L.A. Premiere of ’The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later’ at Gay and Lesbian Center
Laramie, Wyoming is the infamous small town which came to prominence in the fall of 1998 because of gay college student Matthew Shepard. The brutally beaten young man was found tied to a barbed wire fence and left to die, setting off a nationwide dialogue about hate crimes and homophobia in America.
A month after the heartbreaking crime, writer Moises Kaufman, artistic director at New York City’s Tectonic Theater Project, traveled to Laramie with a handful of actors to interview citizens who lived in and around Laramie. Kaufman’s goal was to create a play that focused not on the assault of Shepard, but to spotlight the community’s reaction to the crime. "The Laramie Project" was first performed in early 2000 and then mounted in Laramie in the fall of that year, two years after Kaufman and his associates first arrived in the city.
Made into a film produced for HBO, "The Laramie Project" exposed the thoughts and opinions of Laramie’s residents, eliciting discussion on an international platform. Kaufman again served as both writer and director, attracting a distinguished cast, Dylan Baker, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Janeane Garofolo, Laura Linney, Amy Madigan, Camryn Manheim, Christina Ricci and Frances Sternhagen.
With the tenth anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder approaching back in 2008, Kaufman started thinking about his story’s legacy, its transformation and the aftermath of the murder.
How had Laramie ultimately been affected after the media frenzy? To find out, several members of the Tectonic Project returned to Laramie, asking many original interviewees how the town had changed. They also included first-time interviews such as Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard, including also the perpetrators of the murder - resulting in "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later." During its premiere in 2009, theatre companies in all 50 states came together to produce staged readings on the exact same day.
I asked Jon Imparato, the director at The L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center why they decided to bring "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later" to the Center?
In 2008, our program was chosen to collaborate with Grand Performances to produce the first Los Angeles staged reading of "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later." That was my first opportunity to see what a beautiful piece of theatre it is.
I went through a long and arduous process to find the right play for this year’s fall season. When the rights became available to mount a fully-staged production, I jumped on it. I knew Ken Sawyer would be the perfect director and as soon as he read the script and came on board, I felt we were meant to do this play. With what’s been happening in the country and the world in terms of violence against LGBT people, the play seemed more relevant and necessary than ever.
Because Matthew Shepard’s story is such an important part of LGBT history, it seemed only fitting and appropriate that the Center present the premiere to Los Angeles. The Center provides amazing support for those who have experienced hate crimes and domestic violence; doing this play allows us to provide information to those who have been victimized or know someone else who has been.
What do you hope people will take away from the play?
We certainly want people to be entertained and moved. But the most important thing is that it evokes hope. A lot of really wonderful things have happened in legislatures and courts since Matthew’s murder, and our next generation is far more accepting of the LGBT community. We hope that in years to come we will no longer see the same brutality and bigotry my generation experienced and hope "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later" will contribute to that.
Presented through November 16 at the Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 North McCadden Place in Hollywood. For tickets and more information call 323.860.7300 or go to lagaycenter.org/theatre