British Columbia

Hate crime transmuted: Laramie Project hits Granville Island stage

It's been 18 years since a gay student in Laramie, Wyoming was tortured and murdered. The director of a new production of The Laramie Project says Matthew Sheppard's story continues to resonate.

Play tells story of Laramie, Wyoming, 1 year after hate-crime murder of Matthew Sheppard

Matthew Sheppard was murdered in 1998 because he was gay. The Laramie Project, a play that looks at how that hate crime impacted the town he lived in, is being staged at Granville Island’s Studio 1398. (tomosuruplayers.com)

It's been 18 years since the death of Matthew Sheppard, a young student from Laramie, Wyoming, who was beaten, tortured and left to die because he was gay.

Over the years, his story has been told in a performance piece called the Laramie Project, a new production of which opens March 30 at Granville Island's Studio 1398.

There's still this thing that's always going to be missing from The Laramie Project — and that's Matthew.- Gerald Williams, director.

"Young people today seem so accepting of so many things, and they don't know where it came from," director Gerald Williams told Rick Cluff, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

"Understanding that Matthew is a large part of how our society changed, how you can talk gay rights, women's rights, I think Matthew changed the dialogue: it's human rights. And that's really something that resonates."

The Laramie Project was originally staged in 2000, and the script was developed from The Tectonic Theatre Project's work in Laramie, where they travelled to conduct over 200 interviews with townspeople about the year following Matthew's murder.

Gerald Williams is the director of Tomosuru Players' production of The Laramie Project. (tomosuruplayers.com)

It has been described as one of the most-produced plays in recent decades and was made into a television movie starring Peter Fonda, Laura Linney, Christina Ricci and Steve Buscemi.

This adaptation of The Laramie Project features nine actors taking on 65 different roles. The actors range in age from 11 years to more than 60.

Williams said the intention is to portray a complete community — "It makes you realize this is about the entire society."

He says no matter how intellectually he and his actors tried to approach the work, it remained highly emotional for them.

"There's still this thing that's always going to be missing from The Laramie Project — and that's Matthew," he said.

"We've come a long way since Matthew Sheppard's death. And we still have a ways to go."

The Laramie Project opens March 30 at Studio 1398 on Granville Island, at 7:30 p.m. PT.

It runs until April 3.

With files from The Early Edition

Left to right: Michael Q. Adams, Kelly Sheridan, Kieylla Thornton-Trump and Ashley Green act in a scene from The Laramie Project. (Javier Sortres)

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Laramie Project revival coming to Granville Island stage March 30

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