Photo Essay: ‘The Laramie Project’

The Laramie Project, by Moises Kaufmann and members of the Tectonic Theater Company, relates the incident of a young gay college student, Mathew Shepard, who was tied to a fence, beaten, and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming, in October of 1998.

The Tectonic Theater Company took up residence in Laramie and wrote this original play based upon real interviews with the town’s residents. Since that first production, much emotion has been stirred and speculation sparked concerning this case, as well as the weight of truth inherent in the playwrights’ words.

Like all art which has a real-life incident at its core, there will be discourse as to where fact ends and fiction begins. The one fact that remains irrefutable is that, even if this were to be a completely fabricated text, the truth it employs concerning how we see, embrace, and treat one another as human beings is far-reaching and palpable, leading us to question in this age, in any age, our collective integrity and how we imagine acceptance and inclusivity at work in our day-to-day lives.

CA’s production of Laramie, a play which has enjoyed countless interpretations among professional and school groups, is a tender and genuine exploration of social justice as only a cast of our bright and mindful students can render. It is not a play about violence. It is not even a play about gay rights. It is a production about human rights and the stories that carry us as people from one place to another, in our lives and in our hearts. It is neither graphic nor profane because we want as many students as possible to be able to experience it. Our goal is not to shock with image or language, but rather to share the honest thoughts and reactions of a town grappling with an altering awareness because a certain incident happened. The actors are authentic and true, and their art reflects the soul of their immediate and contemporary landscape.

This production, while serious in content, is appropriate for students grades 8 and up, perhaps a little younger with parent preparation. Friday evening’s performance with be followed by a “talk back” led by students and LGBT attorney from San Francisco, Samantha Ames. Perhaps one summer, I will make it to that 700-year-old monastery to collaborate with other directors on whatever theme is offered that year.

This winter, however, I am honored to be working with this group of talented young actors as they bring to our community the message of Laramie, which is, beyond any rhetoric, one of hope and the promise to erase hate in their lifetimes.