Welcome to The Laramie Project: Reflections. Tectonic Theater Project created this online forum to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death. On the 11th anniversary, Tectonic honored Matthew by premiering The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later with simultaneous readings of the new play in all 50 states and eight different countries. Four years after that momentous night, we decided to once again implement a community-based, multi-media art project to remember Matthew.
What you find below is a collection of responses to a question posed to our online community: What does The Laramie Project mean to you? By encouraging our membership to respond with stories, words, images, pictures, and videos, we hope to create a unique and collaborative montage that promotes equality and justice in our world and in our art!
Replies are closed for this discussion.
The Laramie Project was my first show in my high school theatre group. We all got extremely close because of how heavy the topic was. We learned a lot about each other, and I'm so glad this was my freshman show. This show meant the world to me because it meant I found something bigger than myself. I became a part of something that didn't have to do with violence, gossip or judgment, but rather safety, warmth, and acceptance. The Laramie Project taught me more than a textbook ever could. Thank you.
Rest in Peace Matthew Shepard.
Walking into theatre my freshman year and having The Laramie Project as my first show to work on was daunting. We weren't characters, we weren't fictional, we were trying to become real people, we were trying to keep someones memory alive. Tackling such a heavy topic, such an emotional topic, every day- it was easy to leave your mind and make it seem like this was fictional, like no one could be as cruel as the people who tortured Matthew but there was one scene that would always pull me out of such a trance. At the end of act one, when Doc talks about how Matthew would say how Laramie sparkled. During this, the entire cast would take the stage having every light off except for the votive candles we would light one by one. This is the scene that made you remember Matthew. The scene that showed you these were real people trying to live their lives through this tragedy while having to go through this in the public eye. It was an honor to be apart of such a show. Rest in peace Matthew, you are truly missed.
Mercedes Herrero plays Reggie Fluty, the officer who discovered Matthew Shepard’s body, and Andy Paris plays Dr. Cantway, the doctor who tended to him, in a scene from “The Laramie Project.”
This is a photo of the final moment from Seattle Academy's 2009 production of the LP. It was a high school production. One of the actor's parents sent this note to the director after seeing his son in the show.
"After Seattle Academy’s High School production of Laramie Project in 2009, my son (a teen actor in the play) and I spent an hour and a half at our kitchen table discussing the play and themes such as empathy, love, fear, hate, judgment, and suffering. At some level he grasped that judgment of others serves little purpose in life. It brought us closer together to talk about such deep and important emotional issues. He was in and out of tears after having been immersed in the subject matter of the play for so long. I imagine many such conversations played out across your students' homes. That is the real power of this play.
That these kids feel part of something special and important, that in turn gives them a sense of self-worth and meaning. As I watched the play, it was driven home to me that your medium (drama) and this play allow theater directors to not only teach these kids how to be better actors, but also better human beings. In taking on the Laramie Project these kids have had an incredible lesson in what it means to be human and the human condition. Through long hours of immersion and empathy it is as if they directly lived through this whole ordeal, and are more complete people for having done so."
-From LaramieProject.org member Michael from Seattle, WA
What does "The Laramie Project" mean to me? Wow. It is often hard for me to put into words the feelings that I get sometimes. There are many similarities between Laramie & Laredo, beyond the first three letters of their names. For example, even though there are over 250,000 people in Laredo & Webb County, like Laramie, if you know one person, you know everybody. Laredo, like Laramie, is "infamous." I often get asked by friends & relatives who live out of town if I'm scared of all the violence & drugs here, when crime in Laredo has been going down & the violence is across the river in Nuevo Laredo. It's really frustrating the media constantly cast Laredo in a negative light. I'm not saying we don't deserve some of it, but focusing only on "illegal immigrants," or the drugs, or the violence in Nuevo Laredo, or the slanted portrayal of Laredo in "Border Town" on A&E ignores the ever-growing artistic community that has sprung up almost overnight here. For example, this past summer, there were 7 different productions in the various theatrical venues here in Laredo. (When I first moved here in 2000, there was maybe 1 or 2 summer shows, but just for kids, & nothing during the regular season.)The Border Slam crowned its third champion. The Laredo Center for the Arts celebrated its 20th Anniversary. The Nixon High School Drama Club represented Texas at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival & got rave reviews. But all anyone from the outside sees is drugs & violence & illegals.
