Return to Laramie
Yellow Taxi participates in premiere of The Laramie Project epilogue
By Heidi Masek firstname.lastname@example.org
Yellow Taxi Productions’ mission has a new-play focus. That’s one reason that the mainly Nashua-based professional theater company never produced The Laramie Project.
That play is based on interviews with people in Laramie, Wyo., conducted by the Tectonic Theater Project soon after “Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, severely beaten and left to die, tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie,” in October of 1998, according to Tectonic.
“His murder became a watershed historical moment in America that highlighted the violence and prejudice lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people face,” according to a Tectonic release.
Over the past nine years or so, The Laramie Project has been performed by so many colleges and theaters that “even though it’s provocative ... it has been done enough that Yellow Taxi didn’t need to bring it to the community,” said YTP founder Suzanne Delle.
But Delle is directing The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later for YTP. See it Oct. 12, when more than 100 theaters across the country including Lincoln Center also present the work.
“This is the world premiere of the new script. It’s been just like working on any new play. We got the draft ... and this week we got the revision and it was whole new play,” Delle said Oct. 1. Preparing has been similar to rehearsing other new work at YTP, except the playwright isn’t in the room, she said.
Tectonic contacted members of Theatre Communications Group (www.tcg.org), the national organization of professional theaters that YTP is a member of, seeking theaters in each state to participate. “So we talked ... and they were really excited by idea of New Hampshire coming on board,” Delle said. That was in June, she said.
This play is made up of interviews done 10 years after Shepard’s murder and is able to ask “deeper questions this time around,” Delle said.
“The first play was so immediate,” Delle said. Emotions were reactive and “they were right in the middle of it,” when Tectonic started interviewing the first time, she said. In this work, people are able to reflect on the murder ... their own lives, the town, homophobia and hate crimes. “What’s changed? What hasn’t changed? And has Matt’s death had any sort of effect on your life at all?” Delle said.
For those familiar with the first Laramie Project, this one includes many of the same “characters,” including Reggie, who found Matt’s body. New college students are interviewed, and people Tectonic didn’t have access to the first time, Delle said.
It includes interviews with Shepard’s mother, Judy, and Aaron McKinney, who’s serving dual life sentences for the murder.
Tectonic tapes interviews and distills those into “what they call moments,” rather than scenes, Delle said. Moisés Kaufman of Tectonic is therefore a character. It’s a docudrama and “very postmodern” kind of theatrical event, Delle said.
Although the actors are saying lines that came from actual people, she’s never known any who sought to mimic the Laramie sources rather than create characters, she said.
Each of the actors volunteering for YTP’s show is playing at least five characters, and some 10, which is one of the things that make the show interesting for actors.
And as an actor, you want to be respectful that you are playing someone real, even if the person has a “different moral compass than you,” Delle said. The words are their perspective, and the debate is sort of what makes America go around, she said.
Theater companies can’t charge admission for this show, Delle said. She approached actors YTP worked with in the past since she didn’t have the script and didn’t know what the characters were. “No one even blinked about that [volunteering]. It’s such an important piece,” Delle said.
Delle has resigned as YTP artistic director and is currently teaching two classes at Northeastern University. “Hopefully, I’ll get to do other projects [like The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later premiere] in the future,” Delle said. As for the rest of the season, it’s up to the board of directors who meet this month.