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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Blog: Donald Rees on The Laramie Project - Ten Years Later Part II

Blog: Laramie Project - Ten Years Later PART II
by Donald Rees

Be prepared.

Those two little words are the best piece of advice I could give to any director setting out to tackle The Laramie Project or its sequel The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later. Of course, that's good advice for any director on any project - and a good idea for most people in general but Laramie required a special commitment to preparedness that I'm happy I gave myself ample time to uhm...prepare for.

Both the original script and the sequel have numerous characters pop in and out over the length of the story. Last time I counted, there were 70. I say "counted" because the sequel script that we're working from came with no character list. My first order of business was sitting down and compiling a list of all the characters in order to proceed with casting.

I knew I wasn't going to cast 70 actors. I mean, large casts do well and especially in indie theatre help guarantee strong ticket sales (just ask the Montreal Shakespeare Company who put on amazing stage works with massive casts) but 70 was just a ridiculous number. In my research I found that the show has been performed with as little as 4 actors. What I decided to do was go through each character's occurrence in the script and bunch up characters in such a way that each "bunch" represented a person I needed to cast. Each actor in the show would play a "bunch" of characters. In some cases the characters were complimentary, but in many cases they contrasted in ways I found interesting and purposeful.

Once I'd settled on my bunches, my next step was to find 20 actors. The first thing I did (and this was back in April of this year) was contact many actors from our previous productions and see if they would be interested in working with Brave New Productions on our new project. Responses came in quick and positive. By May, I had cast most of the roles using what we lovingly call "The BNP Alumni". There were also a couple of actors we'd been unable to cast over the past year, either because of schedule conflicts or because they weren't right for the parts we were casting, and in some cases I was able to find a way to work with them on Laramie. Finally, auditions were held for the last remaining roles and responses to our ads were overwhelming.

I decided to start the rehearsal process in an unusual way. I had each actor come in and sit with me for a one-on-one so we could talk about their characters, the story and notes I'd like to discuss with them about delivery. I gave each of them my "chairography" (or blocking for chairs) as they are all seated around the stage for the entire length of the performance. I wanted to make sure Laramie didn't start looking like a whack-a-mole game at the fair, and instead tried to make each decision to sit or stand have purpose and meaning.

When the time finally came to start traditional rehearsals and all 20 actors sat down in front of me, I felt speechless (this, despite all of my preparedness). I'd studied the play, the characters, the context including the history and reality of the events and their repercussions, but nothing prepared me for how humbling it would be to sit in front of so many talented people. It was intimidating, but I faked my way through those first few rehearsals pretty well. 

I may not direct like most people and that's because I believe one of the most important jobs of a director is to put the right people in the right roles, then stand back and let them do their work. Yes, some fine-tuning is needed along the way, but my best way to work is by encouraging the good things I see and encouraging the actors in our show to play.

Scheduling with such a large cast is always difficult, even more so when your cast is comprised of passionate actors who are also holding down full-time jobs with a variety of schedules. Their level of commitment has never wavered but getting these 20 people in the same room at the same time is nothing short of a challenge. Its entirely worth the effort though, and every rehearsal brings with it new revelations and moments of discovery.

The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later will premiere for the first time in Montreal October 12th to the 14th, 2012 at Artneuf in Parc Lafontaine. Tickets are already available at

Brave New Productions has also announced that they will be bringing the show to Toronto for an exclusive engagement November 9th to the 11th. More information will be available soon.

For a preview performance, see Sean Curley and Nir Guzinski perform at the Quebec Drama Federation Fall Launch September 17th at Centaur Theatre.

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