And, unfortunately, like Laramie, Laredo was the scene of a horrific crime committed against a gay man here in town. Unlike Matthew, though, this person survived his ordeal. I didn't know about this at the time I decided to do this play. I was even more stunned to discover that this person was someone I know! I have hesitated asking him about it because I don't want to cause him any more pain than he has already gone through. He does know that I'm directing this play & said he was glad.
I am very happy to be directing this show here in Laredo. My cast is amazing & rehearsals are going well. We are going slowly, since we don't open until November. The hardest problem I have, if you can believe this, is getting them to go home when rehearsal is over. They want to stay & work! I'm so proud of them!
Excerpt from Feb. 16 artist talk at BAM with Judy Shepard and Moisés Kaufman on The Laramie Project Cycle and legacy of Matthew Shepard.
We made this promo for this project. I hope you like it. It is our first trial run at our show's promo.
From two former students:
I chose this picture because since the Matthew Shepard Foundation came and talked to us that day, I haven't taken off the erase hate bracelet. It means everything to me that I am able to start conversations about Matthew using just the bracelet and inform people who may not have heard of him.
The Laramie Project taught me to appreciate every individual I encounter, to admire how everyone contributes something beautifully unique to society. To me The Laramie Project means actively making a difference to better our society, and our appreciation of individuality.
In the late 90's I was an undergraduate student at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colorado. In 1997 our campus had just gone through several hate crime incidents involving vandalism, and the like. So in 1998 CSU created a diversity outreach and education taskforce that worked with the campus and community to address future hate crimes and other such incidents. On the night of October 7th I got a phone call that I had to attend an emergency meeting at 7am the next morning. I was so mad that I had to go to such an early meeting. At the meeting on the 8th I found out that a young University of Wyoming student had been severely beaten and left to die and that he was brought down to our hospital, Poudre Valley, because his injuries were too severe for Ivinson Hospital in Laramie. At that point it had not been confirmed yet that he was gay, but it was believed that was the motivating factor in his beating. This, of course, was Matthew Shepard, and the event would grow larger and larger until it gained world wide attention. At the time the magnitude of the event didn't even hit me. We went to work informing the campus and community of the event, organizing vigils, and dealing with a horrific homecoming parade float organized by one of the fraternities and sororities that had a scarecrow mounted on a fence with a sign reading "F*** take it up the ass!" The whole month was a blur for me, and it was only in retrospect that I was able to reflect on what the Matthew meant to me. I never knew or met Matthew, even though I was one of his first visitors at Poudre Valley as he lay in a coma before his parents arrived. One of the biggest lessons I learned from him though was thinking about how pissed off I was when I found out I had to go to a 7am meeting, and how inconvenienced I felt, only to find out what the meeting was for, and the guilt and humility I felt afterwards. I thought life was rough for me having to wake up so early, and here was this young man about my age who was dying in a hospital bed. Years later the Tectonic Theater Project would write this play, the Laramie Project, which I would go on to read, and then see a few different productions of over the years. I promised myself that I would one day direct a production of this play to atone for the selfish feelings I had going into that early morning meeting in 1998. 15 years later I am proud to say we are opening the Laramie Project on OCtober 12th, 2013, the 15 year anniversary of his passing. I hope that we honor Matthew's memory with our production.
The Laramie Project has been with me since 2002 when I was a sophomore at the University of Maryland. The text was assigned as the “First Year Book” for freshmen, and as a Resident Assistant, I had a hallway of 40 freshmen reading the text. As a theatre major, the text was also a part of my courses that year as well as one of the main stage productions. The rawness of the storytelling and the content struck me immediately. The value the show placed on telling a story and telling it right struck a chord with me. Ascribing value to all voices, no matter how seemingly wrong or hateful, gave the show strength and meaning, and I latched on to that value immediately.
Nine years later, during my fifth year teaching and directing the drama program at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, I was given the green light to produce The Laramie Project. (It would be my last show as Artistic Director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School drama program; I was leaving the family of B-CC Drama to begin a family of my own.) This production was a team effort and an ensemble production by definition. By far, this show was the most rewarding and impactful show of my five years directing shows.
