“Laramie hasn’t done much worse or better on gay rights than most other places around the country, so who am I to come in and expect Laramie to be reaching some goal that my own state hasn’t attained?” said Greg Periotti, of the Tectonic Theatre. Indeed, who are any of us?
The Laramie Project is a documentary- style play, in local production at ZACH Scott Theatre, and written by Tony- and Emmy Award-nominee Moisés Kaufman and members of New York City’s Tectonic Theater Project. This unique play runs in two parts: The first installment explores the events surrounding the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in a small Wyoming town. The second investigates the effects that the murder has had on the community of Laramie, Wyoming, ten years later. Constructed from direct transcripts of more than 200 interviews of Laramie’s residents, this play attempts to determine what has—or has not- changed the community affected by one of the most torturous hate crimes in recent American history.
Matthew Shepard’s murder shaped the perception of the town of Laramie, and its name has become synonymous with hate crime. In The Laramie Project, one member of the community, Jedidiah Schultz, reveals that, “after Matthew, I would say that Laramie is a town defined by an accident, a crime….We’re a noun, a definition, a sign. We may be able to get rid of that…but it sure will take a while.”
At its root, The Laramie Project resonates with audiences already sym- pathetic to LGBT issues, yet encour- ages a closer inspection of unrealized perceptions of a community defined by a crime motivated by hate and homopho- bia. In 10 Years Later, company members return to Laramie to examine the long-term impact on members of the community and proceed to determine whether this community, so affected by hate, has found compassion and change.
The second part also includes interview transcripts of Shepard’s killers, Russell Arthur Henderson and Aaron James McKinney, as well as interviews with Judy Shepard, his mother, who has since become a powerful voice in the promotion of hate crime legislation and the overall fight for LGBT equality.
These performances open up a conversation about not only the town of Laramie, but also about our own community here in Austin and society. Our perception of Laramie may not be any better or any worse than that of our own cities or communities.
The Laramie Project tells a powerful tale about truth, perception, and the transformation of societal attitudes. As an audience member, expect the unexpected as you become privy to the thoughts of the Laramie residents and, along with the cast members, share in a moving and thought-provoking tribute to Shepard’s life.