The Laramie Legacy

Dramaturg Matt Oviatt here, sharing some final thoughts as UVU’s production of The Laramie Project comes to a close. One of the things a dramaturg will do during their involvement with a production is ask questions. What is the director’s concept? How will it translate to the stage? What did the characters in the play wear at the time? How best can be reach our audiences? One of the most essential questions we can ask (and must answer) is: why this play now? Why would we at UVU want to perform The Laramie Project here in 2019? The season selection process takes place well over a year in advance of the performance, so it may be difficult to predict what topics and issues we’d like to explore in this seemingly ever-changing world of ours. However, I believe the time for The Laramie Project is, in fact, right now.

Our Town

The play features all sorts of real people from a small Wyoming town, from ranchers and professors to Mormon home teachers and Islamic feminists. It is a snapshot of a real town during a pivotal moment in U.S. civil rights history, one that the world was watching. However, the play isn’t about the town of Laramie, Wyoming. It’s about our town (no pun intended). It’s about every town in America that people with different beliefs will call home. With so many different people represented, it’s hard not to identify with at least one voice in the play, inviting you to step into their shoes. What if I lived in a college town in the mountainous western United States? What if there was a predominantly Christian population? What if my family has lived here for generations? What if I just moved here from across the country? Though this play could apply to many places, Orem has many similarities to Laramie, only further inviting you along with the story.

The Laramie Project helped start conversations about the way LGBTQ+ people are treated, so much so that President Obama invited the authors, Tectonic Theater Project, to the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. It’s a popular play for high schools and colleges around the country (even around the world), but not so much here in Utah.

Utah is a very unique state in terms of population, natural features, and a thriving arts culture. However, we have our own unique set of issues. According to the Utah Department of Health in 2016, the suicide rate here was nearly double the national average. Many people have their own theories as to why, but information about possible factors like bullying or homophobia isn’t being collected, which makes it unfair to point to any one cause. However, it seems recently that Utah is trying to bridge gaps and start those conversations. One of those intersections (and relevant to the play) is between faith and feelings.

Tremendous steps forward like the 2017 LOVELOUD festival, endorsed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, helped spread awareness of LGBTQ+ youth suicides. The LDS Foundation donated $25,000 in 2018 to an LGBTQ support group to pay for suicide prevention training. I cite these two instances specifically because a large majority of UVU students identify as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but many other faith groups are making serious efforts to support at-risk populations in our communities.

One group trying to make a difference is everyone involved with UVU’s production of The Laramie Project. All of us fall under many different labels (sometimes wildly hyphenated), but the common one is human. We’re all joined by the love of storytelling, Matthew Shepard’s story in particular. We love the way it makes us think and feel, the way it makes us explore who we are, and in turn shape our lives. We invite you to share that love with us, to share Matthew’s story with those in your community. His legacy can help us all to create our own.