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Playwright Mois‚s Kaufman speaks about the 'The Laramie Project,' a play based on the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998. [Tory Dowd/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

"Make it beautiful."

According to Mois‚s Kaufman, writer and director of The Laramie Project, this is the only way to perform.

Kaufman shared his definition of beauty -- which encompasses humor, truth and innovative theater techniques -- with over 40 fans at Logan Hall yesterday.

The Laramie Project portrays the story of the hometown of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay student at the University of Wyoming. Shepard died on Oct. 12, 1998, six days after being found beaten and chained to a fence in what was later ruled a hate crime.

Kaufman said he was interested in the crime because he felt it "served as a microcosm of the faultiness of our culture."

As a Jewish, Latino and gay artist, Kaufman grew up in what he described as the "overwhelmingly Catholic and homophobic" country of Venezuela. His previous experiences allowed him to approach the topic with sensitivity, poignancy and a goal of promoting tolerance.

With his theater group, the Tectonic Theater Project, Kaufman conducted hours of interviews with Laramie residents over several trips.

"At the beginning, people didn't want to talk to us because they had been so bruised by the media," Kaufman said. Eventually the people of Laramie opened up, revealing what Kaufman described as "poetry in their vernacular."

"What I learned is that if you listen, people will tell you the most amazing things," he said.

The resulting 300 hours of footage were transformed into a play and an HBO movie that serve as "a record of where the nation was at that moment," Kaufman said.

He said he believed that "the only way to purge this crime is to air it and keep airing it until we've heard every single side of it."

As the second most performed play at American colleges, The Laramie Project has affected the masses.

"Theater as a vehicle for a natural dialogue about human and social issues is underestimated," said Kaufman, identifying art as a "platform... which has a higher domain than politics."

Kaufman's work strays from the popularly accepted genres of naturalism and realism, in an attempt to form "a new kind of theater."

"The only way we listen to new ideas is through new forms," he said.

And Kaufman had the crowd in full attention.

"I am amazed and thankful he came down here," said College junior Peter Bonilla, who is the director of the Front Row Theatre Company, which will be performing The Laramie Project in Houston Hall between Nov. 13 and 15.

College sophomore and FTC treasurer Matt Rosenbaum seemed equally captivated by Kaufman, saying, "I'm gushing. I get to drive him to the airport!"

For students like College freshman Mike Stewart, Kaufman was an eye-opening speaker.

"He helps us to see that there's more out there."

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