The Laramie Project

by Moisés Kaufman

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How does The Laramie Project use interviews to create a narrative?

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In November 1998, Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie, Wyoming to talk to citizens about the murder of Matthew Shepard. They spent two years conducting over 200 interviews. The theater company then used their experiences from the multiple interviews and trips to Laramie to create a play:

We transcribed and edited the interviews, then conducted several workshops in which the members of the company presented material and acted as dramaturgs in the creation of the play. (From the Author's Note)

The play utilizes narration to help tell the story. There is a narrator who opens the show, explaining that the material is pieced together from interviews. The narrator introduces the citizens of Laramie and also introduces the company members. The interviews are re-created on stage, with the company members asking the citizens questions. At times, the company members also narrate part of their experience:

Greg Pierotti: I met today with two longtime Laramie residents, Alison Mears and Marge Murray, two social service workers who taught me a thing or two.

The interviews are pieced together to create a narrative arc. For example, in the beginning, the company members talk about first arriving in Wyoming. The first pieces of interviews include citizens talking about growing up in Wyoming. This helps set the scene before getting into the interviews with people who knew Matthew Shepard.

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To create The Laramie Project, Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project members worked collaboratively in two major ways. The company members worked together both in planning their approach to the project and in carrying it out. At some times, the entire company met with individuals in Laramie, and at other times, one or more company members conversed with residents. The company was also committed to working collaboratively with the people of Laramie. Rather than going in to the city with a rigidly defined agenda, the company was flexible. As they learned more from the people they spoke with, they adapted the direction the project would take.

One important point was that Tectonic went into Laramie to learn how community members thought and felt about Matthew Shepard’s murder. The company was not trying to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused murderers—that was a matter for the courts. They were concerned with the climate in the city in which such a terrible crime had been committed, both before and after Shepard’s murder. Coming from New York into a small city that had already been invaded by the media, they were aware that some community members resented their presence. Building trust with Laramie’s people was a major component of their project. The company members had to be respectful of the real fear that community members, especially LGBTQ+ people, felt in the wake of the vicious hate crime.

After the company went back to New York, they had many difficult decisions to make about how to process the material. One point was clear: they would not try to suppress different perspectives in order to create an illusion of consensus among Laramie’s diverse viewpoints. Rather, they would incorporate the highly varied opinions into the finished product. It was especially important, when company members agreed to disagree with the perspective presented, that they not interfere with that speaker’s perspective. The dramatic effect of the project is enhanced because the audience hears what the company members heard while in Laramie, including some homophobic viewpoints.

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