Monday, Oct. 12, marks the 11th anniversary of gay college student Matthew Shepard's death.
To mark the solemn occasion, more than 100 theaters worldwide are producing a new play called The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later ( An Epilogue ) , created by the same team that made The Laramie Project.
Back in 1998, the Tectonic Theater Project and its artistic director, playwright/director Moises Kaufman ( Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, 33 Variations ) , headed out to Wyoming and Colorado to interview community members following the brutal beating death of Shepard. Their intention was to create a piece of documentary theater not unlike Anna Deavere Smith's works like Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992.
The Laramie Project premiered in Denver in 2000, later transferring off-Broadway. The work was subsequently adapted into an HBO film that opened the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. And much to the surprise of the play's creators, The Laramie Project has gone on keep Shepard's name and memory alive since it has become one of the most-produced plays in colleges, high schools and community theater groups across America. It's quite an accomplishment for a work that brings up the uncomfortable issues of hate crimes, homophobia and murder in every community where it is produced.
Yet The Laramie Project creators were curious to return to Laramie, Wyo., to see how the community has changed since Shepard's death. So a year ago, Tectonic members started compiling another set of interviews, many from the same people they first contacted for the original play.
But most controversially, the epilogue will feature an interview with Aaron McKinney, one of Shepard's convicted murderers. At the time of the sentencing of McKinney and his accomplice, Russell Henderson, were specifically barred from speaking to the press ( arranged as part of the agreement that spared them the death penalty ) . Yet ABC's 20/20 controversially broke that ban in 2004 with a much-condemned interview with McKinney that argued that Shepard's murder was not a hate crime, but a drug deal gone wrong.
The Tectonic Theater is performing The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later ( An Epilogue ) at Alice Tully Hall in New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. But Chicago audiences can see this Epilogue courtesy of About Face Theatre, which is staging its reading at the Goodman Theatre as a fundraiser for About Face Youth Theatre.
About Face is the local company of choice, especially since it helped Kaufman develop Doug Wright's award-winning play I Am My Own Wife before it headed to Broadway. About Face also collaborated with Steppenwolf Theatre to produce Kaufman's One Arm, a stage adaptation of a Tennessee Williams short story.
About Face Theatre's staging of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later ( an Epilogue ) plays at 6:45 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12, at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn. Tickets are $75, while VIP tickets range from $125-$500. Call 773-784-8565, ext. 109, or visit laramieproject.org for more information.
Back from the brink
Be grateful that About Face Theatre is still around. Earlier this year, the company faced economic collapse with a $300,000 budget shortfall.
Luckily, a fundraising campaign helped bring About Face back from the brink, and now it is in the midst of a sprawling festival as if proudly to say, "We're Back!"
The XYZ Festival of New Works features just that. Many components are in various stages of production, from a Lesbian Playwright Series of readings to a full-fledged production of Adam Bock's The Flowers ( a comic drama about a longtime gay couple running a theater company that is set to play Stage Left Theatre Oct. 15-Nov. 8 ) .
Instead of being based at the Center on Halsted's Hoover-Leppen Theatre, About Face opted to spread its reach with various XYZ events in different venues in Logan Square and Uptown. At press time, a venue was still being worked out for a signature performance art piece called Let Them Eat Cake by activist Holly Hughes and AFT artistic associate Megan Carney ( set to run Oct. 30-Nov. 1 ) . The title hints at its purpose: an interactive wedding experience.
To find out more information on About Face Theatre's XYZ Festival of new works, visit www.aboutfacetheatre.com .
Speaking of Holly Hughes, the infamous NEA-nine performer is also set to return to Chicago next March for her performance piece The Dog and Pony Show ( Bring Your Own Pony ) .
Now that Bailiwick Repertory Theatre no long has its own space, Victory Gardens Theater has stepped in to be a host home for a number of LGTBQ artists as part of its 2009-10 Fresh Squeezed Series of late-night events targeting younger and more diverse audiences.
Other LGTBQ artists set to appear include Terry Galloway ( performing Out All Night and Lost My Shoes on Nov. 15 ) , Michael Kearns ( performing Intimacies on Nov. 22 ) , Charles Busch and Julie Halston ( doing a retrospective of their work on Dec. 7 ) and Tim Miller ( performing Lay of the Land in March 2010 ) . Victory Gardens also hosts local company The New Colony for a queer-themed Walk of Shame show on Dec. 11.
For more information on Victory Gardens' Fresh Squeezed series, visit www.victorygardens.org/freshsqueezed.