I can recall vividly my cast huddled around my iPhone as we spoke to Stephen Belber about the thoughts, feelings, and advice about the show. I can recall the momentary silence followed by an eruption of applause after each show. I can recall the song “Yearlong Winter” slowly rising in volume as the lights dimmed on Matthew’s fence. I can recall the sense of pride I had in my students for their sincere and heartfelt effort in telling the story of The Laramie Project right.
After one performance, an employee of the Department of Justice approached me and asked if our production would like to perform an excerpt of our performance at their annual pride event. Imagine that: our high school drama production would perform at the Department of Justice. Though three months had passed since closing night, our cast and crew came together for one last performance, which you can view here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFYPGdBLDAo
On a separate note, prior to casting, the text needed the approval of the county. Amazingly, the text was not only approved but it was assigned as a Core Text for the third marking period of 10th grade English. Two years later, several teachers at B-CC H.S. teach it each year, as do I in my 10th grade classes. I can still hear the inflections of my cast members each time I read. The Laramie Project continues to live on, both in my life and the lives of countless Montgomery County Public School students.
Former Artistic Director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Theater and Media Arts Program
Below are a handful of reflections from cast and crew.
For B-CC’s production of The Laramie Project in 2011 I served as Technical Director of the show. Having grown up with parents in the fashion business I spent my childhood surrounded by many members of the LGBT community. I thought I understood what it meant to be gay. I thought it was a choice that these people made. That they choose to be lesbian, bi-sexual, gay or transgender. After working on the production I realized that I was wrong. It’s not a choice. It’s who they are. Just like I am a fun, slightly overweight, short tempered, loyal and loving person. It’s who I am. So, even at age 51 I learned something new. Working on this show was the most rewarding production I was a part of in my seven years with the B-CC Theater Department.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Media Services Technician
I am a current first year student at Barnard College in New York City. The prompt for my common application to college asked me to evaluate a significant experience or accomplishment that has had an impact on me. I chose to write about “The Laramie Project.” The play literally got me where I am today.
As I stood outside my high school watching them spread their message of malicious intolerance across the street, the only emotion I could muster was hatred. Though there were only a handful of members of the Westboro Baptist Church protesting our high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, each person held up several of their infamous signs, which proclaimed “God Hates F***,” “Pray for More Dead Soldiers,” and “Thank God for Sept. 11th.” The rage I felt was almost tangible. I was so frustrated and disgusted with their fundamental beliefs that I wanted to cry.
Little did I know that less than a year later, I would be forced to see things the way they do. At least for a brief time, I would have to embody the values and beliefs of this hateful group.
The Westboro Baptist Church is an organization that hates just about everything. From gay people to American soldiers, you name it, they hate it. I was aware of their notoriously spiteful beliefs but did not find myself intimately involved with them until I was cast in my school’s 2011 production of The Laramie Project, a play written about the true story of gay man Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder.
I played Fred Phelps, the leader of the Church who protested at Matthew’s funeral. I struggled with this part. How do you relate to a repugnant person such as Phelps? How do you give him a believable persona? As a human being, I vehemently disagreed with every one of his lines, but as an actor, I was compelled to believe in every word.
These conflicting feelings actually helped me. As I read the lines, I would feel an anger slowly washing over me; how is it that there are people who truly believe such horrible, offensive things? I embraced this anger and inversed it. The sincere anger I felt for the Westboro Baptist Church manifested itself as the hatred intrinsic in every one of the Church’s beliefs.
It got to the point where I was literally spitting out my lines. After my longest monologue, the ground around me actually would be slick. For our production, the audience sat onstage with the actors. This intimate relationship had a profound effect on me. From where I stood as Phelps, I could clearly see every audience member’s face trained on mine. I played right to them. I let the clear looks of disgust I perceived on their faces rile me up. I became furious that they did not agree with me. For the few minutes I was Phelps, I embraced his hatred and when people reciprocated with hatred of their own, I used it as fuel.
After one performance, a stranger from the audience told me that my transformation into Phelps was “nothing short of amazing.” I had found a way to cast aside my personal beliefs and present a character that was authentic and resonated with the audience. I consider this to be my highest acting accomplishment.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Class of 2013
I performed in "The Laramie Project" during my sophomore year of high school. As I sit here, listening to the final song we played in our production of the play, "Yearlong Winter," I am brought to tears. I have certainly cried since I was in "The Laramie Project," but the tears I cried then, and the tears I cry now are of a different caliber.
