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!

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Reflections: The Laramie Project at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre

 

In September 2012, a cast and creative team made up of local high school students produced The Laramie Project at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre as part of the Theatre’s Youth Artists’ Chair program. Here are reflections from three of those students:

 

  • The Laramie Project has been my absolute favorite show to have ever worked on. The experiences with the cast and crew are definitely memorable ones. We laughed and we cried. We learned and created, but most of all we honored. We honored Matthew and the citizens of Laramie, Wyoming. I would not change this experience for anything. It was so inspiring and heartwarming, yet sad and heartbreaking. If I learned anything from this play, it is to always treat people with tolerance and respect. Also that no matter what happens, there will always be hope. Matthew and Laramie will always have a very special place in my heart. Rest in peace.” – Jen Vasbinder
  • “On October 12, 1998, my first-born son — and my hero — lost. On October 12, my first-born son — and my hero —  died 50 days before his 22nd birthday.  - Dennis Shepard
    …And Matt is my hero too. What did The Laramie Project do for me? It did everything in the world for me! It showed me how cruel and narrow-minded people can be, but it also showed me how people can really bond together when they believe in something. I just really hope that Matt knows the legacy he left, and how he will never be forgotten. The Laramie Project has inspired me so much that I am actually currently writing a play about the experience and interviewing people involved in it. It was by far the most amazing and memorable experience of my life. I will never forget the play, the people in it, and of course Matthew Shepard himself. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I am so glad I was given the opportunity to tell this story, because ‘We must tell the story right.’ And I feel this group of students did just that. It was an emotional rollercoaster, but I loved the ride. There aren’t enough words to describe what this play has done for me, and the impact it has had on my life. I will never ever forget it.” – Frances Weissler
  • “My name is Matthew Paszkiet and I am a 15-year-old high school student from Jupiter, Florida. I was honored to participate as one of the actors in the September 8, 2012, production of The Laramie Project at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. I portrayed eight different characters in the play including John McAdams and Stephen Shepard. Whenever I talk about the play or describe my theatrical experience with someone, I am reminded of the emotional power of not only the subject matter, but also the real life characters portrayed in the play. Matthew Sheppard was murdered for being himself. He was an easygoing, sociable, likeable, funny and energetic young man, who by the way, happened to be gay. This was why he was murdered? I am deeply saddened by this tragedy each and every time I am reminded of the circumstances surrounding the horrific events of Matthew Shepard’s death. My fellow actors and I created special bonds during the production of The Laramie Project. Night after night we ran lines, and at times, we were overcome with raw emotion because of the senseless actions that took place on that dreary night that precious Matthew was brutally abused and left to die. We all bonded with Matthew’s feelings and his character. We tried to make sense of the other characters’ actions and feelings, while trying to understand why this catastrophe had to happen. Before participating in this production, I had no idea who Matthew Sheppard was or what had happened to him. But now, even though I will never understand why he was murdered, I do know how I, and my generation, can better educate people on making and accepting choices, no matter what they are. We are dedicated to spreading the word to people to remain strong in their beliefs and support those who choose something that seems out of the ordinary. Just be yourself.” – Matthew Paszkiet

http://youtu.be/ZOm99ZjABCY where is an animation that some of my students made for The Laramie Project.

Matthew Shepard died when I was very young which makes me very grateful that people thought to put his story down on paper and film because if not for that I would have never known about him. I think that even now, fifteen years later, the impact of what happened to Matthew and the town of Laramie is just as strong. It deeply resonates with me because he was a kid my age and that is just how he’ll stay. Matthew will never grow older, and we will never see what would have become of him if he was given the chance to choose. We do, however, know what he became with what was thrust upon him. To me, Matthew is a symbol of strength. He was able to give people the strength to speak out and voice their thoughts on this heinous incident. Reading it for the first time now fifteen years later, I still feel a strong sense of indignation that this ever happened. What happened to Matthew is unacceptable, but it was able to bring worldwide attention to an issue that is so incredibly important. Because of Matthew and other people fighting for the cause, we have been able to learn and grow as a society, even if it is at a pretty slow pace. Father Roger Schmit said it best when he said the Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney have to be our teachers. We have to be conscious of what led Russell and Aaron to think that taking a life is ever justifiable and stop perpetuating that belief. To me, Matthew and Laramie’s story is about teaching people that nothing is black and white and we must have compassion for all of our fellow human beings regardless of race, gender, religious belief, or sexual orientation.

When I was in my junior year of high school, one of my friends took his own life because he was gay. While reading The Laramie Project I couldn't help but think of him. Denis Shepard's monologue in the final act was the part that stood out the most to me. When he said that Aaron should have to remember that Matthew every time a holiday passed, every time he woke up in the morning. It made me think of the people who bullied my friend. They should have to hear that speech. Anyone who has ever bullied anyone should have to hear that speech. The Laramie Project means compassion to me. If people had compassion, if people thought of how much they might hurt someone else before they did something or said something, the world we live in would be a better place. 

