In 1998, playwright Moises Kaufman traveled to Laramie, Wyo. — where gay 21-year-old Matthew Shepard had died after being brutally attacked because of his sexuality — to talk to the town's residents in the wake of the crime. The interviews he collected became the backbone of "The Laramie Project," a play that emerged as one of the most important dramatic works of the last decade.
Eleven years later, Shepard's death still resonates.
As an intern at the Matthew Shepard Foundation last summer, Lauren Neal '11 paged through article after article on the event, preparing them for digitization. While reading the stories and seeing the faces of people who had known Shepard, Neal said, "I kept trying to imagine how I would feel if something like this happened to someone I knew. I just couldn't."
While she was at the foundation, Neal heard about a new effort spearheaded by Kaufman and his group, the Tectonic Theater Project. To commemorate Shepard's death, Tectonic went back to Laramie to conduct more interviews and created a 70-minute epilogue to Kaufman's original play. The piece, "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later" will premiere simultaneously in more than 100 regional theaters across the country on Monday.
"It's a unique opportunity to see the impact of this single event," Neal said. "It's a huge interactive event."
Over the summer, together with James Flynn '11 and Chris Tyler '10, Neal started planning a reading at Brown.
"The three of us thought, ‘It's realistic to make this happen at Brown,'" Flynn said. "It's an interesting play for people our age to be doing."
Along with 20 other Brown students, Neal, Flynn and Tyler will be putting on what they think is one of the few undergraduate-driven readings of the play. Neal directed what she calls a "still performance of the text" — a staged reading — that will take place in Leeds Theatre at 8 p.m. on Monday.
The free performance will begin with an introduction by actress Glenn Close and Judy Shepard, Matthew's mother, transmitted by webcast from Tectonic's production at Lincoln Center in New York City to performances all over the country. At the end, actors from the original production will answer questions via Twitter. Proceeds from audience donations will go to the Matthew Shepard Foundation and Brown's LGBTQ Resource Center.
Neal's won't be the only reading of "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later" being presented in Providence on Monday evening. Shana Gozansky GS, a student in the Brown/Trinity Repertory Consortium, is directing a performance that will take place at the Pell Chafee Performance Center at 7 p.m. the same night. Gozansky brought together 16 first-year MFA acting students to put on a "simple reading of the text to allow people to focus on the story," she said.
"We feel really fortunate and excited to participate in an event that connects us and communicates across the country," Gozansky said.
She added that bringing "The Laramie Project" back into the national conversation would help people see that "this can happen anywhere."
According to Tyler, who saw the play when he was in sixth grade, everyone has been marginalized in one way or another, so Shepard's story is "linked to everyone else's story."
"It's the simple fact that being who you are could cause people to hate you," he said. "Matthew Shepard was denied understanding, acceptance — he was denied life."
"It's incredible that one isolated incident could enact such change or spark conversation that causes change to happen," he added.
Gozansky echoed Tyler, saying, "If we want to bring about change, we need to demand it. We are all part of this."