November 17, 2021
by Ana Gasser, Pickerington Online Intern
& Sophomore at Pickerington Central
The theatre students at Pickerington High School Central (PHSC) are performing The Laramie Project on November 18 – 21. The Thursday, Friday, and Saturday shows are all at 7:00 pm, with the Sunday matinee taking place at 3:00 pm. Tickets are available for $10.00 each at the Pickerington Box Office website.
The Laramie Project is the story of the horrific killing of Matthew Shepard, a 21 year old, gay student at the University of Wyoming. On October 6, 1998, Shepard left a bar in Laramie, Wyoming with two young men, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney.
The two drove Shepard outside of town where they robbed him. Then, as some form of twisted ‘punishment’ for his identity, the duo brutally beat and tortured him. They removed his shoes, tied him to a fence, then left him to die.
Eighteen hours later, a bicyclist found Shepard clinging to life, his face entirely coated in blood but for the tracks of his tears. Rescue workers rushed him to a hospital where he would succumb to his injuries five days later.
Matthew Shepard died in 1998. Over the next two years, the Techtonic Theatre Company conducted more than 200 interviews with the town folk. These interviews, combined with journal entries and courtroom documents, became the play, The Laramie Project. Performances spread across the country and in 2002 the show became a HBO movie starring Christina Ricci, Steve Buscemi and Laura Linney.
PHSC Theatre Director Aileen Targett said that the Pickerington Local School District “is a wildly and wonderfully diverse community” and presenting The Laramie Project was a means to “magnify the voices of our LGBTQA++ students, as well as allies.”
Targett believes that the greatest tragedy of Matthew Shepard’s death would be if people forgot his story and history repeated itself.
“Sadly, even in today’s day and age, there are still people that choose hate,” Targett said. “My hope is that The Laramie Project can bring hope to those that feel unseen and a voice to those that are fearful to speak, and that it makes the audience question their own biases.”
She is proud of her young actors who each tackled multiple characters and pages upon pages of dialogue.
“This cast has been so resilient,” Targett said. “The amount of lines that many of these young actors have to memorize is unheard of. This show is a behemoth, and I knew that we had an extremely dedicated and brilliant group of actors. The respect between the actors has been palpable and the joy that they have found in each other’s success has been inspiring.”
The cast wants the audience to take something away from the performance.
“I want them to be uncomfortable,” said senior Ethan Gasser. “If we aren’t willing to have these difficult conversations, we can’t move forward. I want this show to start a dialogue, and I want people to be forced to confront their own feelings and prejudices.”
Sophomore Nina Ambos hopes the audience will “walk away from the show and feel like they can do their part. I want them to feel like they can do better, because they can. We all can.”
The actors feel that world has not significantly changed since Shepard’s murder.
Senior Finn Miller, who plays several roles, including a taxi driver and a priest, stated “This, to a certain extent, is still happening today. This only happened twenty years ago. “
Grey Kuhl, a junior, really hammered this point home.
“I want people, both cishet and LGBTQ+ to understand that this is real,” Kuhl said. “It did not happen very long ago. We, as the younger members of the community, obviously still struggle, but we are very lucky we don’t have to take the brunt force of it. Yes, we have made progress. But this happens, it still happens.”
The play is rated PG-13, for strong language, hate speech, slurs, descriptions of violence and intense sequences.