The somber anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder in Laramie, Wyoming, has cast a poignant shadow over the LGBTQ community and theater director Moisés Kaufman. As founder and artistic director of the New York-based Tectonic Theater Project, Kaufman has spent 25 years wondering about the life that Shepard could have led.
“Every year around this time, it’s painful to remember, but this one has hit particularly hard,” Kaufman shared. Following Shepard’s tragic death in 1998, Kaufman and his team embarked on a journey to Laramie, conducting over 200 interviews to create “The Laramie Project.” This groundbreaking play weaves together real news reports and actors portraying various Laramie residents, including friends, family, police officers, and even the killers.
“The Laramie Project” Resonates Worldwide
“The Laramie Project” has transcended borders and language barriers, being performed in over 20 countries and translated into more than 13 languages. It stands among the top 10 most licensed plays in America. Kaufman attributes its enduring relevance to its focus not solely on Matthew Shepard but on the town of Laramie itself.
“Precisely because it wasn’t about Matthew Shepard, precisely because it was about the town of Laramie is why it continues to resonate,” Kaufman notes. However, he laments that hate crimes, including those against LGBTQ individuals, remain prevalent in the United States.
Facing Resistance and Bans
Despite its international acclaim, “The Laramie Project” has faced resistance, particularly from conservative school districts. This year, it confronts potential banishment from Florida stages due to the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law. Kaufman voices concern that school censorship, particularly around LGBTQ-themed content, is on the rise nationwide.
In an alarming move, the Lansing Board of Education in Kansas voted to remove the script of “The Laramie Project” from the school curriculum. Kaufman, however, remains inspired by the students who persist in performing the play despite such barriers, referring to them as artist-activists. He believes that the most impactful art emerges from the intersection of personal and political narratives, and “The Laramie Project” stands as a powerful testament to that belief.
In a world still grappling with hate crimes and discrimination, “The Laramie Project” serves as a lasting reminder of the need for tolerance, understanding, and progress in LGBTQ rights.