Our school's Allies club decided to create an art piece representative of the emotional themes discussed in The Laramie Project.  The brutality of Matthew Shepard's murder horrified the world while bringing uncomfortable yet necessary awareness to people's violent, cruel capabilities.  Though the evils are unpleasant and difficult to think about, it is important to remember and discuss this pain instead of living life oblivious to the struggles of the downtrodden and the condition of humanity.  To capture these feelings and realities, we painted colors around the play's playbill on a canvas.  Each shade symbolizes a different abstract reaction to The Laramie Project and the murder itself: purple depicts sadness and reflection, yellow signifies hope, orange expresses anger and motivation for change, and blue conveys healing.  RIP Matthew Shepard.

Jessie, Sophie and Alexandra

Ravenscroft Allies

Raleigh, North Carolina

Acrylic on canvas

Attachments:

The Laramie project presents to us the story of the town of Laramie. It shows us not just a couple perspectives from a few people, but reveals an event that exploded across the nation from the eyes of over fifty different characters. And it did it in a way I would never have thought to tell a story. It didn’t victimize or judge the town or its people. No, the Laramie Project didn’t set Mathew Shepard’s body on top of a pedestal, or demonize the actions of Aaron McKinney or Russell Henderson. The newspapers and television stations were already doing that, as well as the citizens of the country. Rather, the Laramie Project told me the stories of the people who made up the town and what they had to say about an event that haunted the small town with pain and dishonor. It told me that events like these cannot be told from a right or wrong viewpoint. This play isn’t a simple story about an act that violates human rights. It’s much too complicated to be a story like that, no matter how well written, no matter how simple we want it to be. It’s a compilation of truths, opinions, sadness, confusion, hatred, love, forgiveness and other gut wrenching thoughts we feel that we don’t have words for yet. It’s a work that’s still not finished yet. That is why it is called a project, and not a story.

                For a while now, I’ve never really viewed people as simply being nice or mean, or having a single personality. People are complicated because they are made up of countless experiences, feelings, attitudes, beliefs etc. But lately, I started not to care about the complicated mess that is a human being, it was so very tiring. I just didn’t want to deal with all that when it came to my friends, classmates and professors. I don’t want to think about everyone’s backstory, or what they’ve been through till this point because it was too much work. It’s so much simpler to only see someone as that grumpy friend, or that nasty professor, or the professor that goes into a funny voice when she talks about plays in class. But the Laramie Project walked me through its small town, with its civilians telling me what they thought about the town, about what happened to Mathew Shepard, about what they thought of him, what they thought about the news media coming in, about homophobia, about a patrolman who was forgotten in the mist of this event. They showed me all the life Laramie had at just that one time as opposed to “that town where that Mathew Shepard was brutally murdered”. The Laramie project showed me not to think in simplified stereotypes, that there is more to a person, town, or anything. One event doesn’t make a something. That’s just too simple, and life, a person’s life, is far too complicated for just that.

                Joseph Neese, sophomore at SUNY Plattsburgh

I am a freshman at SUNY Plattsburgh and I had never heard of the Matthew Shepard case until I read The Laramie project in my American Drama class. This story is a very heavy topic and it left me crying throughout the whole thing. What does The Laramie Project mean to me, you ask? It means that a big tragic event can happen in small towns and that it brings people closer together. I have a lot of gay friends here at home and it was appalling to hear about this horrible thing that happened to this boy. I grew up in a small town, and I thought that nothing bad would ever happen to us too, but something did happen. My best friend was picked on and bullied until the point where he couldn't take it anymore and so he took his own life. It brought my community together to mourn this terrible event. I feel that is what happened to the little town Laramie. Some tragic event happened and it brought the community to realize that something like this could actually happen and that not all people are good people and most everyone has their own views on things. Reading The Laramie Project made me think of how we all need to be more accepting with other people.  The statement at the end that was said by Dennis Shepard in The Verdict Moment was the most well said statement about how he viewed his son. The Laramie Project walked me through the life of that small little town in Wyoming, the life of the people there and through the beliefs that each person had. It made me think that life is just to short to take things for granted. The Laramie Project made me think to not stereotype things and that there are more to people, or a town than what meets the eye. We all need to stop stereotyping. Life is too short to have to deal with all that. 

