Eight years after the murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, the emotional dust, which rose out of the shock of a gruesome gay hate crime, has still not settled.
“The Laramie Project” a documentary project-turned-stage-play examines life after Shepard’s murder and scripts the reactions of Laramie, Wyo., residents as they cope with a murder that rocked the sleepy town.
“In the process, (the play) raises a number of questions,” said Morris Burns, director of the CSU production.
Questions such as “How did this happen here?” and “What atmosphere fostered such a horrific event?” burn throughout the play, as the multitude of voices both create and scratch the surface of answering this question.
Written by Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project, Inc. from New York, the play examines life in Laramie in the year following the murder of Shepard.
Visiting the area seven times and interviewing more than 200 Laramie residents, Kaufman and the theatre troupe used the ideas, feelings and statements of the interviewees to create an image of Laramie, and to capture an image of the city in general.
For Burns, the play’s detailed examination of the attitudes found not only in Laramie, but also throughout the country, mark the piece as an important work that Burns hopes will inspire self-examination for audience members.
Presenting the voices of a cross-section of Laramie residents ranging from a fellow student to a cab driver to a preacher who crashes the funeral of Shepard with an anti-gay message, the play offers a glimpse into the world where the hate crime occurred.
Understanding this atmosphere and asking the difficult questions that come along with such understanding, Burns hopes that audience members will not only question concepts of intolerance on a personal level, but also a communal one.
“I hope the play would be a vehicle for us to think of the role intolerance plays in our own lives and take steps to eliminate intolerance,” said Burns, proactively using this knowledge to “strengthen ourselves as individuals and as a community.”
While the Laramie Project has been performed across the world and has even appeared as a film on HBO starring actors such as Steve Buscemi and Christina Ricci, this performance marks the first time the play has appeared at CSU.
The closeness of the crime, as well and the timeliness of the issues, is what makes the performance a particularly important one for the Fort Collins stage, Burns said.
“Isn’t the university vested with the responsibility of discussing the ideas of the day?” Burns asks. “Given the fact that the incident had part of its reality in Fort Collins makes it a very timely piece of writing.”
Taking an important look at the communities, ideas and intolerance that hits so very close to home, the Laramie Project offers a chance for both individual and communal assessment while at the same time striking a deep chord with its very real emotional core. Indeed, this core, with its questions about humanity, is what makes the play so universal and essential.
“It’s difficult to watch the play and not be moved by thinking about what makes us essentially human,” Burns said.
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