A sense of deja vu swept over Lake Braddock alumni Jocelyn Waite as she walked across the stage at the school's Little Theater where fellow alumni gathered for an upcoming benefit production of "The Laramie Project."
"The smell is the same, you can smell the lumber, the dust. It's exactly the same," the Class of '93 graduate said.
Waite came from Michigan and is among 37 Lake Braddock Theater alumni from 10 graduating classes participating in a production of Moisés Kaufman and the Members of Tectonic Theatre Project's "The Laramie Project." Michigan and Florida are the longest distances alumni are travelling.
"We've got somebody from every year back to '91," she said.
The love of theater and the charisma of drama teacher R.L. Mirabel, who goes by just "R.L.", brought the students back. He is a graduate of Catholic University and has been at Lake Braddock since 1990.
"He does a good job getting people's respect," said current student Sean Pollin, Class of 2003, who is running the lighting and sound for the play.
Waite noted what brought her back.
"He's very charismatic. A lot of it is the connection, we all had a similar experience that we enjoyed here," she said.
Upcoming senior Liz Murray, designs props. She likes the freedom of expression Mirabel allows.
"He'll let us run with our ideas," she said.
THE PLAY DEALS with an incident in October of 1998 when 21-year-old University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was beaten to death by residents of Laramie in connection with his sexual orientation.
The play is a collection of interviews with the townspeople of Laramie and their reaction to the incident. On the flyer for the play, "Parental Guidance Is Suggested" is in bold letters at the bottom. Mirabel feels the participants are ready to tackle a subject like this. It weeds out the less serious theater students.
"It's not for everybody, it's a big university play, a lot of colleges are jumping on this one. If they signed up for it, they're psyched already," Mirabel said.
"My idea would be like PG-13, I don't think elementary school age. My daughter is not coming," he added, referring to his 5-year-old.
On the ticket phone line recording, that thought is reiterated.
"The production is not appropriate for younger children, parental guidance is suggested," the recording states.
David Burns, a 1994 graduate that has three roles in the play, felt the subject was appropriate for the students.
"I don't think there are any themes that high school kids aren't around constantly," he said.
Also with three roles, Michael Hock, class of 1997, remembered when the murder occurred.
"I followed this story when it first came out. It was one of the things that made we want to do it," he said.
Adam Lowe is a upcoming senior who has seen the play before. He's in charge of publicity for the show.
"I saw it in Nebraska, I thought it was an excellent show," he said.
Mirabel knows the short preparation time and controversial material will be a challenge.
"I think I did a good job of explaining how difficult this will be," he said.
His past attempts at activist theater was when they did "The Most Massive Woman Wins."
"It had to do with personal opinion of one's body," Mirabel said.
THE LAKE BRADDOCK theater boosters are sponsoring the production to send current students to Edinburgh, Scotland in August of 2003 for the American High School Theatre Festival. Lake Braddock is one of 40 high schools nationwide invited to perform at the AHSTF next summer. The decision was based on their cumulative works of past and present students, community involvement, awards, and recommendations, according to Mirabel.
At the festival, the students will assist with a production of "A Piece of My Heart," written by playwright Shirley Lauro and based on Keith Walker's book that tells stories of women who served in Vietnam.