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Threatened protest by an outside group never materialized

OnStage at Connecticut College presented the compelling and groundbreaking play, "The Laramie Project: Ten Years After -- An Epilogue" on Oct. 12, the 11th anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard.

Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student, was brutally murdered near the town of Laramie, Wyo. Created by the Tectonic Theater Project, the play is based on interviews with Shepard's mother, Judy; his killer, Aaron McKinney, and the residents of the town.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based anti-gay extremist group, threatened to demonstrate in protest. Students gathered with faculty members on Tempel Green for a candlelight vigil before the performance to counter that demonstration, but it never materialized.

The play uses the interviews to explore the murder's long-term impact, and Leigh Fondakowski, the head writer, said it shows how the people of Laramie are "still fighting to own their own history, their own identity, their own story, and part of that is shaped by how they understand what happened that night to Matthew."

The play was performed as a reading by members of the College community. The Tectonic authorized more than 150 readings of the script that night, in each of the 50 states and eight countries. A pre-show in New York featured Glenn Close and Judy Shepard.

Rob Richter '82, director of arts programming, was committed to bringing the production to campus after attending an early reading in New York.

”It was a very, very preliminary reading last winter, but I was just so moved when I heard it,” he told The Day of New London. “I was so taken that I said, 'I'm not sure how we'll do it or pull it off, but absolutely I'm in.'”

Leigh Fondakowski, an Emmy-winning writer for the original “Laramie Project,” was on campus two weeks ago, speaking to classes and attending rehearsals for the production, The Day reported.

Richter told the newspaper that it's interesting to look back at how society has changed over 10 years.

”What for some of us were monumental events, well, do they mean anything to the next generation, or is it the way of the world?” he asked. “It's my sense, not just on campus, but in the country at large, that maybe things have changed for the better.”

-Barb Nagy

October 14, 2009