CUMBERLAND — Greely High School Theatre Company is presenting “The Laramie Project,” a documentary-style show that tells the story of Matthew Shepard, an openly-gay college student who was murdered during a hate crime in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998.

Courtesy / Greely High School Theatre Company

 

“The Laramie Project” was born when, just four weeks after Shepard’s death, Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Company in New York City traveled to Laramie and conducted interviews to document the community’s response to his death.

According to the Matthew Shepard Foundation website, on Oct. 7, 1998, Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was attacked, tied to a fence in a field outside of Laramie and left to die. Five days later he succumbed to his injuries in a Colorado hospital.

After their son’s death, Judy and Dennis Shepard started the Matthew Shepard Foundation to honor his life; the initial purpose of the foundation was to teach parents with children who may be questioning their sexuality to love and accept them for who they are.

According to Greely High School’s Drama Director Elizabeth Patterson, “The Laramie Project” remains one of the best known examples of documentary-style theater produced today.

Patterson, a Greely High School alumni, returned to her hometown to join the Greely High School staff last year after 20 years of living and working in theater around the country. She introduced “The Laramie Project” to her students in the spring, when the program’s production of “Clue” was canceled due to COVID-19.

The program went on a bit of a hiatus, but the interesting thing is, we kept meeting because the students wanted to meet,” said Patterson. “It seemed to me that just because the building closed doesn’t mean that their theater education should stop.

So at that point, we shifted from a rehearsal model into doing a whole bunch of different play readings. One of the first plays we read was ‘The Laramie Project.'”

The cast consists of only eight students playing over 70 roles.

Greely junior Sebastian Alfreds takes on 10 roles in the production, including Dennis Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s father, and Moisés Kaufman, the scriptwriter.

“It’s introduced me to a different kind of theater and forced me to branch out, which I really like as an actor,” Alfreds said. “You’re not just playing written characters; you’re playing real people and you have to keep in mind what they were thinking when they were being interviewed.” 

The structure of the show is based heavily on monologue, with little interaction between characters, making it a good fit for virtual production, according to Patterson.

“The Laramie Project” will be available for streaming Dec. 18-20, with a suggested donation of $20. The link will be posted on the program’s Facebook page. All profits will be going to The Matthew Shepard Foundation, established by Shepard’s parents in 1998. In partnering with the foundation, a student in the program was able to conduct a 30-minute interview with Judy and Dennis Shepard that will be included in the final recording of the production.

“We used the Laramie project as a way of illustrating and educating folks about the power of theater, not only as entertainment and escapism but also as a way of examining our culture, examining our society and having a stage, even if it’s a virtual stage, become a site for discourse and conversation about social justice issues and issues of diversity,” Patterson said. 

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