"I've never seen a cast so focused on portraying these real characters," said drama teacher Kelsey Hartman. "They can search online and see the characters on videos. It's a real challenge for them and an interesting one, to play a 68-year-old rancher and turn around and play a 16-year-old friend of Matthew's."
In October 1998, 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, who was gay, was kidnapped, brutally beaten and left to die, tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo. Five weeks later, members of the Tectonic Theater Project went to Laramie and, during the next year, conducted more than 200 interviews with the residents.
The result of these interviews is "The Laramie Project," which shows both how the town begins to fall apart immediately after the event and then how it healed.
"This play to me isn't about being gay but how a town almost unravels because of a hate crime and how they have to rally together to heal," Hartman said.
"We still have issues on campus, not just homophobia but racism," she added. "It's not pervasive but it happens on campus. I felt it was time to open up a discussion -- on how students treat each other on campus and how we treat other people."
She said she has known students who left the school because it was too painful for them to be on campus.
"Actually it's a play I felt was important to do four years ago but the administration at that time wasn't willing to try it," Hartman said.
Before beginning production this year, she made sure everyone understood the play and its relevance. Principal Jim Hansen and the school district, from Senior Director of Pupil Services Kevin Johnson to Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi, are supportive of it, she said.
A friend of hers who taught drama at another high school in the Bay Area said that producing the play was a life-changing experience for both her and the cast.
Members of Amador's Gay Straight Alliance are also part of the production.
"After the Friday performances we are doing a forum where audience members can stay afterward and talk to the cast and crew and members of GSA," Hartman said.
She also noted that the play has 60 roles, which gave her the freedom to cast as many actors as she chose. Twenty-one students are playing the 60 characters, plus the production has 20 technicians to move scenery and props and otherwise help with logistics.
"It's a play that's based on interviews, in Laramie and outside Laramie, and it's sometimes a short interview then it transitions out," Hartman explained.
A photo of Matthew Shepard and of the fence where he was left to die will be projected, as well as the big blue sky of Wyoming.
"They are a huge part of the production in general," Hartman said.
Responding to tragedy
What: "The Laramie Project," by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project
Who: Amador Valley High School Drama
Where: Amador Theatre, 1155 Santa Rita Road, Pleasanton
When: 7:30 p.m., Oct. 27, 28, 29, Nov. 3, 4, 5
Tickets: Box office opens at 6:45 p.m. Students (no children under 6) and seniors, $5; adults, $8
Other: On Friday nights, Oct. 28 and Nov. 4, the Amador Gay Straight Alliance will join the cast and crew for an audience Q&A after the performances.