"The Laramie Project" was the first play I worked on that carried a significant social message. As an artist, I never felt like I had worked on anything as meaningful as this play. I portrayed six different people--many with whom I didn't neccessarily agree. However, I learned to understand their perspectives, to value their voices. I learned not only to tolerate opinions different from my own, but to learn from them. Theatre, in my life, became a platform to foster a dialogue on social issues, to raise awareness, to provoke social change, and to change people's perspectives and lives.
I had the honor of delivering one of the last lines of the play, as I portrayed Father Roger Schmit. “And I will speak with you, I trust that if you write a play of this, that you say it right. You need to do your best to say it correct.” As I spoke these words, "Yearlong Winter" began to play. My cast turned to face the audience, and as I began to cry, I saw that most of the audience did too. In that moment, I felt like we had truly done our best to tell the story right. We had said it correct.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Class of 2013
The first time we ran through the whole production with music and the lighting,and without stopping, I remember my legs turned to jelly, my brain clouded, and my heart swelled. It sounds like I had a pretty severe medical problem, but I assure you it was my body’s way of communicating to me the weight of the show and the release of it out into the world. We—the cast, crew, and probably the audience—all left the theatre night after night feeling like we’d just completed a triathlon and won. It’s the most incredible journey of emotions that I’ve ever experienced in the theatre and it’s honestly very hard for me to put into words exactly how I felt about it. I just know that I grew and changed with the process, the rest of the cast and crew grew and changed, and I think the audience did too. I will forever be grateful to Matthew, the people of Laramie, and the Tectonic Theatre Project for teaching me so much about the world. Thank you.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Class of 2011
Naomi also created a video reflection, which can be viewed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9B4ugg1j90
Below is a picture of Naomi as Aaron Kreifels.
I had never heard of Matthew Shepard until reading The Laramie Project. After the fact, I find out that this young boy is real. The torture Matthew endured during the play, actually happened. This disgusts me beyond belief. The fact that two people can be cruel enough to tie someone to a fence, torture them, and leave them to die is just outrageous. This act of cruelty is frightening enough, but it just so happened to occur on the outskirts of a little town called Laramie. Laramie is a small religious town in Wyoming; everyone knows everything about everyone. Outrageous violence like this wasn't taught in the every day school lessons. Cruelty like this wasn't preached in the church sermons. This was a malicious act by two cruel individuals, that had nothing better to do that prey on a vulnerable homosexually person.
Matthew's sexual preference does not justify violence. There is no excusable cause for what Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson did to Matthew, although "gay panic" was Aaron's reasoning. It is easier for Aaron and Russell to push blame, rather than holding responsibility. Yet through out the play, members of Laramie show great compassion. The people of Laramie did not necessarily defend Aaron and Russell after what they had done, but they did fairly prosecute each individual. After what had occurred, Russell's Mormon Home Teacher does not turn her back on him. He is excommunicated from the Mormon Church for his actions and still his Home Teacher says, "But I will not desert Russell. That's a matter of my religion and my friendship with the family" (page 84). To think that she could display sympathy after what he had done it mind boggling.
Another act of compassion is displayed by Dr. Cantway, who treats both Matthew and Aaron in the ER. Although he was unaware of their connection, they were only children. Dr. Cantway explains, "I took care of both of them...of both their bodies" (page 38). He felt compassion towards both kids, this was the right thing to do. He references the lord because it is said that God treats all of his people whether they are good or bad, wrong or right. If I were the Doctor, I can't say I would have done the same. This act of kindness amazes me.
Then I came to think, what if Laramie were my home town? What if every one outside of my hometown pictured it as the town where Matthew Shepard is killed? That's an awful image for a town to hold. This town has every right to re-claim it's name. To re-claim the compassion and identity it once owned before Matthew was murdered. Matthew's murder does not make the town what it is. The kind hearted, caring people of Laramie make that town what it is and what it will always be. I would hope that I would be capable to show the same compassion to people if this same situation were to arise again. I barely mention Matthew's homosexuality because this act of cruelty should not revolve around sexuality. A life was taken. A life that may have positively influenced the world we live in today. Now his story lives on to show people what we have become. The world needs to remember Matthew Shepard and what was done to him so that history doesn't repeat itself.