“Theater is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theater can help us build our future, rather than just waiting for it.”Augusto Boal
“One of the things that theater can do is provide narratives that bring us together. There’s something very cathartic about feeling that you’re part of a national dialogue, feeling that you’re part of a discussion that is happening on a national level.”— Moisés Kaufman
Throughout his career as a Brazilian theatermaker, Augosto Boal (1931-2019) developed a form of exercises and performances known as Theater of the Oppressed. The form engages participants and audience to use theater as a vehicle for social change, by exploring solutions to oppressive problems. Sometimes scripted but often improvised, Boal’s techniques have been used in political activism, conflict resolution, community building, teaching, therapy, and even legislation. (Boal was an elected official in Rio de Janeiro in the 1990’s.)
A much older form of theater, documentary theater, also aims to educate and engage its audience in a dialogue. Documentary theater tells its story by creating scripts from interviews, journalism, and other media. Although the form has existed for thousands of years, it rose in popularity in the twentieth century, and even more so in the past twenty years—thanks largely to The Laramie Project by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project.
In October 1998, a twenty-one year-old student was kidnapped, severely beaten, and left to die tied to a fence in the middle of a prairie outside Laramie, Wyoming. His name was Matthew Shepard, and he was the victim of this assault because he was gay. Almost overnight, the town of Laramie became synonymous with this hate crime.
Over the next year and a half, members of the Tectonic Theater Project made six trips to Laramie and conducted interviews with more than 200 people of the town. From these interviews, speeches, and other material, the company crafted a script comprised of several “moments.” Together, these moments make up a theatrical collage that explores the reactions of the Laramie community, the depths to which humanity can sink, and the heights of compassion of which we are capable. In essence, The Laramie Project is about whether we let fear, hatred, and anger define us as a community.
In thousands of productions since its premier in 2000, millions of theatergoers have heard Matthew Shepard’s story. Has the story changed history and society? It might have. In the past two decades, more hate crime legislation has been enacted and some legal rights have been gained for the LGBTQ community, including the Federal right to marry in 2015. And yet, in some states and communities, the struggle for equality continues. Hate crimes in the United States reached a sixteen year high in 2018. Matthew’s story still needs to be told.
This week, Watertown Children’s Theatre is holding auditions for a virtual production of The Laramie Project in May. The rehearsal process will include a workshop in “moment work” with a teaching artist from Tectonic Theater Project. After the final performance, there will be a talkback with the Tectonic Theater Project teaching artist and with representatives from Greater Boston PFLAG.