Stage Door: Laramie Project Revisited

Oct 9, 2009 at 9:51 am

There’s a lot of good theater available this weekend — Equus at New Edgecliff, Victoria Musica at the Cincinnati Playhouse, Dead Man’s Cell Phone at ETC and The Lion in Winter at Cincinnati Shakespeare (in its final weekend) are all productions worth seeing — but I want to draw your attention to one day beyond the weekend for a rare Monday evening theater event marking the sad anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. 

If you care about the issues surrounding his brutal murder in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998, you should make a reservation at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC) for a one-evening of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.—-

First, some background. In November 1998, 10 members of the Tectonic Theater Project, including playwright Moisés Kaufman, traveled to Laramie to interview residents about Shepard’s brutal murder a month earlier — he was savagely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die. (Although he was found alive, he died from his injuries on Oct. 12, 1998.) The resulting play, The Laramie Project, brought attention to issues of gay rights and hate crimes. It's been performed hundreds of times across the U.S. and around the world; a film of it was made for and aired on HBO. The creators of the play estimate that it's been witnessed by more than 50 million people.

Kaufman and his colleagues returned to Laramie a year ago to explore the residual effects of Shepard’s death. According to an interview in The New York Times, Kaufman said, “We wanted to see what occurs in a small town in the long run when it’s been subjected to such a devastating event. What has been the long-lasting effect of this watershed moment? Is the fallout of these events positive, negative or, perhaps a better question: Is it measurable in those terms?”

New interviews where conducted with Shepard’s mother Judy and one of the convicted murderers, Aaron McKinney. Many others whose comments appeared in the original piece were engaged in new conversations. These have been assembled into The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, a 90-minute epilogue to the earlier work.

On Monday evening, the work will be presented in readings at more than 120 theaters across the nation. The most prominent local site will be ETC, which recently staged Kaufman’s powerful play, 33 Variations, to open its 2009-10 season. Kaufman’s Tectonic company will present its own reading at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in New York City, an event that will be video-linked to other sites where readings are happening. The ETC reading is free and open to the public, but reservations (513-421-3555) are required for the general admission seating. Patrons will be invited to donate to The Matthew Shepard Foundation the evening of the performance.

(Another reading will happen at Miami University featuring university students, local community members, students from Talawanda High School and others. Tickets are $7-$14 and can be reserved at 513-529-3200.)

Immediately after the cross-country reading, attendees can participate in a talkback featuring a panel that includes creators, cast members and other key individuals. The talkback will be provided via a special satellite hookup from New York City; questions can be submitted via Twitter.

In tandem with the reading, an online interactive community has been launched through which participants can blog, upload video and photos and share their stories about the play, experiences in preparing and presenting the epilogue locally.

This is a marvelous example of how theater can create and sustain dialogue on an important issue. I urge you to consider attending.