On May 8th, 2017, the precious life of Deonka Deidra Drayton (or “DeeDee,” as she was affectionately called) was memorialized as a part of a community reading of TLP at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ. This theatre is regarded as one of the most culturally active arts centers in the nation. To have the LPP touch down on Princeton U’s campus is my telltale sign that LPP has gone beyond the hearts of the team.
This is not to offend my drama class, who put on our own Laramie last December–but those three hours of performance of TTP’s acclaimed text was the best I’ve heard Laramie. Most of us in the room were first-timers to the story, script, and style. But what’s more perfect for a play in this documentary, aftermath structure than a pair of fresh eyes to read it aloud? The pure unfiltered laughter at Laramie’s wit and the gasps at the heinous crime and responses were not staged.
Historically, those directors and leaders we’ve corresponded with in order to sign their groups onto the LPP are lifetime lovers of Laramie who bring this play to their students/company members with the intention of shining a light on current goings-on. Usually, if you do Laramie once, you’re doing it again within a matter of years. Bringing this story to new audiences is one of the most important things that we can do, as a team who truly believes in the singularity of this play’s brilliance.
Paula Alekson, McCarter Theatre Artistic Engagement Manager, whose enthusiasm for this project still makes me smile, assured us all that this was the first time we were doing any of this, and that this was a reading of a play “of people with compassionate hearts…as a testament to her [DeeDee’s] family of birth, her family of choice…her name and spirit will tragically and yet somehow fittingly be united forever in our hearts, everyone in the circle, in our minds, with the name and spirit of Matthew Shepard and this play The Laramie Project.”
The Educational Staff at the McCarter are the embodiment of theatre professionals working with all of their hearts to bring art to the community. What excites me the most is knowing that this was certainly not the first time McCarter representatives Paula Alekson, Lily Junker, and Erica Nagel had touched the hearts of theatregoers. They’re constantly cultivating spaces in the (truthful!) sense that theatre is constitutes of the unlit hours and seeing words for the first time.
To have met such devoted theatre artists who accepted this project with more than just open arms, but with committed hearts? Honored doesn’t even cover it.
One of the most essential aspects of this project is dedicating time to remember the victims. DeeDee’s life was full of people who loved her extremely. During the time leading up to her untimely death, she was in the midst of a reinvention period, as she confronted some struggles that followed her throughout life. It is terribly upsetting and tragic that DeeDee was beginning to become closer to the things that brought her true happiness when she was murdered.
The LPP Team is aware that we cannot fill in the puzzle pieces that are permanently missing from 49 families’ lives. What we can do is extend the necessary action ensure these memories are not mangled as well. People who likely have little-to-no connection to the victims, previous to their involvement with the LPP, are the very people who are announcing the names of the innocents at their LPP performances. Dear departed who we could not say goodbye to on that horrible June day–you are being remembered in schools and theatres and religious centers, in states and countries outside of your homes. I pray their souls can make new homes in these spaces that have used the power of theatre to memorialize and take action.
A beautiful memorial for DeeDee, something true to the theatre tradition, stood among the participants of the reading, on the McCarter’s Matthews stage. In tandem with the Ghostlight Project, a 2017 initiative that recalls the purpose of the light left onstage on every Monday to protect the theatre, a ghostlight with a picture of DeeDee was lit after the reading. Two candles stood with the picture–one for the memory of Matthew, one for DeeDee.
As I had put it to the Educational Staff…I have hourly daydreams of my favorite aspects of theatre. These include Paula Vogel’s playwriting style, the Philly theatre scene, and all of the possible advocacy initiatives that riddle the productions we put on but are often forgotten in the bustle of ticket sales and press releases. There is a remarkable capacity in making a companion project to fully realize the mission of any theatre pieces–to reverberate in audiences’ minds. Far more than just bringing my dream to life–McCarter has challenged our hearts and voices to never go silent.
The numerical parts of the LPP are phasing out. We’re soon to be exiting a month that has brought three international groups to our team. 8 LPP groups have performed the unparalleled words of the Tectonic Theatre Company Members in the month of May. 5 more names are available to honor alongside productions of TLP. Pride Month returns again, and we keep traveling to Laramie until each victim’s name is vocalized by a community.
What makes TLP as loved as it is this inherent quality. Once you’re exposed to the text, your life and your work is forever changed.
The LPP hopes that audiences enter the theatre as listeners and exit as activists.
LPP Team Leader Alyssa
The Matthews Theatre…my parents as well (thanks for the ride)
What do you do when you’re at the McCarter? You go to selfie city.
The Ghostlight, a candle for DeeDee, and a candle for Matthew ❤
My mom and dad read as well. I happily reprised my role of Leigh, my role model (Go women playwrights!)
Walking in and seeing this was one of the most incredible moments of this project for me.
Part of the circle
The members of the community reading of TLP
My beloved LPP bracelet and Act III
DeeDee, your memory is certainly living on in all our hearts!