Return to Laramie with Brave New Productions
Brave New Productions co-founder Donald Rees-Poitras directs his dream-team in The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later October 12-14. With a mounting worldwide struggle against homophobic violence, such as the Acts of Homophobia Registry in Montréal, his company Brave New Productions has chosen an all too relevant time to return to Laramie…
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If you’re gay and you’re from a small town, you have an unshakable connection to the story of Matthew Shepard. When the 22 year-old American student died on October 12, 1998, after being tied to a fence and viciously beaten by two young men in his home town of Laramie, Wyoming, the story made headlines around the world, and blew the lid off years of denial about homophobic violence in the US.
Director Donald Rees-Poitras has wanted to produce The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later with his company Brave New Productions since it came out two years ago, a sequel to the famous Laramie Project, which was based on interviews conducted by members of New York’s Tectonic Theatre Project with townspeople in the aftermath of Shepard’s murder. The Montréal-based company has been known for producing frothier, gay-themed work like 2011′s Here’s to Love and the Oscar-Wilde remake Being Ernest, but this time, Rees-Poitras and his troupe are delving into decidedly heavier fare…
2B: Matthew Shepard’s murder was an iconic and traumatizing part of LGBT history for people in their late 20′s and early 30s. Is it a good or bad sign that younger people nowadays might now know about the murder?
Donald Rees-Poitras: It’s not good but it’s expected. I find that even people in our age group sometimes have a hard time remembering why they find the name Matthew Shepard familiar. At the time, it was a media sensation but at it’s core it’s a hate crime story and there have been many hate crimes for us to read about since 1998. Perhaps none have been as iconic or received as much attention from the media, but I think it’s easy to become desensitized and forget the details after all these years.
2B: Many people may be familiar with the Laramie Project from community theatre productions over the years. What material in Ten Years Later is particularly poignant or new?
DR: Ten Years Later is an epilogue and checks in on the people of Laramie a decade later to see if the town has changed or improved the way it promised to in the original Laramie Project. We bring to life new interviews with characters who made Laramie Project such a compelling and ground-breaking play. It’s really interesting to see where these characters have gone in their lives and how Laramie has and hasn’t changed. Most interestingly, the play centers around interviews with Matthew’s murderers. For the first time, you get to hear their words. It’s not what you expect.
2B: There is a history of queer artists interviewing and exploring relations with violent criminals (Jean Genet, Truman Copote). How does the play treat or depict the murderers?
DR: A theme that’s been carried over from the original play is the responsibility on the playwrights to “get it right,” to be accurate and honest. Even through the rehearsal process we’ve tried our best to not to play Matthew’s murderers as sinister or brooding. We have two amazing actors, Tony Truax and Nir Guzinski, who’ve done a tremendous amount of work to try to be as accurate as they can with their representation. It’s very much about letting the audience come to their own conclusions about who these guys are and why they did what they did.
2B: While the Laramie Project was about the community in Wyoming dealing with its past, and the scarring association with homophobic violence, it was also unique in not resorting to melodrama. Does anyone play Matthew Shepard in this production, or is it only townspeople?
DR: The style of the show is very similar to the original. In a perfect world, you would see one immediately after the other because they fit together so well. The script is made from over 200 hours of actual transcripts and interviews, so nobody plays Matthew. He’s still very present and brought to life by friends and family members.
2B: How did you recruit your actors? Was the rehearsal process difficult?
DR: I call these guys my dream team. This is Brave New Productions 9th show and somehow, in this cast, we have a cast member from each of our previous shows, which I think is pretty amazing. It’s humbling that such talented people seem happy to work with us again. For the most part, I reached out to our alumni [like the dreamy David Reudelhuber, above, centre] but this piece demands a large cast of 20 so we held a few auditions as well.
2B: Has it been difficult to go back to this story after so long?
DR: What’s been difficult is making sure the story stays relevant. It is, after all, ten years later (or 14 years since Matthew’s murder). Hundreds of other hate crimes have occurred, some very recent. You sometimes ask yourself: why are we still talking about Laramie? What makes Laramie worthy of a revisit? But what happens is, there are universal truths that come about by revisiting Laramie and by talking about society and the speed of change, the play becomes more than just a discussion about one town’s progress. So instead of asking yourself, why Laramie? The question changes to something we can all contribute to: How do you measure change?
2B: The date for your Montréal run is particularly important…
DR: We open on October 12th in Montréal. That’s a significant date. It’s the date that Matthew Shepard died. He was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die on October 6th and held on to his life for six more days before succumbing to his injuries. Those six days were a whirlwind of media coverage and international discussion. Ten Years Later is about what happens when that media coverage dies down. Are the promises kept? Do people really change? Those are questions we can all relate to.
The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later
By Moises Kaufman
$15 / $10 for students
Theatre Artneuf in Parc Lafontaine, 3819 Calixa-Lavallée, Montreal