This week the Carmel High School Drama Department will premiere its production of The Laramie Project, a play written about the aftermath and opinions concerning the murder of gay student Matthew Shepard.
Following a Thursday night preview, The Laramie Project opens Friday and runs through the second weekend in October.
Shepard, a freshman at the University of Wyoming, was tortured and chained to a fence on the night of Oct. 6, 1998, and died six days later while in intensive care. His murder sparked outrage across the country and became a huge factor in the battle against hate crimes.
Director and CHS senior Lana Richards got the inspiration to put on the play when she first encountered the piece in her sophomore English class.
“I had never been so excited about a play before, and I read the whole thing in one night,” Richards explains. “I never realized that theater could address such a relevant social issue and have the power to change lives.”
Because the play deals with controversial topics such as homosexuality, Richards was worried that it would not get the necessary approval from the CHS administration.
“I was ready to get a petition together in order to convince the administration to let us put on the play,” Richards says.
However, the piece was given the stamp of approval two days before the school year started, and production began almost immediately after.
There was also some fear of backlash from the community or parents concerned with the subject matter.
“I remember reading a news report from a few years ago,” Richards says, “about a school in Chicago that was putting on the production. People from the Westboro Baptist Church came to the opening night and protested against homosexuality.”
Despite this concern, there have been no complaints directed toward the play, and the cast moves forward with production this week.
The play, written by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, uses dialogue from hundreds of interviews conducted with people in and near the town of Laramie, Wyo., the city in which Shepard lived, as well as the actors’ own journal entries.
“When most people hear The Laramie Project, they automatically think gay bias,” Richards says. “However, the play really tells both sides of the story and allows for all opinions about the matter to be heard. I want our show to be as unbiased as possible and provide a way for people to open up their perspectives.”
CHS Drama teacher Michael Jacobs comments that “the play does not promote homosexuality. It promotes empathy.”
There are some new faces to CHS featured in the play, including freshman Aaron Kreitman.
“It is such a great contrast to the drama department at [Carmel Middle School],” Kreitman says. “This play gives us the opportunity to make people aware of the violence and bullying that gay people are often subjected to.”
And freshman Savannah Foster says, “I hope that the audience feels something when they see it.”