A Message from Key's Theater Director: Performance in the era of COVID-19

Fondest greetings to you all from your friends in Key Theater.  As performers and creative artists across the country and around the world continue to adjust to Arts in the Age of COVID-19, I have found myself giving a great deal of thought to how to deliver an authentic performing arts experience, while adhering to strict safety protocols.  For those of us involved in Theater, the pandemic creates incredibly daunting barriers to the craft we practice.  Being indoors with large groups gathered is a high-risk activity (and is still subject to restrictions throughout the country); singing is also a high-risk activity, to say nothing of dance and close, intimate acting on stage.  Broadway will remain shuttered until June of 2021 at the earliest.

So, where does that leave us as a community?  Many performing artists have, by necessity, needed to adapt to a new method of content delivery.  Stage actors have become screen actors. “Shakespeare in the Park” is no longer a novelty, it’s a recommended setting by public health officials.  Key Theater will also join in adapting to this new reality as we present a fully filmed production of The Laramie Project this fall.  Filmed in the style of a documentary, but with an ensemble cast of performers presenting multiple characters. It is our hope that our production will honor the spirit and artistic concept of the original stage production, while also taking advantage of the technology and safety of producing a film on a “closed set.”

The Laramie Project is a monumental piece of theater that I have wanted to produce for quite some time and, for better or worse, the COVID-19 pandemic makes this particular show a successful option from a production standpoint. 

The play details the immediate aftermath of the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, WY, in the fall of 1998.  Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was kidnapped, robbed, severely beaten, and left to die by two assailants, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson.  The crime became a national story as a moment of reckoning over anti-LGBTQ violence and hate crimes around the country and world. The play consists of three acts’ worth of interviews with the residents of Laramie, along with transcripts of official records, compiled over the course of the year following Matthew’s death by the Tectonic Theater Project, and its director Moisés Kaufman.

The show is, of course, very heavy subject matter.  It deals frankly with homophobia (both overt and latent) as well as the reality of the suffering inflicted on Matthew Shepard in his final hours and days. Families are strongly cautioned that this production may be too mature for younger viewers.  More comprehensive content guidance will be released closer to the production, and though the show may not be appropriate for younger members of our community, the opportunity that it presents to have authentic conversations with all age groups is very important as we affirm our community’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.  Remember always that hate is not innate; it is taught and cultivated as much through our actions as our inactions: our words as much as our silences.  

Nick Olson 

Key Theater’s filmed production of The Laramie Project will be available for streaming January 8 through January 10.  Details on times and viewing options will follow closer to our release date.