By Comet Ziemer
It is very rare that a new and unique story graces society and stays relevant for years to come. But The Laramie Project is just one of those shining stars that stay glowing for years after its initial release. With its incredibly heavy and impactful story, it is something that everyone should read at least once in their lives.
The Laramie Project is a play written by Moisés Kaufman and is based on the true story of the murder of a gay university student in Laramie, Wyoming. The play tells the story through a series of interviews that were taken with over 200+ Laramie citizens, a technique known as verbatim theatre. We learn about the victim, Matthew Shepard, and the events that led to his tragic murder. Since its premiere in 2000, over 2,000 licensed productions of The Laramie Project have been produced and thousands of copies of the play have been sold. So as a theatre kid looking to expand their play knowledge, I grabbed a copy of the play and decided to give it a read. And let me say with confidence: this is probably one of my favorite plays ever written.
First of all, the story itself is absolutely heart wrenching and mind blowing. The use of verbatim theatre made me really jump into the reality of the play. With plays, it is easy to hide behind the wall of imagination without even realizing it. But this play has constant reminders that this story is real, not letting you forget the horrible things that Matthew Sheperd went through. One of the major reality checks that this play had was that not everyone in the interviews had the same opinions about Matthew’s murder. Each individual person has a different thing to say about it. And some of the things said are not the stuff you would expect. Some of it was very negative and had a lot of homophobic undertones. But it’s this reality with the interviews that makes me love this play so much. With normal stories, writers get to control who has the mic in a scene and control what does and doesn’t get said. But when you read The Laramie Project, you know that these are words that have really come out of someone’s mouth. And even when it is negative, that reality gives me a sense of comfort. It reminds me of what the play was written for and what story it wants to tell, which is how hate and discrimination is buried in every corner of the world, no matter its size.. And this particular story is something that needs to be heard from every side.
The second thing that I absolutely love about this play is the use of a narrator and the inclusion of entries from the authors. Seeing different snippets of dialog that come from the authors and the narrator makes it feel like you are learning about this story along with the writers. If it was just told through the citizen interviews, the play would have had a lost and incomplete feeling. The addition of having a narrator and different scenes with the authors allows the reader to have this time to collect their thoughts about the story and look at it from a realistic perspective. The balance between all of the different scenes allows the play to have a very even and well thought out flow.
And lastly, I love this story just because of how timeless it is. With everything that is going on in America today with anti LGBTQ+ laws and large amounts of discrimination towards LGBTQ+ people, it is important for stories like this to be told. According to CNN’s Annette Choi, more than 400 anti queer bills have been proposed across America since the start of 2023. More than 800 LGBTQ+ people were killed in the last two decades. And according to The Trevor Project in 2018, 1.8 million LGBTQ+ youth (13-24) heavily consider suicide each year, and one person commits suicide ever 45 seconds. Not enough people know about The Laramie Project, and I feel like it should be something that should be shared more commonly in schools, just like how we teach about Shakespeare. It is these stories that will help make tomorrow safer for queer people all over the world. The Laramie Project is an outstanding work of art and is so highly underrated.