Student brings ‘Laramie’ story to life

For some people, acting is a pastime, but for others it is part of a greater statement. For Allyssa Metzger, junior mathematics and history major, acting was something she picked up as a child and now uses as a tool to help open up people’s eyes to the world at large.

Metzger acted in “The Laramie Project,” a play that tells the story of the aftermath of Matthew Shepard’s death in his hometown of Laramie, Wyo.

In the production, she played eight different roles, ranging from two University of Wyoming students to a 40-something professor at the school. Her primary roles were as Romaine Patterson, Zubaida Ula and Catherine Connolly, two of the students and the professor, respectively. The entire cast would fill in as narrators for other characters, as needed.

Metzger, who was involved in community theater as a child and is a part of All College Theater, said this was the most difficult show she had ever performed in.

She cited the nerves involved with being onstage for the first time with actors who had done professional theater and quick costume and character changes. She also realized the role that theater has, since “The Laramie Project” is such an emotionally and politically charged show.

“The Laramie Project” is a play about the reactions of the townspeople in Laramie, where Shepard was beaten to death for being gay. The play, based on interviews done by members of a New York theater company, the Tectonic Theater Project, shows the various ways people in town, from Shepard’s father, to the cyclist who found Shepard, to members of an anti-gay group that crashed his funeral, reacted after the fact, and what they had to say about the crime.

“It was my first time not doing something that was almost purely for entertainment purposes,” she said.

Her aunt, a member of the Bridge Players Theatre Company in Burlington, asked her to join the cast of the Laramie Project in late August to fill in for the part of the youngest female. The actress before her had backed out, opening up a great opportunity for Metzger to get a taste of off-campus theater. In the course of the weeks of rehearsals, two more actors dropped out of the show, making the three practices a week even more hectic.

For her, the most powerful part of her involvement was “feeling that I was part of a message larger than myself, larger than the production, even,” Metzger said. “The first few nights, to get myself psyched up before I went on as Romaine, I would say to myself ‘I can’t wait to get out there and tell them Matthew (Shepard)’s story.’ It’s something that needs to be told, if only to stimulate thought.”

Though Shepard’s story was part of the reason she agreed to do the role, the other was because she wanted to act with her aunt.

“We’re the only two actresses in the family, and we’d both been looking for an opportunity to appear on the same stage for awhile,” she said.

The show, she said, was very challenging. Because each character had very distinct personalities, the actors had to switch back and forth to make the performances believable. For example, Romaine was a manic character, while Zubaida was soft-spoken.

This, among other things, led to a difficult, but rewarding play at the Broad Street Methodist Church in Burlington.

“I really enjoyed the show,” Marianne Keane, senior psychology major, said. “I didn’t know much about the subject before I saw it,” but she said she left feeling much more enlightened.