By Chris Maly, Adviser Ten years ago Matthew Shepard’s murder captured headlines across the globe. A young University of Wyoming student had been beaten and left to die on a barbed wire fence on the outskirts of Laramie. A former classmate of mine from Grand Island was the first to find Shepherd in critical condition.
By Chris Maly, Adviser
Ten years ago Matthew Shepard’s murder captured headlines across the globe. A young University of Wyoming student had been beaten and left to die on a barbed wire fence on the outskirts of Laramie. A former classmate of mine from Grand Island was the first to find Shepherd in critical condition. Days later, he passed away. The Tectonic Theatre, however, dedicated itself to the story, and in doing so, defined a moment that spoke to America’s tradition of hate and murder. The modern lynching of Matthew Shepard was not going to be ignored and the Tectonic Theatre wanted to accurately capture how a lynching impacts a community, in the communities own words.
Leigh Fondakowski, a member of the Tectonic Theatre visited Lincoln High School for two days of conversation regarding theatre and the method of telling stories through non-traditional means. The Tectonic Theatre crafted The Laramie Project by conducting interviews by everyone impacted by the murder. Moreover, the interviewers, themselves, kept journals about their own experiences creating a dynamic and honest dialogue for the theatre. It resonated instantly with theatre troupes and audiences alike. The Laramie Project quickly became the most produced show in high schools all over America. Lincoln High was one of the first schools to produce the show. In 2003, under the direction of Patsy Koch Johns, Lincoln High performed The Laramie Project for their one-act play. As a member of the production team, myself, it literally changed lives.
For the set design, LHS student Lily Platte painted profiles of people who had been killed in hate crimes. One particular portrait was of Emmett Till. I used this particular portrait in my classes and it soon evolved into Lincoln High’s own telling of the Emmett Till lynching that resonated in Lincoln.
For the LHS production, we adopted the Tectonic Theatre’s dedication to honest, thoughtful theatre. The cast and crew journeyed to Laramie for a weeekend trip and students had the opportunity to interview and meet individuals who were represented in the play. Furthermore, it provided a strong sense of place in telling the story of a communities turmoil. The same technique was utilized for the play This Unsafe Star: The Emmett Till Story as cast members had the opportunity to meet with Emmett Till’s cousin, Wheeler Parker as well as writer Christoper Crowe, during the production of the play. The 2003 production of The Laramie Project essentially has guided the Lincoln High Theatre program for nearly ten years.
Consequently, on the tenth anniversary of Shepard’s murder, Fandakowski ventured to Lincoln to present the newly written Epilogue for The Laramie Project. The Tectonic Theatre re-interviewed the same individuals, ten years later, to give perspective of how the event continues to impact lives. The University of Nebraska will conduct a reading of the Epilogue in a nation-wide recognition of the crime and the play. Former LHS graduate Lindsey Hand is featured as one of the readers for the event and reservations for the free event sold out quickly and continues to attract audience interest.