Ms. Greta Powers
On October 6th, 1998, 21 year old Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, beaten, tortured, and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming. Six days later, he passed away due to head injuries, and the story shook the country for a big reason: not only did people find the murder itself horrific, but horrific turned to devastating when people learned Shepard was killed because he was gay. Twenty years later, the story continues to leave a mark, as it’s hard to forget what happened in the small town of Laramie. This year for the spring play, CVU decided to put on The Laramie Project, a show that depicts the aftermath of the death of Matthew Shepard.
The play was created by The Tectonic Theater Project, and the script is verbatim theatre: it’s crafted from actual interviews, journal entries, and news reports from after Shepard’s death. The authenticity of the script of the play puts audience members right into the story, thus making it more moving.
The cast is comprised of an ensemble, and each member plays multiple characters, which along with the structure of the script, creative blocking, and use of projections, provide a unique representation of the event. Candy Padula, director of the play, states, “I was alive when this incident happened and I remember the world wide reaction to the beating and murder of this young University of Wyoming Student, Matthew Shepard, because he was gay. The reaction was enormous.” The Laramie Project allows for both those who remember and those who don’t remember the event to feel its message and importance through the stage.
Of course, because the play is being performed at a high school, no one in the cast had been born yet to observe the news that sprung out of Laramie. Nevertheless, it hasn’t kept them from connecting to the material. Elyse Martin-Smith, a sophomore in The Laramie Project, says, “I feel connected to this show because I have many close friends and family members who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and I would like to support them in every way.”
The play drives home the message of acceptance, even though the story surrounds a dark event. The Matthew Shepard Foundation, created in Matthew’s honor and memory, adopted the motto “Erase Hate”, and so does the play. “In bringing this production to CVU, we hope to take a step towards erasing hate at our school and in our community,” says Padula.
Considering the recent movement of peace and inclusivity against acts of racism and anti-semitism at CVU, Padula and the cast feel it’s more important than ever to produce The Laramie Project. Rylee Masson, a sophomore in the cast of the show, says, “It starts an important dialogue, and it’s normalizing the conversation.” Martin-Smith also touches on value of the show: “Especially in the wake of hateful vandalism at our own school, I think that the message of this play is even more important to help shed some bright stage lights on these issues and spark a civil dialogue.”
One can feel a genuine community of acceptance during the show when the cast, joined by members of the audience, come together on stage to recreate the the Wyoming University Homecoming Day parade. The parade occurred shortly after the beating of Shepard. Padula says, “I am trying to recreate that powerful parade moment in our production, and for those who come to see the play, they will find out how they themselves can step back in time and become involved in that homecoming day parade.”
Although the entire show is important in today’s world, one line that is extremely relevant to current day is said by the character Father Roger Schmit, played by sophomore Oscar Williams. The line states, “Hate is violence; that is the seed of violence.” The message of it is clear: hate is the seed that leads to the ugly flower of violence, so it crucial that hate it recognized and addressed, before it can perpetuate hate crimes like the one that took Matthew Shepard’s life.
If there’s one thing that Padula wants audiences to take away from seeing The Laramie Project, it’s, “That we can all be brave. The CVU students who are involved in this show are brave for doing it. The administration was brave in giving us the approval to do the show. And the audience members are brave for coming to see the show. Ideally, all of that bravery combined will begin to ‘Erase Hate.’”
On the “Erase Hate” motto, Martin-Smith states, “I hope everyone can take this sentiment and implement it into their own lives, because we can all make a difference by erasing hatred (even at a small or personal level), and instead spreading hope and positivity.”
The Laramie Project is running Friday, March 15th and Saturday, March 16th at 7:30 and Sunday, March 17th at 2:00. Tickets are available online – up until 3 hours before each show at – Ticketsource.us/cvutheatre. Or they can be purchased at the door. If purchasing tickets at the door, Candy Padula suggests people arrive about a 1/2 hour early.