By: Jennifer Grzybowski
The year is 1998, plastered over headlines and television we see the story of Matthew Shepard. His hate-motivated murder quickly gains attention over the sheer brutality of it. Only a few months prior was the death of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas. In tandem, these two real life crimes trigger the passage of hate-crime laws around the United States. This sets the stage for inspired playwright Moises Kaufman to travel to Laramie, Wyoming with members of the Tectonic Theater Project. There they interview townspeople and sift through the stories of the aftermath. Thus The Laramie Project was born. An analysis of the creation of The Laramie Project reveals the strong impact American history and legislation have on theatre, and explores the role that theatre can play in a national dialogue.
While the issues dealt with in this pinnacle play were not always easy to analyze, the rewarding end result of such tedious work was clear to the Tectonic Theater Project.
“The hope was that this would shed light on the ideas and beliefs that were shaping our nation… Tectonic was curious about what role theater artists can have in a national dialogue about current events.” as stated in their article The Laramie Project Cycle. As the play currently stands, it is one of the most frequently performed plays, in America, of the decade. The play has also been adapted by Tectonic into a film for HBO. In tandem, over 50 million people have seen the film or play worldwide.
It is no coincidence that the hate crime of 1998 that captured Americans’ attention
would produce a national conversation through documentary style storytelling. The Tectonic Theater Project knew what potential lay in this national tragedy and lunged at it. “The Laramie Project portrayed one town in America at the end of the millennium. In
doing so, it also managed to capture something profoundly American, something
about social injustices, about beliefs, and about idiosyncrasies. So while it told the
story of one American town, it also spoke to America as a whole.” (TLPC)
With the 2008 premier of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, it is evident that this heated subject is still provoking debate and a strong dialogue among Americans. While it is not entirely clear the full affect this profound contemporary piece will have on American Theatre, it is evident this play will be a staple of political theatre. The Laramie Project was the concept that instigated a dialogue among Americans, and made them think, reflect and react about the issues. Why is Matthew Shepard’s death not just another targeted mournful piece that the news media once highlighted? It is evident the significance the Tectonic Theatre Project has brought to it, and the dialogue this story created among a clashed nation. The next time someone brings up this pinnacle play among a mixed minded room, listen to the labels placed on it. Some will say, “promoting
the gay agenda.” Others will vow, “quintessential piece for anti-hate crimes.” Either way you cannot dispute the dialogue it establishes among people.
Brandau, Jean. “The Laramie Project Theatre Huntsville Presents Sensitive Drama.” About. 2003. Web. http://huntsville.about.com/library/weekly/aa011404a.htm
6 December 2013.
Barret, Shari. “BWW Reviews: The Laramie Project.” Broadway World. 7 October 2013. Web. http://www.broadwayworld.com/los-angeles/article/BWW-Reviews-THE-LARAMIE-PROJECT-TEN-YEARS-LATER-Makes-its-LA-Premiere-a-Memorable-Theatrical-Experience-20131007-page2# 20 November 2013.
“The Laramie Project Cycle FAQs.” Tectonic Theatre Project. Web. http://tectonictheaterproject.org/ttpwordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/The-Laramie-Project-Cycle-FAQs.pdf
5 December 2013.