SALISBURY, MD---The death of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student found fatally beaten and tied to a fencepost near Laramie in October 1998, provoked a national outcry and examination of hate crime and homophobia.
Another crisis of hate provoked national headlines in March 2006 when the Westboro Baptist Church picketed the funeral of a different Matthew, U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, in Westminster, MD, following his death in Iraq.
The church is known for its extreme ideologies, especially those against gay people, and frequently uses funerals and other public gatherings as a stage to promote its agenda. Westboro members criticized the Snyder family for, among other things, raising their son Catholic.
These two distinctly American tragedies converge when Salisbury University’s Bobbi Biron Theatre Program commemorates the 15th anniversary of the Shepard murder with its presentation of The Laramie Project, the critically acclaimed documentary play that examines the town of Laramie and its residents in the aftermath of the death. The role of Dennis Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s father, will be played by Albert Snyder, the father of Matthew Snyder.
Performances are Thursday-Sunday, October 10-13 and 17-20, in the Black Box Theatre of Fulton Hall. Curtain is 8 p.m., 2 p.m. Sundays.
A candlelight vigil is scheduled on the evening of the performance on October 12, the 15th anniversary of Shepard’s death.
A month after the murder, Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project of New York, traveled to Laramie and conducted interviews with the people of the town. From those interviews they wrote The Laramie Project. According to the Tectonic Theatre, the goal was to find the story of the people of Laramie in their own words and shed light on the ideas entries and news reports. Included in the play is the Westboro Baptist Church, which, in real life, picketed Shepard’s funeral as well.
“The effectiveness of the production … comes from the wide spectrum of perspectives it weaves together: testimony from Shepard’s friends and acquaintances, from the police officers intimately involved in bringing the perpetrators to justice, from prominent Laramie citizens who are dismayed at how their city is being portrayed, eventually from the killers themselves,” said The New York Times.
Other cast members include faculty in the Fulton School of Liberal Arts (Tom Anderson, Ross Leisure and Karen Rayne); the Salisbury community (Robert Forrester and Susan Rogers); and SU students (Zach Baker, Linda Bancroft, Keri Barr, Sarah Bolganis, Reed Delisle, Lacey Hudson, Dallas Jordan, Leah Naill, Rachel Plunkett, John Posner, Patrick Pruitt, Andres Roas, Alex Scorsas, Faith Sullivan, Madeline Stiso, Sarah Tart, Melissa Valdivia and Dayton Young). Set design is by John Raley, costume design by Leslie Yarmo and lighting design by Johnny Pantazis.
The Laramie Project is suggested for mature audiences. Admission is $15, $12 seniors, students and SU alumni with ID. Proceeds benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which provides essential services for people with critical illnesses.
Tickets are available online at www.salisbury.edu/theatreanddance. Tickets also may be purchased through the SU Box Office, Fulton Hall Room 100. SU ID holders receive one ticket free for Thursday performances with advance reservations.
For more information call 410-543-6228 or visit the SU website at www.salisbury.edu.