By Julie Bolcer
Originally published on Advocate.com October 13 2009 12:55 PM ET
The highly anticipated epilogue to The Laramie Project premiered Monday evening, with readings in 150 locations worldwide anchored by a special presentation in New York City featuring actress Glenn Close and Judy Shepard, who described all the events of the past week as "cosmic."
The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later: An Epilogue explores the changes in the town of Laramie, Wyo., in the decade since the murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay college student, in 1998. It is the work of the Tectonic Theater Project, which created the original Laramie Project.
Last year, around the 10th anniversary of Shepard’s death, the company returned to Laramie to speak with officials and residents about the tragedy’s long-term impact on the town. Their interviews and journal entries make up the material for the epilogue.
The eight original actors from The Laramie Project performed the reading in New York City at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on the 11th anniversary of Shepard's death, preceded by a live preshow webcast hosted by Glenn Close.
“Tonight we make theater history,” said Close, calling the webcast and readings across 14 countries and 50 states “an experiment unprecedented in scope and interactivity.”
The epilogue wrestles with the question of how a town of 27,000 struggles to control its own memory and history in the face of communal pain and global scrutiny. A significant portion of the material deals with revisionism that arose in recent years, fueled by a 2004 ABC News 20/20 segment that speculated drugs, not hate, motivated convicted killers Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney.
An interview with McKinney in prison provided a shocking climax to the reading.
“As far as Matt’s concerned, I don’t have any remorse,” said the inmate, portrayed by gay actor, Greg Pierotti. “Matt Shepard needed killin’.”
During a post-reading question and answer session moderated by NPR’s Neda Ulaby, Tectonic founder Moisés Kaufman declined to answer an audience member who asked what the example of McKinney teaches people, a question posed by the play’s Catholic priest character, Father Roger Schmit.
Judy Shepard talked with Advocate.com afterward concerning her feelings about the past week, which included the premiere, the anniversary of her son’s death, and the news that a federal hate-crimes bill named for him is finally a “done deal,” as she told the cheering audience at Alice Tully Hall.
“It’s sort of cosmic that it’s all happening on these days, right?” said Shepard. “One minute you’re just thinking, Wow, it’s really gonna happen, and the next it’s like, Oh, yeah, this is why it’s happening. You know, it’s very yin and yang, that’s the only way I can explain it. I just want it to be OK.”
Shepard, who spoke at the National Equality March on Sunday, called the bitter conversation surrounding the event and President Obama’s address to the Human Rights Campaign on Saturday a “mistake” and urged activists to stay focused on lobbying their representatives for change.
“It’s a process,” she said. “You have to understand that. And the president cannot do this stuff without Congress. So we have to make Congress work with the president. We need to be yelling at them, not so much him,” she said.