The Laramie Project: Vail Mountain School tackles Matthew Shepard’s story of hate, hope, life, death |

The Laramie Project: Vail Mountain School tackles Matthew Shepard’s story of hate, hope, life, death

Devin Yarde portrays Fred Phelps, an American minister of the Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps led a group of protesters in Laramie during Matthew Shepard’s funeral voicing their disapproval of his “lifestyle.” A group called Angel Action famously used cloth wings to create a wall between Phelps and those attending Shepard’s funeral.
Vail Mountain School photo

If You Go …

What: The Laramie Project, Vail Mountain School’s presentation

Where: Vail Mountain School’s Peter Abuisi Auditorium, Vail Mountain School,

3000 Booth Falls Rd. Vail, CO 81657

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2

6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3

2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4

Tickets: Tickets are $15 each and available in advance at, or at the door.

Information: The Laramie Project is based on hundreds of interviews following the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student.

VAIL — “The Laramie Project” is a gut-wrenching and inspiring presentation of hope and hate and more hope.

It’s tough, and that’s why members of Vail Mountain School’s theater department say they’re proud to tackle it.
“It’s a difficult topic, and it’s a difficult play,” said Cameron Bill, one of the VMS actors.
“The Laramie Project” is a play, movie and book, but most of all it’s a frank representation of what happened to Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, and what was said about it.
“My character says things that make me tense up a little bit. I think that’s the point. People hear it and say ‘That is not right,’” VMS actor Mel McCalley said.
“I know my characters say some words that are not in my daily vocabulary,” Shane Cole said.

About “The Laramie Project”
The “Laramie Project” is a play written in 2000 by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project about the reaction to Shepard’s 1998 murder. The killing spurred nationwide hate crime legislation.
The play draws on hundreds of interviews conducted by the theater company with inhabitants of the town, company members’ own journal entries, and published news reports.
“The Laramie Project” presents all sides of the issue. It does not judge or offer any commentary, and speaks the way real people spoke about the murder—the wonderful and horrible.
“I know that some people disagree with that lifestyle. But some of these things these characters say are hard to listen to,” Bill said.
But it’s important that you do listen and experience it, the troupe said during a break in dress rehearsal.
VMS Theater Director Tony Bender had lots of ideas and read several scripts before selecting “The Laramie Project.”
It’s about to be the 20th anniversary of the event, and that pushed the play toward the top of the list. The power of the subject and the play itself made the decision for them, Bender said.
He gave the troupe the play to read over the summer. Even the tough ones cried, Cole noted.
“I cried at the movie, I cried with the book when I was reading it on the plane,” McCalley said.
It’s difficult both emotionally and physically. If actors didn’t have much range when they started, they do now.
“The Laramie Project” features 61 characters who speak in short vignettes. Five of VMS’ 13 players split up the 44 male roles. They have less time than it takes to change their t-shirt to head back out on stage as a different character.
They’ll change their voice and cadence and accents to make the differentiation between characters.
“It’s enough of a difference that people know,” Cole said.

Then is still now
Cole is the assistant director, and said the play remains important, especially given the current climate in our nation. Cole pointed out that Matthew Shepard was killed in 1998, yet last week, 11 Jewish worshipers were murdered in their Pittsburgh synagogue, a grocery store in Louisville, Kentucky was attacked and a man sent pipe bombs through the mail.
VMS students talked about that and more in classes last week.
Since Shepard was murdered two decades ago, America and Americans have changed, and continue to change, but not fast enough, McCalley said.
The hope is that it will get kids to look at where and who they are, and learn if they’re ready to embrace conversations like this and to dig into these issues, Bender said.
“If you come open minded you’ll get an interesting story,” Bender said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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