The Proud Mary Theatre Company in Spartanburg launches its fourth season with a filmed staging of “The Laramie Project,” commemorating a searing anniversary in the nation’s life.
The play opens for online streaming on the 22nd anniversary of the brutal assault of Matthew Shepard, a gay student whose death galvanized the gay rights movement.
“This was one of the linchpins of the gay rights movement, a watershed moment,” said Sandy Staggs, founder and artistic director of the Proud Mary Theatre Company.
The acclaimed “Laramie Project,” written by Moises Kaufman and members of his Tectonic Theater Project, explores how the residents of Laramie, Wyoming, reacted to Shepard’s death.
Proud Mary Theatre’s production, with a local cast of 14 playing 60 characters, is being filmed for streaming beginning on Oct. 6, the date of the attack on Shepard in 1998.
The streaming closes on Oct. 12, the 22nd anniversary of the day Shepard died.
“The Laramie Project” can be streamed from Proud Mary Theatre’s web page (proudmarytheatre.com) between those dates for a requested donation of $10.
The play, which premiered 20 years ago, is based on more than 200 interviews with Laramie residents, who offer an array of perspectives.
Many residents mourn Shepard, but others are far less charitable.
“It’s really a balanced but sometimes hard-hitting examination of a town and a community,” Staggs said.
“The Laramie Project” has gained a new resonance in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, with its focus on social and political justice, Staggs said.
The Proud Mary Theatre Company spotlights LGBTQ+ plays and playwrights. Its production of “Laramie Project” was originally scheduled to be performed live with an audience at the Artists Collective Spartanburg, but COVID-19 upended those plans.
The play is being filmed by director Ben Dawkins at the Artists Collective and in various locations around Spartanburg.
Staggs said this filmed version of “The Laramie Project” has made social distancing easy for the actors: Because the play consists primarily of monologues, most scenes are being shot with one actor at a time and a small crew.
Staggs hopes the company can offer live, in-person performances of the play sometime in the future.
Creating a theater company
Shepard’s assault sparked outrage, prompted nationwide vigils and captured international attention. Shepard’s life and death inspired numerous works, including documentary and narrative films and TV shows, stage plays and musical and written works.
Several years ago, however, Staggs was speaking to some college students who had no knowledge of Matthew Shepard.
“I thought, ‘This can’t be,’” Staggs said. “There’s a lot of history between Stonewall [the 1969 gay rights demonstrations in New York City] and gay marriage.”
That experience inspired Staggs to create a theater company that would emphasize LGBTQ+ stories and playwrights.
From the beginning of the Proud Mary Theatre Company, “The Laramie Project” was always at the top of the list of must-do plays, Staggs said.
In the aftermath of Shepard’s death, the federal government and many states passed hate-crime laws. Staggs noted, however, that South Carolina remains one of only three states in the nation that has not enacted statewide hate-crime laws.
Paul Hyde writes about the arts for the Greenville Journal. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.
If you go
What: “The Laramie Project”
When: Oct. 6-12
Where: Streamed online from the Proud Mary Theatre Company’s website
Tickets: $10 suggested donation
Info: proudmarytheatre.com or 864-580-8385