The Laramie Project is a play that I just had the opportunity to not only perform in at my school, the University of Mississippi, but see performed by a cast from Ford's Theatre in D.C. this past Friday. The performance was followed by a vigil. Matthew's father, Dennis Shepard, was there.
As Tectonic Theater Project workshopped and constructed The Laramie Project, one of the characters I surrendered was that of Judy Shepard, Matthew's mother. But for The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, Judy sat for a formal interview with Moisés Kaufman, and I was asked to portray her.
Upon learning of Matthew Shepard's death, I don't know that my first reaction was, "How could this happen?" There was something eerily and uncomfortably familiar with what I was reading about in the paper that day. It brought back a memory that I had all but buried years before.
As an actor, you don't always feel that your work is relevant. Sometimes you'd like to be in the trenches of life, truly helping people in a more direct way. But with this play I never felt that. And I remember how I started making subtle shifts in my habits.
There are moments in history that cast a sudden bright light on an entire culture. And if what happens in that moment can be recorded, we can seize the moment for change. The murder of Matthew Shepard was just such a moment.
I must have said or felt something, but I don't recall my reaction. Matthew Shepard isn't mentioned in my journal. It's like someone tampered with my memories, dubbing over my emotions with white noise. Most likely, I shut out everything. Feeling anything would have risked too much.
I woke up one morning last week to an invitation to a Facebook group alerting me that Notre Dame High School, my alma mater, had just cancelled a planned production of The Laramie Project after some parents complained that the play "promotes homosexual beliefs."