The Laramie Project

Using Theatre to End Homophobia

matthew shepard
matthew shepard. matthew shepard

The Laramie Project is a documentary-styled play that analyzes the death of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay college student who was brutally murdered because of his sexual identity. The play was created by playwright/director Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project.

The theater group traveled from New York to the town of Laramie, Wyoming - just four weeks after the death of Shepard. Once there, they interviewed dozens of townspeople, collecting a wide array of different perspectives. The dialogue and monologues which comprise The Laramie Project are taken from interviews, news reports, courtroom transcripts, and journal entries.

What is a "Found Text"?

Also known as "found poetry", a "found text" is a form of writing that uses pre-existing material: recipes, street signs, interviews, instruction manuals. The author of the found text then arranges the material in a way that conveys a new meaning. Hence, The Laramie Project is an example of a found text. Although it is not written in the traditional sense, the interview material has been selected and organized in a way that presents a creative narrative.

The Laramie Project: Reading Vs. Performance

For me, The Laramie Project was one of those "I-can't-stop-reading-this" experiences. When the murder (and the subsequent media storm) occurred in 1998, I was asking the question that was on everyone's lips: Why is there such hatred in the world? When I read "The Laramie Project" for the first time, I expected to meet a lot of closed minded rednecks within the pages. In actuality, the real-life characters are complex and (fortunately) most of them are compassionate. All of them are human. Considering the depressing source material, I was relieved to find so much hope within the book.

So -- how does this material translate to the stage? Assuming the actors are up to the challenge, a live production can intensify the experience. The Laramie project premiered in Denver, Colorado in 2000. It opened off-Broadway less than two years later, and the acting troupe even performed in Laramie, Wyoming. I can't imagine how intense that experience was for audience and actors alike.