Theater News

The HBO Project

Moisés Kaufman will adapt and direct the TV-movie version of his Off-Broadway hit, The Laramie Project. Brooke Pierce probes for details.

Andy Paris in The Laramie Project(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Andy Paris in The Laramie Project
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The last two years have been busy for Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project, the troupe of writers and performers who created The Laramie Project. One month after the murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming in 1998, TTP members headed out to Laramie to begin documenting the aftermath of the tragedy, interviewing locals and recording their reactions. A little over a year after Shepard’s death, Tectonic premiered the play in Denver before presenting it Off-Broadway in May 2000 to great praise.

As quickly as it came, the show is going–but not forever. The Laramie Project is closing on September 2 so that Kaufman and his crew can begin making a film version of the piece. “The president of HBO saw the show and loved it,” Kaufman told TheaterMania in a recent phone interview. Now, HBO Films and Good Machine, in collaboration with Peter S. Cane and Roy Gabay, will produce the TV movie adaptation.

An openly gay University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard was killed by two young men who beat him severely and left him for dead. At a time when the nation was beginning to think (hope?) that such violent hate crimes didn’t happen anymore, Shepard’s death revealed that intense homophobia still exists. The immense brutality of the murder shocked the nation and shook up the town in which it occurred.

Kelli Simpkins and castin The Laramie Project(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Kelli Simpkins and cast
in The Laramie Project
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The Laramie Project tries to capture the people of Laramie at a time of crisis, as the reality of this heinous event naturally caused them to do a great deal of soul-searching. In order to tell the story of what happened in Laramie in the wake of Shepard’s death with as much accuracy as possible, the cast of Laramie portray the very people with whom they spoke at length during the interview process. According to Kaufman, the movie version will by no means be simply a film of the play. “It will be 60 actors instead of nine,” he says, going on to explain that TTP will single-cast the many roles that are filled by only a handful of actors on stage.

Though everyone involved is excited about bringing this story to a larger audience through the medium of cable television, the The Laramie Project‘s life on stage is far from over. “Several productions are being scheduled around the country,” Kaufman notes, citing Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other major U.S. cities. Will new sets of actors be able to deal successfully with a play that is so closely linked to the people who first performed it? “We’ll work very closely with them,” asserts Kaufman, who added that actors new to the show may even be able to meet with some of the real-life residents of Laramie originally interviewed by TTP.

Kaufman will be directing the film, as well as penning the new script. Many details have yet to be worked out as he and his Tectonic colleagues decide exactly how they’ll go about transferring their creation from stage to screen. It should be a challenging project for the group, which was formed with the goal of “bringing theatricality back to the theater.” Who knows what they may bring to the world of film and television?