The Laramie Project: Using Media to Teach Tolerance 10 Years Later

Matthew ShepardNov. 13, 2009 It’s fitting that The Laramie Project premiers locally tonight in San Mateo on Friday the 13th, as the theater production resurrects a haunting melancholy on the ‘unlucky’ and fateful day young Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, severely beaten and left to die suffering for six days tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. Reason for the hate crime? He was gay.

When teen virtual world Habbo Hotel marked the 10-year anniversary of this 1998 era with the  “Erase Hate” Matthew Shepard Foundation I was duly impressed with their efforts to bring meaningful dialog, diversity outreach and teaching tolerance “in-world”  yet I recall thinking, “Hmn…Some of these kids weren’t even BORN yet, it’ll be interesting to hear their take on how bullying can escalate to brutal slaying.”

Sure enough, a random poll of middle school teens (here in the Bay Area ‘burbs, no less!) said Matthew Shepard’s name ‘sounded familiar’ but couldn’t place the person or even the act itself.

Some flirted on the fringe of knowledge, ‘oh, that’s the gay guy, right?’ but clearly it’s all the more reason to uncork issues of reprehensible violence and put ‘em on the front burner for peer to peer discussion. Look no further than the description of the Homecoming assault and repeated gang rape of the teen girl in Richmond to realize that humanity needs an adjustment on the moral compass…

So tonight (and over the next couple weeks) teens have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a form of participatory history, as the Tectonic Theater Project revisits Laramie, this revisiting the “What’s changed in 10 years” question, (Newsweek) with a poignant play revealing the feelings, thoughts and reactions of those in the town of Laramie in the wake of his death. (Oct. ’09 AP coverage here, and SFChronicle here)
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Most of the theater events around the world took place on the exact anniversary of his death, October 12th but somehow, tonight, Friday the 13th is equally appropo, reminding of the ‘luck of the draw’ when it comes to homophobic viciousness and the need to advocate for human rights universally.

His torture and murder became a watershed historical moment in America that “highlighted many of the fault lines in our culture”…

Ten years later, the members of Tectonic Theater Project now have an online community tracking legislative updates on hate crimes, Facebook photos galore of their various events, and yet the importance of raising awareness is distilled to the core questions that remain…

“Has Matthew’s murder had a lasting impact on the Laramie community? How has the town changed? What does life in Laramie tell us about life in America 10 years later? Is there such a thing as justice here, and if so, does it prevail? How has this impact us on a global scale? What can we learn?”

These are the questions youth of every generation need exposed to in order to ‘reach and teach’ in impactful ways…

By now, The Laramie Project (Pt 3, Audience guide for discussion) has been seen by over 30 million people across the country, as one of the most performed plays; a veritable staple in some high school theaters.

It’s been turned into an HBO Emmy nominated movie that opened Sundance way back in 2002…(in my Netflix queue now) and there have been awareness raising events just about every Oct. 12 where I live here in the Bay Area…

So how is it that a few dozen suburban kids can look at me pointblank and say, “Matthew WHO?”

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Mine won’t be one of ‘em. We’ll be bringing a teen peer posse with us to see this important work and pay it forward in any way we can…(fyi: inappropriate for younger kids, obviously due to the violence/subject matter)

Let me know if you’ve seen it in your town (in any variation) and do me a favor and pose this question to any youth under 18 that crosses your path: “Who is Matthew Shepard?”

I’m very curious to hear the different answers in different regions at various ages and stages.

I have a feeling we have a lot more work to do…

Related Resources

Laramie Literacy: Audience Guide/Deconstruction

Theater as Journalism: The Laramie Project Revisited (Newsweek blog)

NPR: Laramie Producers Revisit Matthew Shepard Tragedy 10-12-09

LATimes: Matthew Shepard’s Murder Ten Years Later

Associated Press Clip: Actor-playwright Greg Pierotti talks about ‘The Laramie project’ and his interview with convicted killer Aaron McKinney, the person responsible for the death of Matthew Shepard

Tonight’s Opening: The Laramie Project in San Mateo

SYNOPSIS:

The Laramie Project is a play based on interviews of the people of Laramie, Wyoming, made after the brutal killing of Matthew Shepard who was beaten, robbed and left to die tied to a fence. The incident made national news, and the 10 year anniversary was commemorated on October 12th with events across the world.

The play reveals the feelings, thoughts and reactions of those in the town in the wake of his death.

WRITTEN BY: Moises Kauffman and the Tectonic Theater Project

DIRECTED BY: Barbara Williams

SHOWS:

Fri 11/13 @ 8pm – Opening night champagne gala (special ticket price)

Sat 11/14 @ 8pm

Sun 11/15 @ 7pm – note earlier start time

Thu 11/19 @ 8pm

Fri 11/20 @ 8pm

Sat 11/21 @ 8pm

TICKETS: Reservations: call 650-345-2381 Pricing: $10 – $20  (under 14 – free)* *Please note that The Laramie Project contains adult themes (violence, sexuality) and some strong language, and is not appropriate for younger children. VISA/MC accepted  Walk-ups welcome, but seating is not guaranteed.

LOCATION: Crystal Spring UMC 2154 Bunker Hill Rd, San Mateo, 94402 (off Polhemus near Safeway)

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