As appeared in Feb 28 edition of The Western Star
The “Laramie Project” has left an indelible mark on me.
The play premiered in 2000 and recounts how members of the Tectonic
Theatre Company, out of New York, traveled to Laramie, Wyoming, to talk
to members of that community about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepherd,
killed only because he was gay.
The play, a result of two years of meetings and interviewing members
of the community, including the perpetrators and the family of Matthew
Shepherd, is a startling piece of theatre: the members of the company
play all the parts among them, trading off roles in a heartbeat and
rarely leaving the stage. It is as intriguing and compelling as it is
harrowing and haunting.
Having directed the play in 2004 and having delved not only into the
world of the play but working with acting students to bring this
horrible story to life, it has rarely left my mind. Now, 20 years after
the death of Matthew Shepherd, students in our theatre program are once
again preparing to bring this story back to the stage here in Corner
Discussions of “The Laramie Project” sometimes focus on the
small-town location, as if bigotry and narrow-mindedness are somehow
more prevalent in rural settings than in urban.
This isn’t true, though perhaps news really does travel faster in
smaller towns. It may also be true, despite what we tell ourselves, that
smaller towns are not always friendlier, not always as inclusive or
respectful of diversity as we would wish.
Twenty years after the death of Matthew Shepherd, “The Laramie
Project” reminds us that we can’t take these opinions as fact, that we
can’t presume that kindness and generosity and acceptance have won out.
To remember Matthew Shepherd’s death is to remind ourselves not only
of the fragility of life but of its wonderful variability and diversity
and to celebrate life is to celebrate all life.
“The Laramie Project” is presented by Grenfell’s Theatre Program and
is on stage at the Corner Brook Arts and Culture Centre from March 7-9,
at 8 p.m.
Todd Hennessey is the dean of the school of fine arts.