The Deaf Austin Theatre Company is bringing the first-ever ASL production of the Laramie Project to the stage this fall. The 2000s play, created by Moisés Kaufman and members of the tectonic theater project, is a collection of interviews and reactions from the people of Laramie, Wyoming, to the tragic murder of Mathew Shepard, a gay college student at the University of Wyoming. This captivating story will be performed live on September 7-16th at the Ground Floor Theatre in Austin, TX. Additionally, DAT will be live-streaming the performance through Broadway On Demand on October 12th in honor of the life and legacy of Mathew Shepard.
DAT drives to create an accessible stage for all artists and audiences through theatrical productions using American Sign Language. In the past, the theatre company has brought deaf-inclusive performances of Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey’s Pulitzer prize-winning show ‘Next to Normal’ and Nora & Delia Ephron’s ‘Love, Loss, And What I Wore,’ providing a unique and educational experience to viewers in Austin.
The upcoming performances are led by artistic director Dr. Brian Cheslik and director Jules Dameron of Hypernovas Productions and will include both hearing and Deaf actors, as well as a Deaf production team. The show is comprised of an incredible cast, including Deaf actors James Caverly from ‘Only Murders in the Building,’ and Dickie Hearts from ‘Tales of the City’ and ‘Grace and Frankie.’
Since its culmination, the story of the Laramie Project has been used to educate audiences and students about anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and hate crimes in the United States. The play explores a variety of perspectives, such as the officers involved in Mathew Shepard’s case, his family, friends, religious leaders, and the ordinary citizens of Laramie. The reactions are documented in response to Shepard’s attack and the subsequent media storm, capturing the intense emotions felt by the community of Laramie and nationally.
Though the circumstances of the play occurred in 1998, and the story was later published in 2000, Mathew Shepard’s life and death remain relevant today. Dr. Cheslik taught the play for seven years while he was a teacher at the Texas School for the Deaf, incorporating both Kaufman’s play and the HBO documentary into his curriculum. However, he noticed some of his students had trouble following the film’s dialogue. The artistic director told GLAAD:
“It is a common misconception that providing English captions means that you have provided access to the Deaf community. Not true. Their native language is American Sign Language, which is completely different from English, so many Deaf students struggle with written English and captions. So it was a dream of mine to produce a production of this play in ASL that would be fully accessible to the Deaf community as well as the hearing community.”
The Deaf community lacks access to many forms of entertainment and educational tools, such as the radio, podcasts, and videos posted online. Being deprived of such resources is detrimental to how deaf and hard-of-hearing people interact and understand the world. Thus, introducing an accessible production of the Laramie Project would allow the Deaf community to cultivate an awareness of issues that impact LGBTQ people in America as well as the type of rhetoric that led to Shepard’s death.
“We are in dire need of having more stories told through our own lens, the Deaf lens. Because of that, I have chosen to create a Deaf version of “The Laramie Project” in the hopes that it will boost the overall awareness of the Deaf community to the dangers of hate crimes still happening in our world today,” the director reported to GLAAD.
Representation in the media, whether on stage or on screen, is crucial to developing people’s self-confidence and strengthening their connection to their identity. Dameron, a trans gay man and a native user of ASL, hopes “that LGBTQ people can live easier in the Deaf community after seeing this play.”
— Hypernovas Productions (@TheHypernovas) June 3, 2023
Locals of Austin can view this incredible and moving story in mid-September and buy tickets on DAT’s website. Additionally, for those outside of Texas or cannot make it to the September performances, DAT will be hosting a live stream on October 12th. The event will include a complete recording of the stage production as well as chats with the director and special guests.
The Deaf Austin Theatre Company is a non-profit and thus requires the support of sponsors and donations to keep creating accessible shows. Click here to see how you can support DAT.