What the story of Matthew Shepard can teach Fenton High


Sydney Bommersbach, Writer

“Faggot,” and “that’s so gay,” are words thrown around in the hallways and in everyday conversations, not being thought about twice after being said. In order to force students to step back and consider what those words really mean, IB Theatre has chosen to perform the “The Laramie Project” as their midwinter play.

“This play talks a lot about homophobia and I think that that is pretty prevalent in Fenton and in America in general,” senior Arlo Simmerman said. “People don’t always understand the effect their words or actions can have on others and this play confronts that. Hopefully, we can use this play as a way to teach people about compassion and accepting others for who they are.”

The Laramie project is a true story from 1998 that follows a gay boy named Matthew Shepard who was from Laramie, Wyoming. While at the bar, two guys began hitting on him and offered to give him a ride home. Instead they took him to a buck-rail fence on the outside of town, brutally beat him, tied him up to the fence and left him there for 18 hours until he was later found by a bicyclist.

“All the parts in the show are equally as important,”senior Skylar Mathews said, “in order to get the message across and tell the story to the best of our ability, we’ve all done individual research on our characters and are trying to not let them blend together,” senior Skylar Mathews said.

Described as the greatest hate crime in America, the play involves real interviews with people that were involved, knew Matthew Shepard, or just simply had something to say about what had happened. Simmerman, along with most of the other cast members in the class are playing multiple parts, each one being a different person in Laramie.

“I like all of the characters I play,” Simmerman said. “They all have aspects of themselves that are intriguing, challenging and beautiful. The one that I am working the hardest on is Dennis Shepard. He is the father of Matthew and he has one of the most touching and heartfelt parts of the play so I need to get this right in honor of him, but also to allow the audience to understand the true struggle of what he went through.”

The character of Dennis Shepard is not alone in being a family member who has seen and felt the backlash from society for being different. Having two lesbian parents and being a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself, junior Maddie Mettler-Anglim and her family have felt it all.

“My parents were both alive when what happened to Matthew Shepard occured,” Mettler-Anglim said. “As preparation for Laramie Project they came in for an interview and talked to IB Theatre about their experiences and what their lives have been like as two lesbians in our society. Both feel very strongly about the subject and believe that the show and its message are important.”

The two men who abducted Matthew, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, were charged with first degree murder after Matt passed away six days after being assaulted from severe head injuries.

“The goal of the play is to start a conversation among students and the people of Fenton about what discrimination is, where it is, and how we can stop it,” Simmerman said. “There are a lot of different views represented in the play so hopefully some people will recognize some of the things they are doing wrong and work to fix that.”

As an extension of Matthew’s memory and ideals, The Matthew Shepard Foundation has been started in which anyone can donate their time and money toward erasing hate to replace it with understanding, compassion and acceptance. Mettler-Anglim realizes that there’s going to people who have a hard time connecting with the play or don’t see a point in seeing it because they don’t feel that it pertains to them. But what she says to that ideal is:

“Myself and IB Theatre hope to show that 1998 and 2018 are not as far apart as they may feel. If you strip away the fact that Matt Shepard was gay, then the only thing left is that a 21-year-old college student was beaten with the butt of a pistol, tied to a fence and eventually slipped into a coma. Even if you don’t care for his sexuality, you can’t deny that what happened to him wasn’t right. This show isn’t about ‘some gay kid’, it’s a play about humanity.”