North Central College presents “The Laramie Project” twenty years after Matthew Shepard’s fatal attack

North Central College’s theater department presented “The Laramie Project,” exactly 20 years after the hate-inspired killing of the story’s subject, openly gay college student Matthew Shepard. The production raised $634 in post-show donations for the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

“I think this is still an important time to be sharing stories like this,” said cast member Bridget Adams-King, 21. “Even if we make a small impact—telling this story to someone who has never heard anything like it—then I think we’ve done our purpose.”

“The Laramie Project,” written by Moises Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theatre Project, strings together a collection of verbatim interviews detailing the aftermath and impact of Shepard’s attack, and ultimately, his death.

“It was weird to think that all of this happened before I was born, and we still see these things happening today,” said Juliet Mathey, 19. “So while it is hopeful—this play brings a lot of light to the situation—it makes you wonder when things will actually change.”

Cast members echoed the same point of view.

“I think with events that happen like this, people think, ‘Well, that was 20 years ago,’ and they consider it history,” said Grace Burmahl, 19. “Well, it’s not ancient history! Things like this happen all the time and they get brushed under the rug because it’s not part of a certain agenda. There’s a whole community that is still silently suffering. To use an art form like this—like theater—to shed light on that and to reach people, that’s what’s most important.”

The summer before the production took the stage, select members of the cast and crew said they took a trip to Laramie.

“We all went to Laramie, Wyoming, just to build context for the show,” Burmahl said. “We visited the fence, and for at least me personally, because I played the officer who found [Shepard], I was able to imagine what it would feel like to walk up to that fence and see what a human did to another human. It really helped build context.”

North Central College students said that the acting moved them tremendously.

“I felt sick to my stomach through most of it,” said Laura Quinones, 19. “It is heart wrenching, but it also has this sense of hope, because I think by telling stories that are hard, it inspires change.”

The cast hopes the audience leaves in reflection.

“I’m interested in striking a chord with the audience who came in not believing LGBTQAI people have rights,” said Upasna Barath, 21. “I’m concerned with the people who believe that it was Matthew Shepard’s fault. I want them to leave knowing that no one deserves what happened to Matthew. People that aren’t straight are still impacted by the same hate that killed Matthew Shepard.”

The theater department says until it no longer needs to, it will continue producing this play every 10 years.

Written for Intro to Journalism, JOUR 275


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