“I give you life in the memory of one who no longer lives,” Moisés Kaufman says in “The Laramie Project,” a powerful play about the tragic death of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard.
Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was found tied to a rail fence and left to die on the frigid high prairie Oct. 6, 1998. A passerby who initially thought he was a scarecrow helped rescue him, but he died of head injuries six days later at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins.
His killers, who also were his classmates, are thought to have killed him because he was gay.
“This is a sensitive subject, and it covers an emotional gambit,” says Brianna “Bri” G. Pilon, director at the Springs Ensemble Theatre (SET).
Kaufman and Tectonic Theater Project members flew to Wyoming and interviewed more than 200 Laramie residents to try to better understand the crime and its aftermath. Over six trips and 1½ years, Kaufman tried to depict the community and how hatred and compassion can change the humanity in us all.
“One of the things I love about the show is that it’s really about hope. It’s about the hope that people can change, that people are capable of change, that people are capable of creating change, and the hope that we can all come together and just treat each other humanely with compassion and kindness and respect,” says E. Amber Singleton, SET producer.
Now SET is bringing this story to life on stage in a community not unlike Laramie, except for the tragedy that changed everything.
“I think it’s interesting how big of a part Colorado played in this story. Shepard died in Fort Collins, and one of the first vigils was in Colorado Springs. This is not something that happened far away. It’s something that affects us here,” says Jenny Maloney, a SET actor.
The show arrives Thursday and runs through July 28, just in time for Colorado Springs’ Pridefest and on the heels of LGBTQ Pride Month. Pridefest, marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, shows how far the LGBTQ community has come in gaining acceptance.
“Last year was the 20th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder, and that’s what got me thinking about it. This year, Matthew Shepard has been dead as long as he was alive. He was alive 21 years, and now he’s dead 21 years. It was that energy of synchronicity that brought it up for me,” says Singleton.
While the LGBTQ community has come a long way, it faces a much longer path to eradicate prejudice and discrimination, said SET president and Pridefest board member Matt Radcliffe.
“It’s amazing to look back after all this time, to see how much has changed as far as acceptance, but still so little,” Radcliffe says. “Transgender people are still beaten to death across the world and in the U.S. Undercurrents of homophobia still spread waves of hate. It’s fascinating that even with so much progress, there is much more still to be made.”
Kate Powell, The gazette,