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'The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later'

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival will join more than 100 theaters and schools around the world in the premiere of a staged reading of "The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later," on Monday, Oct. 12.

"The Laramie Project" was created by Moisés Kaufman and members of Tectonic Theater Project, a New York theater, in 1999 in response to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. Shepard was a gay, 21-year-old college student. Oct. 12 is the anniversary of his death.

Kaufman and his fellow theater members traveled to Laramie a month after the murder to interview residents of the town. Using interview transcripts, court documents and media reports, they created the script, which became an international hit.

Now Kaufman and company have returned to Laramie to interview the same people. The results have been made into a new script, which will be performed by the original cast members of the play and film at the Lincoln Center in New York City Oct. 12.

The OSF's event will begin at 5 p.m. in the Angus Bowmer Theatre with a live broadcast of the introduction opening event from the Lincoln Center. OSF's reading of the script, directed by Terri McMahon, will then begin. At the completion of the reading, a live broadcast of the question-and-answer session at the Lincoln Center will be shown.

"We hope all these people around the country who are doing it will take about the same amount of time to read it," OSF spokesman Eddie Wallace says. "We'll join back with the live broadcast the moment our reading finishes."

Taking part in the Lincoln Center event will be actor Glenn Close and Judy Shepard, Matt's mother. Others taking part around the country include theaters, community groups, high schools and colleges. Organizers say they want to create a national dialogue around the issues of the play, which they say are as relevant today as they were in 1998.

The project's main goal was to see if Laramie residents' attitudes toward the murder had changed in the intervening years. One of the interviewees was Aaron McKinney, who is serving two consecutive life sentences at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap, Va., for Shepard's murder. McKinney said he has no remorse for the murder. He said that although he hated gays, his initial motivation was robbery.

"The Laramie Project" was first presented in 2000 in Denver, Colo. In 2002, it was performed in Laramie. Often used as source material in schools, it is widely credited with inspiring grass-roots efforts to combat homophobia.

Some U.S. stagings of the play have been picketed by followers of the Rev. Fred Phelps, a Kansas minister and anti-gay activist who promotes the slogan "God hates fags." Phelps followers picketed Shepard's funeral and are depicted doing so in the play.

Wallace says with a week remaining until the event sales are fairly strong.

"Readings tend to fill up at the last moment," he says.

OSF cast members of the reading are James Edmondson, Anil Margsahayam, Ryan Anderson, James Jesse Peck, Cristofer Jean, John Pribyl, Tim Blough, Daniel Marmion, Sarah Rutan, Krystel Lucas, Liisa Ivary and Robynn Rodriguez.

Benajah B. Cobb is producer of the project. Terri McMahon is directing. Proceeds will be donated to the 2009 Daedalus Project, OSF's fund for AIDS/HIV charitable organizations.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at bvarble@mailtribune.com or 776-4478

OSF's reading of 'The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later' will be directed by Terri McMahon. - Photo courtesy of OSF