Laramie Project Support

The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later are two of the most frequently performed plays in America, as their messages still resonate with audiences today. Because of the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s close ties to the play, we often receive inquiries from students, teachers and theater companies who are producing the play about receiving more context and insight into Laramie and its residents, as well as the crime and Matthew’s story.

In 2011, the Foundation hired Susan Burk as its Laramie Project Specialist. As a former Wyoming broadcast journalist with professional theater training, Susan provides a variety of services including media resources, historical background and context, creative consultation and more.

At the time of Matthew’s murder, Susan was the executive producer and senior anchor the evening news at KTWO Television in Casper, Wyo, where she helped direct coverage of Matt’s story. She attended the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago and worked as a professional actress in various venues before relocating to Casper. Along with having strong ties to Matt’s story, Susan also produced an award-winning series on the filming of HBO’s production of The Laramie Project, and has acted and participated in various productions of the play.

Susan travels to various schools and theaters throughout the year to collaborate with show producers and community leaders and continues to expand support for the play by gathering and creating educational resources that highlight how Matt’s story remains relevant to current issues.

To inquire about receiving support for a production of The Laramie Project or The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, please contact Laramie Project Specialist Susan Burk by email or calling 303.830.7400 ext. 17.

FAQ

The plays were created by Moises Kauffman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project in New York and explore the reaction and impacts of Matthew Shepard’s murder on the residents of Laramie, Wyoming. The Laramie Project premiered at The Ricketson Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in February 2000 and was performed in New York City, as well as a November 2002 performance in Laramie, Wyoming.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation’s Executive Director, Jason Marsden, wrote eloquently of the plays in his article “The Legacy of Matthew Shepard” for WyoHistory.org.

A literary and theatric legacy, meanwhile, came from a band of playwrights and performers from New York City who were moved by the unfolding story of how a town responds to tragedy, controversy and worldwide media attention. The Laramie Project is a gripping tour through the actual spoken words of Laramie people drawn from hundreds of hours of interviews to show the outrage, the sense of being unfairly singled out, the quiet hope for change among gay and lesbian residents and the sometimes callous behavior of journalists. With the possible exception of the ongoing Wyoming State Archives collection of oral histories from those at the crime’s epicenter, the play, which is still widely performed, is the fullest extant record of the feelings and impressions of those who lived the story.

In the theatre company’s 2009 follow-up The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, many characters extensively critique the local response, the spotlight the town endured, and in a real sense, one another. The dramatists clearly came to conclude that some who wished for a more open and accepting Laramie see signs of this, while others despair of it ever happening. Among those who yearn for a Laramie free of the crime’s stain, some found that happening. Others did not. Mythology and storytelling, one University of Wyoming folklorist and professor told the theater company, play as deep a role in the remembrance of history as do news reports and personal memories.”

http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/matthew-shepard-legacy

Tectonic: http://www.tectonictheaterproject.org/

Rights to the Laramie Project plays are facilitated through Dramatists Play Service. They will inform you if the rights are available to you, and the process of obtaining them.

http://www.dramatists.com/text/rights.asp

The Foundation’s Laramie Project and Programs Specialist, Susan Burk, is dedicated to helping productions both in the United States and internationally. With personal ties to Matthew’s story and a strong theatre background, she brings a unique set of skills, experience, and historical context to her involvement with these productions. Besides being able to share the Foundation’s variety of archival and documentary resources, she is available for on-site visits to facilitate post-show discussions and community conversations, and for video chat and other communications with cast members and directors. You can find out more here.

No. The play is about the people of the town of Laramie and how they reacted to Matthew Shepard’s beating and murder. There is no violence depicted onstage.

No. Although often wrongly labeled “that gay play” by its detractors, The Laramie Project is not about homosexuality or even primarily about Matthew himself. Again, it’s about how the people of Laramie and the world reacted to the crime. As documentary theatre, it lays before the audience what happened in the case of Matthew’s murder and how the people of Laramie, and the world, responded. There are many differing viewpoints put forth in the play, and it is left to the individual to decide how they feel about what happened and about each of the individual characters.

Due to mature themes and language, many companies producing the play choose to include a disclaimer or warning that the subject matter may not be suitable for all ages.

The plays belong to Tectonic Theater Project and may not be altered in any form without the express permission of the authors. You may contact them at admin@tectonictheaterproject.org.

The fence was taken down by the landowner not long after the murder, because so many people were trespassing on the land to come pay homage at the site. There are a number of differing accounts about the fate of the fence. Some say the pieces of wood were incorporated into other fences on the property, some think the section was moved whole to another location nearby, some say the wood is in a storehouse or barn somewhere. We probably will never know, but as Matt’s mother Judy says, for those who come out to pay their respects it’s not necessarily the fence itself but the sense of place that often is the most moving. A bench dedicated to Matthew’s memory and unveiled with the Shepards at the University of Wyoming is located on the east entranceway to the Arts & Sciences Classroom Building on campus in Laramie.

In short, no. In Wyoming, there is a distinction between life in prison and life without the possibility of parole or commutation. Russell Henderson pleaded guilty before his trial was to start in order to avoid the death penalty. He received two life sentences, for kidnapping and murder, to be served consecutively (one after the other) rather than concurrently (at the same time). This means he has virtually no chance for release. Aaron McKinney, who actually killed Matthew, was convicted at trial and before the sentencing phase of the trial his defense team reached an agreement with the prosecution and the Shepard family to take the death penalty off the table. McKinney was sentenced to two consecutive life terms with no possibility of parole. The idea was to end the case and avoid the endless appeals of a death penalty conviction, including the possibility either Henderson or McKinney might be released on a technicality. Additionally, the Shepards, especially for the sake of their other son Logan, wanted the killers to have no more publicity or voice, which the killers agreed to. However, they have broken that promise and given conflicting, self-serving interviews to the media.

Matthew Shepard FoundationLaramie Project Support