Story and photos by Tyisha Ali
A play about Matthew Shepard, a homosexual man with HIV who was found beaten and left hanging for his life on a fence near Laramie, Wyo., in 1998 was performed Tuesday, Oct. 7.
The 8 p.m. play in the LBCC Auditorium was presented by the theater program for its last show 16 years after Shepard’s death.
“The Laramie Project, written by Moises Kaufman, also was presented Sept. 25-28 and Oct. 2-5.
As an act of kindness, the theater program decided to perform the last showing of the play to collect donations in honor of “The Laramie Project” and Shepard. The donations were given to the LGBTQ center in Long Beach.
The play was written in moments that highlighted how the hate crime affected the entire community. The coverage of the trial forced a small community and an entire country to evaluate its morals and how people treat one another based on cultured differences. In the play, Shepard was a target. The two men who killed him targeted him because of his size and because of his sexual preference. The drug addicts who killed him thought that he would be easy to rob, then the situation went another way.
The director of the production, Sarah Underwood Saviano, used her cast to capture the reactions and emotions of the community in Laramie during that time and allowed them to bring those feeling into today’s world.
Saviano said, “I chose to do this play for a couple of reasons. One being that it is timeless issue. These things are still happening today. There is still a sense of danger today.”
With delicate details that helped bring the story to life, Saviano knew the play would create shock and bring awareness to people unaware of the issues. The floor of the stage was set with an Indian head test pattern that was used in films from the 1960’s to create a sense of shock. The lighting and the sound set the mood perfectly with the moments captured in every act.
Stage manager Marc Steele, 45, a theater production and stage management major, said he was honored to be a part of the screening because he remembers the case and how it affected life for him and many other people.
Steele said, “This play affects me in a lot of ways personally. That could have been me. At the time I was 29 years old and he (Shepard) was 21, I was only I few years older. I’m gay and I am HIV positive and so was Matt. So I mean seriously, that could have been me.”
Working behind the scenes of the play has brought him a lot of joy and he is proud because he said he believes that the audience gained a lot of benefits from watching “The Laramie Project.” Steele said he has seen a lot of changes made over the years and more change is going on now.
Steele said, “This play has been done many times and there’s a movie on it. Every time the play has been done, it brought hate to the forefront. I’m just proud. Proud of the cast and proud of everything.”
The play was made to bring awareness so to make a closer connection to the audience. The performances took place in a scaled down seating area in the LBCC auditorium. The intimate seating created a deep connection the town of Laramie as the media constantly exploited Shepard’s death and the trials of two young men who kill him.
Cathy Crane, the department chair of performing arts, who took a part in the play as well, said she felt the play had a variety of characters who showed many different sides of a small town in a crisis and knew that many student actors could be brought in to play the parts. Crane and Saviano said that in a Fall show, the program can include as many actors as possible in a play.
College students, a priest, doctors, a Baptist preacher, police officers, undercover homosexuals, a community full of people fighting for the name of their town and a host of reporters and journalist covering a massive hate crime performed in the play.
Crane said, “We can all learn something from the people of Laramie. Fear of not knowing does bad things to people. We all need to learn to accept each other for who we are. The churches need to do the same thing.”
The “live and let live” slogan was a common theme or way of life in Laramie. Actor Rory Kennedy, 22, a theater arts and child development major, said, “The big message of ‘live and let live’ means you go ahead and live your life the way you want to and I’ll live my life the way that I want. You have to live with your choices and I have to live with mine.”
But in the town, the actions of the people don’t meet their words. A young Aaron McKinney, one of Shepard’s killers, went to trial using “gay panic” as a defense in the courts. That created nationwide anger that led to protest
Actress Lindsey Logan, 19, a theater arts major, said, “Often times we look for reasons to justify our action. When things get out of order, no matter how much things fall to pieces, people will find a way justify their actions to make it seem”