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 Brook.
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.