GC takes on the story of Matthew Shepard
By: Gina Webber
The Georgia College Theatre Department will stage “The Laramie Project” Oct. 16-18 to mark the 15th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder in Wyoming, a tragedy that led to expanded federal hate crime legislation.
Shepard, an openly gay student at the University of Wyoming, was left tied to a fence post for 18 hours after his killers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, severely beat him on the night of Oct. 6, 1998. Shepard was in a coma for six days until he lost his life on Oct. 12.
The Laramie Project is a play by Moisés Kaufman and members of the New York-based Tectonic Theater Project who went to Laramie three weeks after Shepard’s murder and interviewed hundreds of residents about their experience with Shepard, his murder, his murderers and life in Laramie. More than 60 characters, ranging from Shepard’s friends to Tectonic Theatre members, are portrayed by eight cast members.
Leigh Fondakowski, a “Laramie Project” playwright who will attend GC’s opening night, recently held a Skype conversation with the cast and members of the Theatre Department.
“We never dreamed in a million years that other people would perform ‘The Laramie Project’ because we put ourselves in it thinking we’d be the only company that ever did it,” Fondakowski said. “It’s been a complete shock that other people have done the play, and that people feel as passionately as they do about it.”
Director Eric Griffis chose this play not only because he feels it’s important for students to know Shepard’s story, but also because he can relate to Shepard.
“In 1998, I was a 19-year-old college sophomore in Magnolia, Ark., a town not unlike Milledgeville or Laramie,” Griffis said. “It could’ve been me or one of my friends. Matthew’s murder struck a chord in me as I saw how much hatred there was in the world.”
Shepard’s murder was condemned as a hate crime and brought attention to the lack of hate crime laws throughout the United States, especially Wyoming. The murder sparked a conversation in the United States about many issues facing LGBT Americans and led to more monumental changes in same-sex rights.
The Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009. Byrd was a black man who was chained to a truck and dragged to his death in Texas in 1998.
The Laramie Project is intended for mature audiences and will be performed at the Campus Black Box Theatre from Oct. 16-18 at 8 p.m. General admission is $10, GC faculty/staff admission is $8 and GC student admission is $3. Tickets can be purchased at gcsutickets.com or by calling (478) 445-4226.