                 Chelsa Tifft, freshman at SUNY Plattsburgh

The importance of the Laramie project to me would easily be the awareness gained with the event of the death of Matthew Shepard. Through this tragic event we learned of the ways of small towns and our eyes were opened to some of the crazy unexplainable things that people do from day to day in life. My eyes were really opened up to the crazy things that people do to others and how we cannot understand why they would ever do something like they did to Matthew. I feel like this event has made people driven to make sure all humans are equally regardless of their decisions. I am so happy to see that it has helped people come together and help those feel like they are comfortable and can be who they want to be. It is so important that in our society where everyone is supposed to be equal that we work together to help fulfill this for all of us regardless of everyone’s beliefs. I feel like the Laramie project has helped with this. Growing up in a small town where religion was a major focus of so much in life something like the death of Matthew Shepard and the speech that his father gives at the end that I read in the script makes people change how they feel and they realize that humans are all different. We all make different choices and those choices make us all different. I feel like this has really been know through this story. Which I feel like is so important we should never sit and look at people and see them suffer or viewed as someone who is not equal to all others. It is very sad that Matthew lost his life for so many people to realize what is going on but we will remember that he is an important person and that because of him people now really care about others and want to help. 

I’ve never really given much thought to the issue of discrimination and equality for the homosexual community in America, mostly because I came to this country at the age of fourteen, from the UK, where from my memory at least, homosexuality was not really a very talked-about topic. Coming to America and being in a rather open-minded area of Illinois, the issue was still not such an issue in my life, and I had several gay friends, who as far as I knew, did not get bullied for that reason. After high school, I joined the military, and saw a very different side of the issue, with homosexuality viewed very harshly, and even openly condemned as an abomination, and gays viewed as less than human. Unfortunately, these views were voiced quite loudly by a lot of people in the military, and they were hardly ever challenged, but I never heard stories of violent acts being committed against gay service members. Since reading The Laramie Project, my personal view of how homosexuality is viewed in this country has not really changed, because I feel like I got quite a good representation of how it is viewed in my travels. I was surprised, however by the effect The Laramie Project had on my view of the death penalty. Even as a child, living in a country that outlawed the death penalty a long time ago, I firmly believed that the death penalty was a completely logical way to serve justice for murder. After reading The Laramie Project that completely changed for me, and it is hard to put my finger on why. Matthew’s father’s monologue at the end of the play really struck me in a way that is hard to put into words, and made me realize that the purpose of the justice system is not to take an eye for an eye, but to set an example. That example should not be more death, but compassion. This play made me think that it might just be possible to reduce hate and violence by showing that those acts will not be met with more of the same. That’s what The Laramie Project means to me.

So happy to be a part of this. 

University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music's Drama Department shares thoughts on their production of The Laramie Project. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rd0E9V5YA68&feature=youtu.be

          The Laramie Project means a lot more to me than I thought it would.  To be honest, it did not mean anything at all to me until about a week and a half ago when my American Drama professor assigned it for my class to read.  I was six when Matthew Shepard died and had no prior knowledge of what had happened to Matthew Shepard and did not know it was even a true story until my professor told my class.  I am a college student studying English education with a minor in theater and this play is the first play that has actually made me feel overwhelmed with emotions; I wasn’t expecting it.  Now looking at the play, I can feel how real it is.  The characters are so real and it is nice to be able to see the different perspectives of Laramie in the play, as they tried to handle what happened to Matthew Shepard and their town.  This play seems like it can really hit home for a lot of people.  It made me see that no place or life is perfect, but that it is necessary for us to face the issues that make life not so perfect.  It was especially interesting to read about how Laramie reacted after the death of Matthew, even people who did not even know him specifically.  It’s really amazing how some of the town of Laramie learned to take Matthew’s death as not necessarily a positive, but as something life changing that could be reflected upon.  The passage in the play where Matthew’s father talks about Aaron McKinney and the death penalty really makes me think.  Dennis Shepard must have reflected on Matthew’s death with much difficulty to be able to make the decision he made: letting Aaron McKinney live, but with the idea that he has to live the rest of his life knowing that Matt would not ever have his back.  This passage in the play must make everyone think, what would I have done if I were Matthew’s parents? –How could it not?  I don’t even have children, but I have no idea as to how I would react if something like this were to happen to one of my loved ones, or how my parents would react if something like what happened to Matthew happened to me.  I am actually 21, the same age that Matthew was when he died, which makes it that much real to me.  I realize that life could be gone for me just as soon as it was for Matthew.  I am fortunate to be alive today to talk about Matthew and his impact, Matthew on the other hand is not and we will never know what his full impact would have been on the world. 

          The Laramie Project really hits a wide spectrum of ideas on the issues dealing with the LGBTQ community and that’s why I think it is so relatable to so many people.  Hate crimes are still very prevalent today, but I feel that if more people read Matthew’s story, they would decline.  The Laramie Project is a play that everyone should read and I am glad I was introduced to it.    

 

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