NJ high school cancels play about Matthew Shepard’s murder


Just days after rehearsals began, a Catholic school in New Jersey has canceled its production of “The Laramie Project.” It’s a play based on the 1998 murder in Wyoming of gay college student Matthew Shepard.

Officials at Notre Dame High School in Lawrence say the play was originally seen as an appropriate vehicle to address issues of respect and tolerance. But they say as calls came in they realized different people “will see radically different messages than the ones we intended” and they didn’t want a “damaging controversy.”

“The Laramie Project” has been a cornerstone of campaigns to raise awareness about violence against gays and to pass hate-crime laws.

Cast members say the play had already been edited slightly. They tell The Times of Trenton they have been denied the chance to put on a thought-provoking play.

About “The Laramie Project,” according to the creators:

On Oct. 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die tied to a fence in the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo. He died six days later. His torture and murder became a watershed historical moment in America that highlighted many of the fault lines in our culture.

A month after the murder, the members of Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie and conducted interviews with the people of the town. From these interviews they wrote the play “The Laramie Project,” which they later made into a film for HBO. The piece has been seen by more than 30 million people around the country.

Ten years later, Moisés Kaufman and members of Tectonic Theater Project returned to Laramie to find out what has happened over the last 10 years. Has Shepard’s murder had a lasting impact on that community? How has the town changed as a result of this event? What does life in Laramie tell us about life in America 10 years later? And how is history being rewritten to tell a new story of Shepard’s murder, one that changes the motivation of his killers from homophobia to a “drug deal gone bad” despite all evidence to the contrary?

On Oct. 12, 2009, “The Laramie Project Epilogue” premiered in 100 cities across the country, performed simultaneously by high schools, universities, professional regional theaters and, in New York, the original casts of the play and film. 

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