The Laramie Project

The Laramie Project

The Laramie Project Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Moisés Kaufman's The Laramie Project. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Moisés Kaufman

Moisés Kaufman was born to Jewish parents in Venezuela in 1963. After receiving his undergraduate degree in business administration from Metropolitan University in Caracas, Venezuela, Kaufman moved to New York City to study theater directing at New York University. After graduating from NYU, Kaufman and partner Jeffrey LaHoste founded Tectonic Theater Project, which staged Kaufman’s first play, Gross Indecency, in 1997. Kaufman made his Broadway directing debut in 2004 with Tectonic Theater Project’s I Am My Own Wife, which earned him a Tony Award nomination for Directing, among other honors. In 2016, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. Both Kaufman and Tectonic Theater Project continue to be active in the New York City and global theater scene to this day.
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Historical Context of The Laramie Project

The 1998 brutal torture and murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was a story that stopped the nation. Matthew’s murder exemplified the hate and violence threatening queer people, especially in the more conservative areas of the United States. His death and the resulting media circus led to a number of hate crime bills being passed on both state and national levels, many of which were passed thanks to activism by Matthew’s mother Judy Shepard and by others who were inspired by Matthew’s life and tragic death. The 1990s were a period of transition for gay rights overall. The momentum from the Civil Rights and gay liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s had been refocused in the face of the devastating AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. Though the 1990s in America were largely a slower period in terms of protest or legislative change, a number of cultural shifts—including the popularity of Will and Grace, which premiered the same year as Matthew’s murder, as well as widespread acclaim for artworks grappling with the previous decade’s AIDS crisis, like Angels in America—helped to increase queer visibility and bring queer people and queer stories into the homes and minds of Americans of all backgrounds. This laid a portion of the cultural groundwork (along with decades of resistance, rioting, marching, and activism) that would begin the early-2000s’ move towards marriage equality, as well as the trans and queer rights battles that wage on today.

Other Books Related to The Laramie Project

Perhaps the most famous work of American theater relating to LGBT issues is Tony Kushner’s two-part play Angels in America (1991), which is referenced several times in The Laramie Project. Other touchstone LGBT plays include Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart (1985) and, more recently, Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s 2013 musical adapted from Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home. Though The Laramie Project is one of the most famous contemporary documentary plays, the genre traces its origins back to the work of Bertolt Brecht and the Federal Theater Project’s “Living Newspapers.” Other more recent examples of this style include the one-woman plays of Anna Deavere Smith (Fires in the Mirror). As a work of literature about a real American murder, the play also has ties to the true crime genre, including Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry’s Helter Skelter. Finally, as an American artwork dealing with the murder of an individual out of hate for their identity, The Laramie Project is not unrelated to the many and various works created in response to the nation’s history of lynching African-American men and women, from the poems of Langston Hughes to the Billie Holiday standard “Strange Fruit.”
Key Facts about The Laramie Project
  • Full Title: The Laramie Project
  • When Written: 1998-1999
  • Where Written: Laramie, Wyoming and New York City
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Theater
  • Genre: Play, Documentary Theater
  • Setting: Laramie, Wyoming
  • Climax: Aaron McKinney’s sentencing and Dennis Shepard’s speech
  • Antagonist: Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, as well as homophobia and intolerance in general
  • Point of View: Multiple

Extra Credit for The Laramie Project

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. Ten years after the premiere of The Laramie Project, the creators of the play returned to Wyoming to do additional interviews with the residents of Laramie. Using those interviews, Tectonic Theater Project wrote a second play, entitled The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, to accompany its original work.

Film. In 2002, Moisés Kaufman directed a film version of The Laramie Project for HBO. It won several awards, including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Award.