University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was just 21 when he was tied to a fence and brutally tortured outside the prairie town of Laramie, Wyoming, in October 1998 by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. Shepard had left the Fireside Bar with McKinney and Henderson, who left him hanging from that prairie fence like a scarecrow, close to death. Shepard died six days later, on Oct 12, 1998.
A month later, members of New York’s Tectonic Theatre Project – along with their artistic director Moisés Kaufman – set off for Laramie and conducted more than 200 interviews, which became the basis for the play The Laramie Project
. They returned 10 years later for an update and found a town still grappling its place in history – a story retold in their sequel, The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later,
which will be staged at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre beginning on Nov 9.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of the original play,” says Montreal playwright and director Donald Rees
, co-founder of Brave New Productions, which is producing the play. “It’s deeply moving without being melodramatic and captures a moment in time that I can remember living through. I was just a bit younger than Matt at the time and remember feeling devastated learning that such hate existed in the world. I was also moved by the promise of hope and change that seemed to come about from the event. That’s the same type of emotion The Laramie Project
Brave New Productions first premiered their production in Montreal last month, on Oct 12, 14 years to the day of Shepard’s death.
“Opening night was incredibly stressful,” Rees says. “Not because we weren’t prepared – I feel like we’ve never been more prepared for an audience – but because of expectation. The show received a tremendous amount of attention leading up to opening night, and I felt that we really had to deliver. The truth is, we’ve never heard such positive feedback, both from members of the audience and people in the [theatre] industry. I had hoped people would like the show, but people have gone out of their way to contact Brave New Productions to let us know how powerful our show was. That meant a lot.”
Opening night was also emotional for cast and crew.
“I was calling cues for the show that night, and for parts of the evening, I couldn’t follow the script because of the tears,” Rees says. “I had to stop watching the show and detach myself from the material.”
Thirteen members of the original Montreal cast of 20 actors – who play more than 70 characters – will be joined by seven Toronto actors for the Buddies run. “This is our second time bringing one of our shows to Buddies, and Buddies is awesome. What’s fun for us is adapting the show to a cabaret-style environment; the feel of the play changes completely. In Montreal, it was all rather epic. At Buddies, it will be intimate.”
Rees continues, “What’s interesting [about The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later
] is that Matthew’s killers are now saying it was a robbery gone wrong and that no hate was involved. That story has really taken a hold of Laramie, which is completely absurd. The amount of violence wreaked on Matthew went far beyond a robbery. They had to reattach his ear and [McKinney and Henderson] beat him with the butt end of a gun 19 to 21 times. Blood splatter was found 20 yards away. The reality is, they got his money the moment they left the bar. It was only after that, that McKinney and Henderson drove him out into a field, tied him to a fence, beat him and left him to die. Since The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later
is based entirely on actual interview transcripts, it’s interesting to hear what these two men have to say now that they’ve been in prison for a decade.”
The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, in the cabaret
Fri, Nov 9-Sun, Nov 11
$20; $15 students and seniors
Nov 9 – 7:30pm
Nov 10 – 3pm & 7:30pm
Nov 11 – 3pm
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
Brave New Productions
The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later