Laramie Project: Ten Years Later to Be Read Across U.S.

By Kenneth Jones
August 4, 2009

On Oct. 12 as many as 100 theatres around the U.S. are expected to present a reading of a follow-up to the acclaimed play, The Laramie Project, the spare 2000 docudrama by Tectonic Theater Project that told the story of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay 21-year-old, in Laramie, WY.

Called The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, the new piece includes re-interviews with subjects from the first play, plus an interview Tectonic artists had with one of Shepard's convicted killers, Aaron McKinney.

Crafted by director Moisés Kaufman and members of his Tectonic Theater Project, who interviewed Wyoming and Colorado residents and wrote and acted in the resulting play, The Laramie Project was first produced by Denver Center Theatre Company in association with Tectonic in early 2000 and then ran Off-Broadway March-September 2000. It has since had hundreds of productions in regional theatres and colleges. A film version appeared on HBO.

Kaufman's goal is to have 100 theatres reading the new 80-minute epilogue on the same day; almost 50 theatres have already committed, a spokesperson told Playbill.com Aug. 4.

On Oct. 6, 1998, Shepard was beaten and tied to a fence in the outskirts of Laramie, and left to die. He died six days later. "His torture and murder became a watershed historical moment in America that highlighted many of the fault lines in our culture," according to Tectonic. "A month after the murder the members of Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie and conducted interviews with the people of the town."

The Laramie Project was a cultural pulse-taking that told of the personalities and events of the murder and its aftermath. Information has since arisen to make some people question whether the killing was a hate crime; that's reportedly addressed in the new piece.

In September 2008, as previously reported by Playbill.com, Tectonic members returned to Laramie "to find out what has happened over the last ten years. Has Matthew's murder had a lasting impact on that community? How has the town changed as a result of this event? What does life in Laramie tell us about life in America 10 years later?"

According to a September 2008 Tectonic blog announcement, "From the interviews conducted, they will write an article with their findings that they hope to publish in the New York Times as well as other major national papers. They will also write an Epilogue for the play to be added to the published version of the script."

It's not clear if the new epilogue will be licensable as a future full-production companion-piece to the original play.

Five members of Tectonic Theater Project — Kaufman, Andy Paris, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti and Stephen Belber — sought out the same people they interviewed ten years ago and interviewed them — and others. The core of the interviews will be about how Laramie has changed: politically, socially, religiously, educationally.

The 2000 credits for The Laramie Project were Moisés Kaufman (playwright), Peter Golub (composer), Stephen Belber (associate writer), Greg Pierotti (associate writer), Stephen Wangh (associate writer), Leigh Fondakowski (head writer), Moisés Kaufman (director) and Leigh Fondakowski (assistant director).

The return to Laramie Project is underwritten by The Rockefeller Foundation.

For more information about Tectonic Theater Project and The Laramie Project, visit tectonictheaterproject.org.