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Returning to Laramie

posted by Chad Jones on Sat, Oct 17, 2009
in At the theatre

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Estimates for last Monday night’s audience at The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later are impressive. Somewhere in the realm of 50,000 people (according to the New York Times) attended one of the 150 staged readings of the new play around the world — including at least one in each of the 50 states.

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Mina Morita, who directed Berkeley Rep’s sold-out production of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, reflects on the events of Monday night: “It was such a cultural moment. The impact of doing something like that on an international scale, to be connected that way, is incredible.”

Tectonic Theater Project, the creators of the original Laramie Project (produced at Berkeley Rep in 2001), a piece of documentary theatre about the murder of 21-year-old college student Matthew Shepard in 1998, hosted a reading in New York City at Lincoln Center’s Tully Hall. Portions of that reading, specifically the pre-show introductions featuring Tectonic’s Moisés Kaufman and actor Glenn Close and the post-show discussion, were streamed over the internet and made available to any theatre company with the technological know-how to tap into it.

The Berkeley Rep audience saw the New York introduction and then took part in a live post-show discussion with Mina, dramaturg, Rachel Viola (Berkeley Rep’s literary/dramaturgy fellow), and Greg Miraglia from the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

For Mina, along with her 10-member cast and stage manager Michael Suenkel (who also stage managed The Laramie Project here eight years ago), the reading turned out to be a whole lot more.

“First of all, it was an event with a cause: proceeds from the evening are being donated to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and we’re going to be making a donation of approximately $4,000,” Mina says. “This play engages us because of the issues it involves, including the possibility for cultural change, led by the hate crime bill that has taken 10 years to see action on a federal level. The week before the reading, the House passed the bill, and it could be going to the Senate any day now. That combined with President Obama’s weekend speech to the Human Rights Campaign and the gay rights march on Washington created a real sense of momentum leading up to the reading on Monday.”

Mina fielded a number of responses from audience members after the show. Many expressed how important they felt it was that Berkeley Rep staged the reading because they still felt a deep connection to the story from having seen The Laramie Project.

“The play deals with issues of change: in 10 years how has Laramie, Wyoming changed? How have we changed as a nation?” Mina explains. “What I heard from a lot of people is that the murder of Matthew Shepard changed their lives in some way, whether they heard about it through the media or saw the play. The story affected them and became a touchstone in their lives.”

In the New York Times, Moisés was asked what the future plans were for The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, and he said that he and his co-writers were considering whether the new play should receive its own full-scale production or if the original play and its new counterpart could be combined into one piece.

Tectonic’s use of the internet to connect theatres around the world — all working on the same script — proved to be a powerful moment in theatre history and revealed the potential for future projects interlinking theatres and their work.

“It was amazing to be part of a national, even international dialogue through this play,” Mina says. “Like any good piece of art Laramie creates more questions than it answers. The conversations that began after the show continued in the days that followed and will continue online.”

Visit Tectonic Theater Project's online Laramie Project community.

Comments:

The play is interesting to be part of.The play provides good information about the project.

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