"Laramie Project" sequel gives voice to Matt Shepard’s killer
A decade after "The Laramie Project" became a theatrical phenomenon, its creators are back with an epilogue highlighted by a riveting prison interview with the killer of gay college student Matthew Shepard - depicting him as candid but not remorseful over the murder.
The new production, which opens nationwide Oct. 12 at more than 130 theaters, features a segment based on more than 10 hours of face-to-face interviews with convicted killer Aaron McKinney, conducted by Greg Pierotti, a gay actor/writer who helped create the original docudrama.
According to the detailed notes taken by Pierotti and condensed into the new script, McKinney says he had been drawn to crime ever since childhood, feels sympathy for Shepard’s parents and expresses regret that he let his own father down.
"As far as Matt is concerned, I don’t have any remorse," McKinney is quoted as saying in the script, which was provided to The Associated Press by the production company.
McKinney, according to the script, reiterates his claim that the 1998 killing in Laramie, Wyo., started out as a robbery, but makes clear that his antipathy toward gays played a role.
"The night I did it, I did have hatred for homosexuals," McKinney is quoted as saying. He goes on, according to the script, to say that he still dislikes gays and that his perceptions about Shepard’s sex life bolstered his belief that the killing was justified.
McKinney and his accomplice, Russell Henderson, targeted Shepard at a bar in Laramie in part because they assumed he was gay, according to the script.
"Well, he was overly friendly. And he was obviously gay," McKinney is quoted as saying. "That played a part ... his weakness. His frailty. And he was dressed nice. Looked like he had money."
Early on Oct. 7, 1998, McKinney and Henderson offered Shepard a ride in their car, then robbed and savagely pistol whipped him and left him tied to a fence in a remote area outside town. The 21-year-old University of Wyoming student was found 18 hours later and died in a Colorado hospital on Oct. 12.
The murder has become an iconic cornerstone of campaigns to raise awareness about violence against gays and to pass hate-crimes laws. Shepard’s mother, Judy, has been an indefatigable campaigner, while "The Laramie Project" - which probed the murder and its aftermath through more than 200 interviews with Laramie residents - has become a well-known and widely viewed theatrical piece.
The New York-based Tectonic Theater Project, which created the original play, began work last year on the epilogue, titled "The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later." The company’s artistic director, Moises Kaufman, said he wanted to find out how Laramie had changed in the years since the murder and his team reinterviewed many residents who figured in the earlier play.
More than 1,000 actors - amateur and professional - will be performing when the new show premieres next month on the 11th anniversary of Shepard’s death. Participating theaters range from high school stages to New York’s Lincoln Center, where Pierotti and other members of the original cast will perform.
Pierotti says he’s still not sure if he will play himself in the segment about McKinney, a dialogue that will take about 11 minutes on stage. The script is a condensed and occasionally reordered version of Pierotti’s notes from the prison; he says he tried to convey McKinney’s words as accurately as possible given that he was not allowed to use a recorder. Officials at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap, Va., confirmed the interviews.