Kaufman discusses "The Laramie Project"

Playwright shares his experience with the residents of Laramie

Moises Kaufman, playwright and director of "The Laramie Project," spoke Tuesday about the play, which was based on interviews and interaction in the town of Laramie, Wyo. after the death of Matthew Shepard.

Laramie, a town of 2,600 people, became the national focal point when Shepard, a 22 -year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten to death in 1998.

Kaufman, who spoke at 2:30 p.m. and again at 9 p.m. following the student performance of "The Laramie Project," stressed that his play was not about the life and death of Shepard, but about the effect his death had on the town of Laramie.

"This was our attempt to tell the story of a town over the course of a year, and how theater can deal with current events in a theatrical way," Kaufman said.

Only four weeks after Shepard's death, Kaufman and his New York City-based theater group, Tectonic Theater Group, were in Wyoming interviewing more than 250 residents of Laramie.

"We were really interested in a theater group going somewhere," Kaufman said.

Kaufman said he was really interested in hearing about life in Laramie following Shepard's death.

Kaufman said the group had prepared to go to Laramie, when he suddenly developed an intense fear of what was to come next while on the flight.

"You had to convey something other than what was said," Kaufman said. "We were looking for techniques not based on a text, but what happens on stage."

Kaufman concluded his time by saying that, because the actors in his production spent time talking to residents of Laramie, the audience experienced only one degree of separation from the people who lived through Shepard's murder.

After his speech, Kaufman answered questions for a half-hour, during which he went in to detail about the actual experience of being in Laramie and his interaction with the town's residents.

"We were greeted with several different forms of hostility," Kaufman said. "We were right on the heels of the media, but unlike them we didn't know what we were doing.

"That actually worked in our favor because we would actually sit and listen to them for two hours."

Kaufman is currently looking at different options for the future of his dance group, but has yet to find another project to work on.


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