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More Than a Decade after Matthew Shepard, "The Laramie Project" Still Resonates

Members of the youth group of East Shore Unitarian Church will perform a staged reading of "The Laramie Project" this Saturday.

Katharine Buckmaster of Bellevue was very young when University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was killed because he was gay.

But his life and the circumstances of his death are still relevant today, said Buckmaster, who will perform with the youth group this Saturday. Though there have been changes in civil rights and acceptance for gays and lesbians since Shepard's death, many young people today still commit suicide because of homophobic bullying.

Buckmaster, 18 and a senior at International School, said that she hopes that the performances inspire the members of her church to remember that there is still a lot of action that needs to be taken before there is equality for gays and lesbians.

"It's not just going to 'get better,' " she said.

The performance came about after Unitarian churches in the region decided to show the movie interpretation of "The Laramie Project" to their members as a social justice project for their youth groups.

The play, written in 2000 by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, depicts the reactions of the residents of Laramie, Wyo., after the death of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. Shepard died in 1998 after being beaten and tortured by two men. Prosecutors said that the defendants had plotted to rob a gay man. Shepard's death sparked national and state efforts to create laws against hate crimes motivated by a victim's sexual orientation.

Youth group advisor William Fry said that he wanted to take the project further and have the youth group members perform the play, which is a series of monologues and dialogues. 

"It might be a lot more meaningful to the youth involved, and more meaningful for the church -- if you're watching people you know and care about performing the play," he said.

The youth group jumped on the opportunity, he said. More than 60 characters are performed by seven youth group members and four adults.

The church, which has participated in the Seattle gay pride festival and has traveled to Olympia to support equal rights causes for gay people, has been very supportive of the performance, said Chris Conkling, Youth Programs Coordinator.

Buckmaster said that while she was aware of the Matthew Shepard murder, reading the script was her first in-depth look at it and the reactions of the town after it.

"I read through the script and I will tell you I cried," Buckmaster said.

She said that she has become more involved with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community in the past few years and that taking part in the play was something she was eager to do.

Buckmaster plays several characters, and her main character is a University of Wyoming professor who introduces herself to the audience as a lesbian.

"I've been having a great time with this character," she said. "It's other people's characters that I have a problem with."

Buckmaster, who has performed in musical theater and other productions before, said that playing someone who is a real person with dialogue based on someone's real life is a great responsibility.

"I think we all want to do these people justice," she said.

If you go

  • Where: , 12700 SE 32nd St, Bellevue, WA 98005
  • Date: February 12, 2011
  • Time: 6:30pm–9:30pm
  • Cost: Free, though donations will be accepted and donated to groups that help gay and lesbian youth.

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