Faculty Cast Members in Laramie

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Mr. Marc Rugani and Ms. Deena Sellers, new to the Xavier faculty,
acted in last week's production of "The Laramie Project." (photo by Mark Moss, Harisch Studios)

In the Classroom... and on the Stage

Last week's Xavier production of "The Laramie Project" - true to its original script - challenged actors not only because of its mostly monologue style, but also because of its sensitive subject matter - the brutal hate-motivated 1998 killing of Matthew Shepard, a homosexual student at the University of Wyoming. At a time when hate-related issues have resurfaced in the news, there was an added air of importance underlying the performances, and talented student-actors and even one professional, Jon Ecklund, impressed audiences with the respect and dignity with which the treated the production.

Two new Xavier teachers also rose to the challenge.

Ms. Deena Sellers, a member of the Foreign Language Department, acted throughout high school and college, and played three roles in "Laramie," including the head of the University of Wyoming theater department, the mother of Police Officer Reggie Fluty, and the CEO of Poudre Valley Hospital.

"It was an amazing experience. I had never worked with students before from the perspective of a teacher," Ms. Sellers said. "It blew me away to see the maturity that the students brought to the subject matter and its relevance to our time."

The production, written by Moises Kaufman, uses a unique theatrical style, featuring testimony from witnesses, townspeople and others that knew Matthew Shepard. Each recurring character delivers his or her lines mostly through the use of dramatic "asides," or by directly addressing the audience. The result is a patchwork of scenes that use language to tell the emotional story in a very deliberate way.

"It required actors to fully move into their character and to use that characterization step-by-step. There are seemingly stark contrasts and monologues that seem out of sequence, but they are all for a purpose and, as an actor, they required you to sympathize with the playwright and interpret why he would put these in the order they're in," said Mr. Marc Rugani, who played the Baptist minister, a home-school teacher, Moises Kaufman, and a medical doctor.

Mr. Rugani - of the Religion Department, and also an actor during his own elementary and high school years - said that the most impressive part of putting together the production was being able to be around student-actors, particularly seniors, who took part in mentoring others in the production. "The director, Eric Ostrow, was extremely helpful in coaching new students and developing creativity for the characters, but the students also worked hard to do the same. So, by and large, what you saw on stage wasn't just the work of a director imposing his view of what should be going on. It was also the result of a conversation and a whole group of people who provided their input," he said.

The Cast of "The Laramie Project."

In the end, both Mr. Rugani and Ms. Sellers underscored the same thing - how much they enjoyed working together with students they would have otherwise just known in the classroom or perhaps through student clubs. "Many of the students' talents in acting exceed my own, so it was an opportunity to learn from them and get a unique perspective on student extracurricular life," said Mr. Rugani. Ms. Sellers said she greatly enjoyed the entire production process, even moments between rehearsals when the cast would take breaks to sing songs from other Broadway shows.

"I truly feel it was important for our students to be exposed to this story," said Mr. Eric Ostrow, play director. "This is really an amazing piece of work, and it deals with a vivid crime. Our cast worked extremely hard to bring the play to life and it was one of the most profound artistic experiences of my life."