“I can’t stop crying” said the outraged and tearful Ellen DeGeneres in response to the savage murder of Mathew Shepard. Today in my Manhattan apartment I find myself in a similar condition. I can’t stop crying.
After ten years, I am relearning my roles in The Laramie Project. It’s emotional on many levels. The subject matter itself is still painful. The time when I originated the roles is a precious period of my life. I have performed this play countless times, even in Laramie, and I am grateful to be able to return to it. I am also one of the writers. The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Stephen Belber, Steve Wangh, and me (with the help of many other members of Tectonic Theater Project), was our response to the murder of Matthew Shepard. We spent over two years interviewing people and developing the piece. I feel a strong connection to both the story and to the people I represent.
Now Tectonic Theater Project is restaging the play. We are also staging our new play, Laramie: Ten Years Later, which explores how Laramie has changed since Matt was killed.
Matthew Shepard was a gay University of Wyoming student who was tied to a fence, beaten, and left to die. His murder was a devastating moment in many queer people’s lives. It certainly was in mine. Here was a young man with whom most of us could deeply identify. Whether we had been physically abused for our sexuality, had suffered the daily humiliation of name calling in school, or lived with the undisguised scorn that so often warps and discolors the lives of queer people who refuse to be in the closet. I was certainly the subject of ridicule and extreme bullying because of my sexuality from Elementary school on. Later when I was all grown up in New York City, a man jumped from his car and beat me with a pipe because I was kissing my boyfriend on the street. I never reported it. Matt’s story undammed our grief and ignited our outrage.
A few days after Matthew Shepard was attacked, Moises Kaufman, our artistic director, called the company together and posed the question, “Is there something that the theater can add to a conversation about current events? Do we as a company have anything to contribute to the dialogue around Matt’s murder?” He proposed that we go to Laramie to explore these questions. He wanted to see if a play could be written about what was going on there. So we embarked on that exploration.
Leigh Fondakowski and I were the first to head out. We were both members of the company at that time, but had never worked on a show and barely knew each other. We’re both queer and we were both pretty scared, so we bonded immediately. Since then she has become one of my closest friends and collaborators. This is just one of the many debts of gratitude that I owe to Matt.