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Theatre / The Laramie Project

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The Laramie Project is a play by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project about the aftermath of the 1998 murder of openly gay college student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. The play draws on hundreds of interviews of Laramie residents conducted by the members of the Tectonic Theater Project (led by Moises Kaufman), as well as news reports and company members' journal entries. Together, these pieces fit together to form the story of how Matthew Shepard died, the reaction both of Laramie and the country at large, and the trials of his murderers Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney.

The piece is widely regarded as the most influential play centered on homosexuality since Angels in America. It is used in schools across America and the UK to teach about prejudice and tolerance, and has inspired grassroots efforts to combat discrimination.

This play contains examples of:

  • Audience Monologue: The play is practically composed of these.
  • Based on a True Story: The play follows the historical events almost verbatim.
  • Cast Full of Gay: Many residents of Laramie interviewed—only natural given the nature of the subject matter.
  • Cruel Mercy: Matthew's father, Dennis Shepard, casts this upon Aaron McKinney when he asks for Aaron to not be put to death for his crimes.
    "I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy.
    Mr. McKinney, I am going to grant you life, as hard as it is for me to do so, because of Matthew.
    Every time you celebrate Christmas, a birthday, the Fourth of July remember that Matt isn't. Every time you wake up in your prison cell remember that you had the opportunity and the ability to stop your actions that night. You robbed me of something very precious and I will never forgive you for that.
    Mr. McKinney, I give you life in the memory of one who no longer lives. May you have a long life and may you thank Matthew every day for it."
  • Gay Aesop: The play brutally enforces the idea that people who genuinely believe that others deserve to die just because they're gay really do exist and trying to pretend they don't does nothing but harm gay people. It describes the visceral details of Matthew Shepard's killing, the total lack of motivation for the murder besides his sexuality, and shows the sheer lack of sympathy many have for Matthew despite his brutal murder.
  • Just Ignore It: In the movie, this was the residents' response to Fred Phelps by standing between him and his hate mongers and the public wearing winged angel costumes, blocking them from sight too.
  • One-Steve Limit: The subject of the show is the death of Matthew Shepard: there are two other Matthews, both of whom worked at the same bar. Both one of the murderers and the man who found Matthew were named Aaron. There are two unrelated Stephens.
  • Original Cast Precedent: The show is almost always performed with eight people playing the several dozen roles, and frequently actors play some roles of different gender and/or race.
  • Our Acts Are Different: The show is performed in three acts of equal length, with an Intermission between each.
  • Sequel: The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later is a full-length work which updates the events of the original play.