laramie-project

“The Laramie Project” — a chronicle of the life of a Wyoming town following the 1998 kidnapping and murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard, will be staged at Northwestern University from Oct. 24 through Nov. 2.

The production — written by Moises Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theater Project — will launch the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts’ 34th Mainstage season on the University’s Evanston campus.

Related events will include “Not Alone: The Power of Response,” the debut of a traveling exhibit that will allow audiences to explore the aftermath of Shepard’s death beyond the scope of the stage production. Staged readings of Tectonic Theater Project’s “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later,” which serves as a follow-up look at the town of Laramie; a line-up of post-show guest speakers; and an Oct. 24 opening night fundraiser for a local group’s efforts to assist homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT) youth in Chicago, are also planned.

Related events will include “Not Alone: The Power of Response,” the debut of a traveling exhibit that will allow audiences to explore the aftermath of Shepard’s death beyond the scope of the stage production. Staged readings of Tectonic Theater Project’s “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later,” which serves as a follow-up look at the town of Laramie; a line-up of post-show guest speakers; and an Oct. 24 opening night fundraiser for a local group’s efforts to assist homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT) youth in Chicago, are also planned.

“The Laramie Project” production performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday, from Oct. 24 through Nov. 2, at the Ethel M. Barber Theater, 30 Arts Circle Drive, on the University’s Evanston campus.

Directed by Rives Collins (“The Hundred Dresses,” “The Bluest Eye”), a Northwestern theatre faculty member, a new generation of actors will bring to life a living mosaic of one community’s response to a tragedy that became a catalyst of cultural and social change in America.

Beginning in 1998, members of Tectonic Theater Project made six trips to Laramie, Wyoming over the course of a year-and-a-half in the aftermath of the beating and during the trial of the two young men accused of killing Matthew Shepard for being gay.

During their visits, they conducted more than 200 interviews with the people of the small western town, some directly connected to the case.

Named by Time magazine as “one of the ten best plays of the year,” the breadth of the community’s reactions to the crime is crafted into a fascinating theatrical collage that explores the depths to which humanity can sink and the heights of compassion of which we are capable. 

‘Not Alone’ exhibition

“Not Alone: The Power of Response” traveling exhibition, Oct. 24 though Nov. 2, in the Ethel M. Barber Theater, 30 Arts Circle Drive. With a focus of simplicity and clarity, “Not Alone: The Power of Response” is a new visual project comprised of original letters from people affected by the loss of Matthew Shepard.

The letters are addressed to Shepard’s parents Judy and Dennis Shepard and are curated into three guided themes: “Empathy,” featuring notes of sympathy and compassion for the Shepard family; “Responsibility,” focusing on those who felt the right to teach tolerance; and “Action,” a tribute to those who found hope and inspired change in their own communities because of Shepard’s story.

The exhibition was created by Ford’s Theatre Society, Washington, D.C., and Split Rock Studios, Minn., as part of The Lincoln Legacy Project, Fall 2013. Curated by Heather Hoagland, the exhibit is organized by and provided courtesy of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Note: The exhibit can be viewed a half-hour prior to the start of each performance as well as during special open exhibit hours, which are noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25; from noon to 4 p.m. Thursday Oct. 30; and following the 2 p.m. performances on Saturday, Nov. 1 and Sunday, Nov. 2until 6 p.m.

Staged readings

“The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later,” written by Moises Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris and Stephen Belber, 2 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 1; 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2. Ethel M. Barber Theater, 30 Arts Circle Drive.

On Sept. 12, 2008, 10 years after the completion of the original production of “The Laramie Project,” five members of Tectonic Theater Project returned to Laramie, Wyoming, to try to understand the long-term effect of the murder of Matthew Shepard.

What they found was a town wrestling with its legacy and its difficult place in history. In addition to revisiting the community members whose words riveted audiences around the world in the original play, this time the company also spoke with the two murderers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, as well as Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard.

“The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” asks the question, “How does society write its own history?” The staged readings of this play are free and open to the public. Reservations are not required.

Post-show talkbacks

The Wirtz Center’s 2014-15 Mainstage season reflects on the evolving definitions of family and community, inviting audiences to embrace the circumstances that unite and strengthen us. “The Laramie Project” will extend this theme through talkbacks following every performance, highlighting key figures from Evanston, Chicago and the country.

Joined by the cast and moderated by the production’s dramaturg Grace Kessler Overbeke, guest respondents will include:

  • Friday, Oct. 24, Tracy Baim, editor-in-chief of The Windy City Times;
  • Saturday, Oct. 25, Damon Hainline, a marriage equality and LGBT activist;
  • Sunday, Oct. 26, Jack Doppelt, professor of journalism, Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing;
  • Thursday, Oct. 30, Bill Farmer, teacher and Gay/Straight Student Alliance Advisor at Evanston Township High School;
  • Friday, Oct. 31, Timothy S. Stevens, Northwestern University chaplain and Father Kevin Feeney, chaplain and director of Sheil Catholic Center;
  • Saturday, Nov. 1, University Police Sgt. Haydee Martinez; and
  • Sunday, Nov. 2, Harvey Young, associate chair of theatre, Northwestern University. 

Generation Halsted fundraiser 

Additionally, a portion of the proceeds from the opening night performance of the production on Friday, Oct. 24, will go to follow-up projects from the Windy City Times 2014 LGBTQ Summit towards supporting their initiatives with local partner organizations and services to combat the growing epidemic of LGBTQ homeless youth in Chicago.

More information is available online.

“We are honored to be partnering with so many wonderful national and local organizations to bring the story of Matthew Shepard to a whole new light,” said Diane Claussen, managing director of the Wirtz Center. “One family’s tragic loss ultimately affected the course of a nation. The dialogue should and will continue.”

Tickets for the Wirtz Center’s “The Laramie Project” are $25 for general public; $22 for seniors over 62 and Northwestern faculty and staff and educators; and $10 for full-time students with valid IDs (at the door) or $5 tickets exclusively for full-time Northwestern students on advance purchase. Discounts are available for groups of eight or more.

For more information, phone 847-491-7282, visit the Wirtz Center website.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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2 Comments

  1. Was Shepard killed because he was gay?

    According to an ABC Dateline report 10 years ago, the two murderers, the prosecutor and a lead investigator all said Matthew Shepard's murder had not been motivated by Sherpard's sexuality but was primarily a drug-related robbery that had turned violent.

    The Book of Matt by Stephen Jiminez, an award-winning gay journalist, also claims Shepard was a meth dealer who knew his killers, one of which was his lover. 

    So is the Mathew Shepard industry of foundations, plays, songs and state and national hate crime laws all based on a hoax? There seems to be a lot of evidence it is.

    1. I like think that I saw the

      I like think that I saw the Date line report or one of  the other TV Magazine shows  like 60 minutes. I don't remember that the victim was gay. I do remember that Shepard was a drug dealer and had sold drugs to his killers in the past and that the killers were high at the time when they robbed him to get more drugs.

      My thoughts at the time were, what's the big deal…….this happens in Chicago all the time. I didn't remember this was a gay issue.

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