The month of October was a grim one for the town of Laramie, Wyoming – and the world – in 1998.
Within its first week, a 21-year-old gay university student named Matthew Shepard was brutally tortured at the hands of two hate-filled assailants. Six days later, he died.
It was a tragedy that not only shattered hearts around the globe, but that brought national and international attention to hate crime legislation at the state and federal levels.
Sixteen years later, Matthew Shepard’s story is sadly still relevant – a fact Fredericton resident Kyle Peters hopes to demonstrate with Collective Theatrics’s inaugural production of The Laramie Project.
“Over the last couple years, I’ve noticed you can’t turn on the TV [without seeing] some story about a gay teen suicide in the U.S. or a murder somewhere else in the world. Along with all this talk about the gay marriage debate, and whether or not there should be a boycott of the Sochi Olympics . . . I just wanted to [express] how I felt about what was going on,” said Peters.
“The message I’m hoping people will take away from [The Laramie Project] is that . . . it was happening in 1998 and it’s still happening now. I’m hoping that when people watch the show, it will make them turn the mirror on themselves . . . and make them wonder what else they can do.”
Created by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project in the wake of Matthew Shepard’s murder, The Laramie Project is a play that draws on hundreds of interviews conducted by the theatre company with residents of Laramie, the company members’ own journal entries and published news reports.
“In my show, we have nine people representing almost 90 to 100 people. Some of those people we meet once and they have one line; some are recurring we see them throughout,” said Peters.
Karen Frampton plays 12 different characters in the show. She says it is one of the most challenging things she’s ever done.
“You start out finding out about Laramie and then you find out about Matthew and then you find out that Laramie isn’t all that dissimilar from a lot of other places in that way,” said Frampton. “I think that was a real challenge for a lot of us.”
Frampton said that the subject matter of the play is still relevant today.
“This happened in 1998 and there was this big uproar about hate crimes, how we were going to make changes so these kinds of things didn’t happen anymore, and they continue to happen today. We get the opportunity to tell that story again and maybe try to get the message across that this is no longer acceptable and something needs to change.”
Peters would love nothing more.
“A lot of the shows I’ve done have been the musicals and the big splashy shows with the glitzy costumes and kicklines, where people come and have a good night out and laugh,” he said.
“The thing I love about this show is that it’s a show you will come and enjoy, but it’s a show that will really make you think.”
The Laramie Project will run from Feb. 27 to March 1 at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. Tickets are $15, or $10 for students, and are available online at Collectivetheatrics.com, at the Joy of Framing on Queen Street and at the door.