14 November 2012

The Laramie Project

The Laramie Project
Mockingbird Theatre
11 November 2012
Chapel off Chapel
to 11 November

The last performance of Mockingbird Theatre's production of The Laramie Project left a lot of the audience crying and some of the cast.

I didn't get along until the last night, but the season had plenty of great reviews, nightly tears, standing ovations and repeat visits. It wasn't a perfect piece of theatre, but perfection be damned when it's a story that reaches so widely and is told from the hearts of its performers and creators.

In the late 90s, I remember reading about a boy who was tied to a fence and bashed to death because he was gay. For a moment I felt for the boy and his family before moving onto the next story. Writer Mois├ęs Kaufman was in in New York when this happened and took members of his Tectonic Theater Project to the town in Wyoming where it happened and interviewed people who lived there. Thanks to the result, The Laramie Project, over 30 million people know that boy's name was Matthew Shepard and are unlikely to forget his death.

Since its first performances in 2009, this eight-person piece of verbatim theatre (based on interviews from real people) has become the most performed plays in the US, and the 2002 HBO film took it to people who don't go to theatre. (Hint: You Tube.) The online project continues to extend the story and reach as far as it can, and in 2008 the company went back to Laramie and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later was performed simultaneously in 100 US cities. In Melbourne, Red Stitch brought it to us.

I imagine that the worst a production of Laramie can do is to place the story so firmly in Wyoming that it distances its audience, but even then it can't help but force them to think about their own town.

The people of Laramie love Laramie, a town with "good people and lots of space". Matt Shepherd loved Laramie. There are people who won't wear a rainbow bandana and believe in the man/woman/child concept of family, but I've never been anywhere where there aren't. I knew someone like everyone talking on the stage.

What struck me especially about Mockingbird's production is that director Chris Baldock never shied away from the love of Laramie. It's easy to paint it as red neck town that's not us. It's braver and far more honest to stress the normality of the town.

Knowing the story, left me able to listen to more than the inexplicable horror of Matt's death. What struck home was the discussion of the boys who killed him. They were in their early 20s, but called boys. These were local boys known by everyone. Larmie's a town of 26,000 – that's a couple of Melbourne suburbs.They were good boys who had friends and jobs. No one interviewed said that they even considered that these boys would be so violent and their struggle is understanding how boys they knew could do this.

Which leaves me thinking of the boys I know. Boys I cuddled as babies, boys I grew up with and played chasey with, boys I worked or studied with, boys I dated, boys I snogged, boys I fucked, boys I ignored or stalked, boys I fancied, boys in my family, boy's I've written about. They're all good boys and I can't think of one I know who would do something so inhuman. But I've heard at least one from every one of these groups of good boys and lovely men make a poof joke or refer to "them" and think that I'd agree.

As I hope that no one I know ever had to suffers anything like what Matt Shepard did, I hope that I don't ever have to wonder how any one I know could hate so much as to cause such suffering.

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