freed handled costumes and the set dressing. Ellen Fleury designed the playbill.

“As I begin to reflect on the fall play, I am struck by the amount of pressure I put the kids under this year,” Mr. Schwendemann said. “The new actor’s eyes were opened to a whole new world of what was to come, transitioning to the high school; subjects that they weren’t used to talking about, let alone bringing them to the stage. Juxtapose that with my upperclassmen that had been brought up through the ranks with comedies and family friendly musicals, chomping at the bit to do a work that they could really sink their teeth into. Not only did they handle their own roles, but were able to lead by example both quietly and vociferously when necessary.”

The talented cast also included Zubair Ali, Keenan Lyons, Peter Ciccone, Robert Jean-Gilles, Danny Arias, William Fallon, Isabella Cahill, Amelia Maggio, Amelia Reilly, LJ Kindall, Abby Semelsberger, Natalie Ciccone and Faith Youngquist.

“The Laramie Project was my seventh production with the high school drama club and I could not have asked for a better experience than the one I received during my final fall play,” Ms. Shea said. “The show itself is incredibly compelling and truthful and I am so grateful to the administration and our director, Mr. Schwendemann for the opportunity to be a part of something so special.”

The play’s cast rose to the challenge last weekend and earned well-deserved applause from the crowds attending the three shows, including a Saturday matinee performance.

“I could not be more proud of the work they did and impact they had on the audience and each other as they brought the story of Matthew Shepard to life,” Mr. Schwendemann said.

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