The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

‘The Laramie Project’ remembers Matthew Shepard 

Eau Claire Children’s Theater honors Shepard’s passing after twenty-five years 
Photo by Liz Curtin
The cast of The Laramie Project uses projection screens but minimal sets to tell their story.

“The Laramie Project” was performed on Oct. 19-21 at the Eau Claire Claire Children’s Theater (ECCT).

According to the Tectonic Theater Project website, “The Laramie Project” is a documentary-style play created by Moisés Kaufman in 2000, consisting of interviews from those present during the events surrounding Matthew Shepard’s death in Laramie, Wyoming. 

This play was also made into a TV movie and released in 2002 featuring celebrities including Christina Ricci and Steve Buscemi

Aaron Kreifels found Shepard beaten, covered in blood and tied to a fence. He spent six days in the hospital, before he passed away on Oct. 12, 1998. 

Story continues below advertisement

According to a New York Times article, he was tied there by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who admitted they had done that because Shepard was a member of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Both Henderson and McKinney received two life sentences after pleading guilty to the crime. 

The incident was reported on by several news channels at the time, such as NBC News, ABC News and TODAY, which did a follow-up report. 

After Shepard’s passing, his parents Judy and Dennis Shepard created the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which sheds light on struggles faced by the LGBTQ+ community. 

When ECCT produced “The Laramie Project,” Wayne Marek, an ECCT founder and director, received materials from the Matthew Shepard Foundation. 

Some examples include posters displaying reproductions of letters the Shepard family was sent after their son’s passing along with bracelets to hand out and a media package. 

Included in the media package were photos and video footage from around the time of Shepard’s death. The foundation doesn’t assist with or monitor the play much outside of that, according to Marek. 

“They don’t get involved in the production of the show, but they provide resources like the lobby display,” Marek said. 

After browsing the display of letters in the lobby and receiving a bracelet, audience members could enter the theater and watch the show. 

The play itself used very few set pieces. The only things on the stage besides the actors and their props were a few chairs, a podium and some raised platforms. 

To indicate a change of setting, a projector screen showed images of different locations in Laramie sometimes intercut with images or videos of the real people the play’s story is about. 

The cast consisted of eight people playing several different characters. One of the actors, Eric Abel, said acting in this play was unique for him because he usually plays comedic characters, not serious ones. 

One role Abel took on was a pastor who viewed Shepard as a sinner, which he said was a unique role for him due to the character’s views.

“I had to pull that out a little bit more because I’m not used to, obviously, hating on others or myself,” Abel said. 

To indicate when an actor has changed characters, the actors switched between several different hats, coats and scarves. Actors switched out costume pieces on stage which actress Kathi Baker said they had only been working with for the past two weeks. 

Baker said the cast had their first perfect rehearsal the night before they opened, causing the cast to cry together afterwards. 

Baker said that the play is not only important to her because she and her son are members of the LGBTQ+ community, but also because, as the oldest member of the cast, she remembers seeing reports of the incident when it took place.

“It’s definitely part of my memories more than some of the younger cast members who didn’t know the story until we started going through it. It’s kind of like when the space shuttle exploded, I clearly remember when that happened,” Baker said. 

She said the play made her choke up sometimes, especially during the scene where a character narrated how one of the last things Shepard saw while he was waiting for help was likely the sparkling lights of the town. 

Actress Annie Kannel said that while spirits sometimes got low on set, the cast made sure to keep things positive. 

“We kept it as light as we could during rehearsal just because it is such a heavy show. We never made light of anything in the show, but we all got really close as cast,” Kannel said. 

Baker said she has worked with all of the cast before, but has grown very close to them since working the play and will be going out with them after their final performance. 

Audience member Kasandra Timm said she found out about The Laramie Project at ECCT’s most recent Drag & Desserts. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she explained the community faces a lot of issues still today. 

“Especially in the LGBTQIA+ community, we see a lot of still that hatred coming at us. There’s been steps forward, absolutely, and lots of love and progress, but sometimes it feels like one step forward, two steps back,” Timm said. 

She said she had done a little research about the story beforehand and liked the play once she saw it. 

“It’s a very powerful catalyst for a lot of the fights and issues we’ve had going forward, and I think they did a phenomenal job recapping and sharing Matt’s story,” Timm said. 

For those interested in supporting ECCT, their next show is Trey Parker’s “Cannibal! The Musical” from Oct. 26-28.

Liz Curtin can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Liz Curtin
Liz Curtin, Freelance Writer
Liz Curtin is a second-year journalism student and this is her third semester at The Spectator. Her favorite movie is “The Eternals" and in her spare time she likes to question her existence.

Comments (0)

The Spectator intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. The Spectator does not allow anonymous comments and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
All The Spectator Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *