The University of Arizona School of Theatre, Film & Television (TFTV) is proud to open its 2023/24 theatre season with a production of “The Laramie Project,” Oct. 7-22.
The production will mark the 25th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, the university student whose murder in Laramie, Wyoming, became one of the highest profile hate crimes of its time.
Written and performed by members of Tectonic Theater Project, “The Laramie Project” is drawn from over 200 recorded interviews the members conducted with the citizens of Laramie after Shepard’s death. The resulting play – a portrait of an American town forced to confront itself – helped to change the way hate and love and acceptance is discussed in this country.
“Today our play continues to sit at the center of cultural debate and controversy,” said Pierotti on the play’s lasting impact. “Productions are often banned by school boards or protested by hate groups. On January 30, 2023, the play was banned from curriculum and school libraries by the Lansing, Kansas Board of Education. Tectonic Theatre Project responded with an open letter to students in Lansing offering free copies to any student requesting one. Many have been requested.”
Matthew Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, co-founders of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and leading advocates for LGBTQ rights, will travel to Tucson for the anniversary performance.
“”The Laramie Project” continues to be relevant today, as hatred and division cloud our efforts towards equality,” said Judy Shepard. “Yet it is the courage of the performers to engage in what can be an emotional and sometimes controversial process that helps sustain my optimism and ignite my eagerness to continue this critical advocacy work.”
About The Laramie Project
Since its world premiere in 2000, “The Laramie Project” has attained prominence in the modern American theatrical canon and in mainstream culture more broadly. At its premiere, the Associated Press wrote that it was “astonishing… nothing less than an examination of the American psyche at the end of the millennium.” Nearly 20 years later, it was named in The New York Times’ “25 Best American Plays since Angels in America,” a list of plays remarkable for its diversity of playwrights and subjects and “because the most exciting theatre is often about the most urgent issues in the world it reflects.”
Pierotti and his Tectonic collaborators adapted the play into a feature film produced by HBO, for which they each earned Emmy nominations. By 2018, HBO had estimated that the film had been viewed by an international audience numbering more than twenty million. In 2009, President Obama acknowledged the play’s influence by inviting Tectonic’s artistic director and head playwright, Moisés Kaufman, to represent the company in the White House Rose Garden when he signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Junior Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.
“The Laramie Project” has had over 3,000 licensed productions and has been translated into 30 languages. In TFTV’s production, the primary cast will feature both BFA and BA Theatre students – performing together onstage in a school first.
Laramie Inside Out screening
Also marking the anniversary, a screening of Laramie Inside Out, the documentary by TFTV Professor Beverly Seckinger, will take place at the Loft Cinema on Oct. 10. Born and raised in Laramie, Seckinger’s award-winning film offers a distinctly personal perspective. Seckinger and Pierotti, now TFTV colleagues, first met while conducting their research in Laramie 25 years ago.
Matthew Shepard’s Legacy: Then and Now
The University of Arizona School of Theatre, Film & Television and the LGBTQ+ Institute present Matthew Shepard’s Legacy: Then and Now, an in-person conversation with Judy and Dennis Shepard together with panelists including local community advocates for transgender youth and families, Lizette Trujillo and her son Daniel Trujillo. Moderated by Carol Brochin, Associate Professor, Teaching, Learning & Sociocultural Studies and Affiliate Faculty, LGBTQ+ Institute. Since their son’s murder in 1998, Judy and Dennis Shepard have worked tirelessly to transform our country’s thinking and legislation to protect LGBTQ + people. In Arizona, Lizette and Daniel Trujillo have been on the front lines fighting for the protection, recognition, and inclusion of the transgender community. A personal and timely conversation about Matthew Shepard’s legacy, how it has changed the world, and where the work of cultural transformation goes from here. This event will take place on Thursday Oct. 19, 7pm-8pm, on campus at the Gallagher Theatre in the Student Union. Entry is free.
Performances of “The Laramie Project” will take place in the Tornabene Theatre on campus at the University of Arizona from Oct. 12-22, with a preview performance on Saturday, Oct. 7. Judy and Dennis Shepard will take part in a post-performance discussion on Friday, Oct. 20.
This press release originally appeared on the School of Theatre, Film & Television on Sept. 18, 2023. Republished with permission.