Ken Winters and Kristin Ulsund are in the foreground in this photograph of “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.” Visible in the background are, from left, Frank Barevich, Bob Bronsink, Barbara Frederick and Naomi Denhart. (Amy McIntyre)

Ken Winters and Kristin Ulsund are in the foreground in this photograph of “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.” Visible in the background are, from left, Frank Barevich, Bob Bronsink, Barbara Frederick and Naomi Denhart. (Amy McIntyre)

‘The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later’ opens

Play focuses on how Matthew Shepard’s murder continues to affect a community

PORT ANGELES — A look back at Laramie, Wyo., a decade after a gay student, Matthew Shepard, was murdered will be presented at the Port Angeles Community Playhouse this weekend.

“The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” will be performed at the playhouse at 1235 E Lauridsen Blvd. at 7:30 tonight and Saturday night, plus at 2 p.m. Sunday.

A community talkback will follow each performance.

Admission is $10 per person. Tickets are available at the playhouse’s website at pacommunityplayers.org, Brocante Antiques at 105 W. First St. or at the door.

The play is directed by Janet Lucas, president of the Port Angeles Community Players board. She also directed the production of “The Laramie Project” at the Playhouse last year.

“Seeing the effect the recent production of ‘The Laramie Project’ had on us and our local community, it made a lot of sense to follow up with the sequel play to study the impact on a town that is very similar to Port Angeles,” said Richard Stephens, cast member and Port Angeles Community Players board member.

“People across the country, around the world, see the play and say, ‘That is my hometown, that is us, this is our community,’ ” he said.

Backstory

On Oct. 6, 1998, Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, left the Fireside Bar with Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson.

The following day, Shepard was discovered at the edge of town, tied to a fence, brutally beaten and close to death.

By the following day, the attack and the town of Laramie had become the focus of an international news story. On Oct. 12, 1998, Shepard died at Poudre Valley Hospital in Ft. Collins, Colo.

Over the next 18 months, members of Tectonic Theater Project conducted interviews with people living in Laramie. The play, “The Laramie Project,” emerged from those interviews.

“Since its debut, ‘The Laramie Project’ has been instrumental in sparking community conversations and helping people confront their own prejudices and feelings towards gay people,” Stephens said.

The play, one of the most widely produced in the 2000s, has been translated and performed around the world and adapted into a film. The Port Angeles Community Players performed it locally twice, most recently last spring.

As the 10th anniversary of Shepard’s death neared, many of the original members of the Tectonic Theater Project returned to Laramie to see how the town had changed in the aftermath of the death and the international attention that focused on the small college town.

From those follow-up interviews came the sequel play that was performed on the 11th anniversary of Mathew’s death, “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.”

The Laramie Project brought up such questions as, “How do we define a hate crime? How do you react when a heinous crime like this occurs in your community? What is the path forward?” Stephens said.

“As we, as a theater company talk about what kind of theater we want to be, what kind of impact we want to have on Port Angeles, we felt that it was important to share this story and we are excited to bring this new chapter to the North Olympic Peninsula.”

Lucas said that the play is “a poignant commentary on today’s polarized political climate.”

She said that audiences packed the Playhouse in June 2018 and included several Port Angeles City Council members and the mayor.

“ ‘The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later’ is an excellent complement to the newly adopted Charter for Compassion that the Port Angeles City Council recently adopted,” Lucas said.

“The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” was written by Moisés Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris and Stephen Belber.

The play focuses on how Shepard’s murder continues to affect members of the Laramie community, the continuing debate on whether it was indeed a hate crime or just a drug deal and robbery gone bad.

The play includes new interviews with Shepard’s mother, Judy; his murderer McKinney, who is currently serving two consecutive life sentences; his friends; and the officers who originally investigated the attack.

The cast for “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” includes Lucas, Stephens, Doni Thomason, Cari Stricker, Francesca Robinson, Frank Barevich, Amy McIntyre, Kristin Ulsund, Barbara Frederick, Pat Flood, MaryKaye O’Brien, Naomi Denhart, Sue Coffman, Liane Stephens, John Henley, Brian Wendt, Ken Winters, Mike Edwards, Phil Morgan-Ellis, Phil Young and Bob Bronsink.

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