Ohio University’s Lost Flamingo Theatre Company will perform The Laramie Project at ARTS/West, 132 W. State St., on Friday and Saturday. A verbatim theatre production, The Laramie Project recounts the murder of Matthew Shepard and his town’s reaction to it through real words said in interviews conducted with Laramie residents.
Although the play is set two decades ago, it remains strikingly relevant for much of its eight-person cast. Issues of violence against queer people, compassion, mortality, hate speech and the human condition are examined in the production.
“The show is a very heavy show. (At) pretty much every rehearsal, at least one person from the cast is crying from just how impactful it is,” Allie Smith, a senior cast member, said.
That impact is part of why Grace Kriger, the director of LFC’s Laramie Project, was drawn to the play. Homophobia is often reduced to a statistic, but The Laramie Project demonstrates the concrete, human impact that hate can have, Kriger said. By telling the story of Shepard, The Laramie Project reveals how real people from a real town were forced to reconcile deadly impacts of prejudice.
Productions of The Laramie Project have not only sustained discussions about attitudes toward queerness, but they have also fed into changing societal sentiments that led to the development of legal protections for LGBTQ+ people.
The first federal hate crime legislation that included defenses for queer people, The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was passed in 2009.
However, Wyoming, where Shepard was killed, is one of the three U.S. states that have not adopted hate crimes legislation. Laws addressing hate crimes have been introduced in Wyoming several times before — most recently in March 2021 — yet none have passed.
“Just because some good things have happened, we're far from being done,” Kriger said. “Progress only happens as long as you keep fighting for it.”
The Laramie Project exemplifies a sort of activism through art that Kriger felt needed to be honored through live, in-person acting. LFC intended to perform The Laramie Project during the 2020 Fall Semester. However, due to COVID-19, those plans had to be put on hold. Although Kriger had the opportunity to direct the play virtually, she felt it would lose its impact. Now, a year later, LFC’s The Laramie Project will make its appearance on stage.
“It's been a long time coming, and I am just so honored that I get to be a part of this show, to be in-person again and to share an incredibly important story about Matthew Shepard,” Smith said.
Both actors and LFC leadership are balancing their excitement about a return to live theater with an awareness about the gravity of The Laramie Project’s themes.
“I am really looking forward to experiencing every single emotion that the cast is intending and opening night and having that full experience come at me,” Hailey Linenkugel, LFC’s president, said.
The Laramie Project’s opening show is Friday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door. Audience members are encouraged to be older than 13 because of the themes of violence, hate speech, homophobia, crime, racism and mortality The Laramie Project addresses.