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The brutal, hate-fuelled torture and murder of 21 year old Matthew Shepard in 1998 evoked outrage around the world and ultimately became a catalyst for revision of laws and attitudes towards homophobic violence. The killing took place in the then inconsequential town of Laramie, Wyoming, and two young local men were tried and convicted of the crime. Shortly after the event, several members of the Tectonic Theatre Project visited Laramie and conducted interviews with residents of the town. After speaking with around 200 people, the team distilled the interviews into a verbatim play, The Laramie Project. On the 10th anniversary of the murder, Tectonic again visited the town and conducted follow up interviews – some with people they had spoken with before, some with new people – and again compiled a verbatim play: The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later. 

To commemorate 20 years since Matthew Shepard’s death, local company Theatre Travels will be staging a tandem season of both plays, each on alternating nights. It’s a fundraiser for ACON’s Red Ribbon Appeal with donations being collected each night, and a special dual performance occurring on World AIDS Day (December 1) at which ACON will have information and representatives. 

Producer and director, Carly Fisher believes the plays are, sadly, still very relevant. 

“Although it’s 20 years later, the issues are far from 20 years old,” she says, citing the recent Marriage Equality vote that stirred homophobic sentiment. As a creative, Fisher says this is a validating production with potential for real impact. 

“This is exactly the sort of show for which you make theatre,” she explains. “It’s an important reminder of a show that does make you stop and say ‘What can theatre do? Why is it important that we use the dramatic arts to encourage conversation?’ [It’s because] the only way we are going to be able to advance is through conversation.”

The set is minimal, rustic, lots of wood. 

“We’ve tried to make it look like it could be set anywhere in Laramie. But it could also be set anywhere at anytime as well because that’s the whole point of the show,” explains Fisher. 

A very poignant addition to the show is the decision to re-enact precisely a vigil that took place in Texas. It will include songs, prayers and gestures exactly as they occurred and will be a very moving theatrical experience.

Nov 28-Dec 8 (Alternating shows). Reginald Theatre – Seymour Centre, Corner of City Rd & Cleveland St, Chippendale. $28-$55+b.f. Tickets & Info:

By Rita Bratovich