In October 1998, a twenty-one-year-old university student was robbed, kidnapped, tortured, severely beaten, tied to a fence in the middle of the prairie outside Laramie, Wyoming and left to die because he was gay. His body was not discovered until the next day, and he died several days later in hospital. His name was Matthew Shepard.
Moisés Kaufman and nine members of Tectonic Theater Project travelled to Laramie just two months after Matthew was killed. They recorded more than 200 interviews with Laramie residents including Matthew’s friends, university students, professors, medical staff who tried to save his life, policemen, politicians, lawyers, priests, journalists, and friends and relatives of the killers. Using the verbatim transcripts of those interviews, Tectonic created a living script for The Laramie Project. The play is an extraordinary picture of a community trying to come to grips with a horrific murder that threatens to define them. It explores the depths to which humanity can sink, the heights of compassion of which we are capable and a community’s attempts to heal itself.
Tectonic Theater Project was not interested in creating a play about Shepard himself, or his killers. It is instead a play that tries to capture the immediate reactions to his murder and explore the underlying bigotry and hatred that enabled it.
This ground-breaking play has since been performed many thousands of times to audience numbers estimated to be in excess of 10 million people in over 20 countries. It has been translated into more than a dozen languages. There are few modern plays which may claim to have significantly changed both the theatre and the world we live in, but The Laramie Project is certainly one of them.
A direct line may be drawn between the play, the movie and the story of Matthew Shepard’s murder to the enactment of the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Boyd Jr Hate Crimes Act and the landmark 2015 US Supreme Court decision to quash all state bans on same sex marriage. The Laramie Project dramatically raised the profile of Matthew’s story and continues to challenge homophobia and other forms of social discrimination and hate as strongly today as it did then. Playwright, Moisés Kaufman believes that, “The play has led to a profound reckoning of American values.”
Director, Brant Eustice feels,
The Laramie Project is a profoundly moving theatrical experience. Its themes are universal, and it insightfully endeavors to find understanding beneath the very real and frequently cruel human impacts of prejudice and tolerance. The play does this through using the verbatim words of the Laramie’s community itself. While the words are absolutely real, the play is fascinating and excitingly theatrical as we tell the stories of Matthew and Laramie using only ten actors who bring to life more than 70 different characters.
It is both interesting and tragic that, while so much has changed and The Laramie Project has influenced so many, in 2018, The New York Times reported that FBI statistics showed that hate crimes motivated by bias or prejudice reached a 16-year high. This may be a positive indication of increased levels of reporting, however, it raises important questions: How deep do we need to scratch an arguably thin veneer of humanity in Australia to find prejudice and hate within our own community? How is Laramie different from Adelaide and, how is it exactly the same?
Red Phoenix Theatre’s Artistic Director, Michael Eustice Says:
Knowing and admiring the play so much, I was gobsmacked to discover that this incredibly powerful and influential work has never received a public performance in Adelaide outside of high schools and university drama departments. I instantly knew that The Laramie Project must be added to our list of plays produced by Red Phoenix Theatre. We only stage Adelaide premieres and finding missed and hidden gems is what excites us most. It has been this way since our first production in 2016 when we discovered that Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus had never been performed in South Australia. That moment defined us a company.
Directed by Brant Eustice and featuring a wonderful cast including Samuel Creighton, Cheryl Douglas, Chris Gun, Matt Houston, Nick Kennett, Jasmine Leech, Sharon Malujlo, Nadia Talotta, Tom Tassone and Alicia Zorkovic.
Venue: 21Oct-30Oct 21
Date: Holden Street Theatres
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