One Legacy Of Matthew Shepard: The Arts

Oct 5, 2018

It's been twenty years since the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. One legacy of his hate-motivated death is the wide collection of artistic responses.

The Laramie Project was the first major work inspired by Matthew Shepard's murder. It was a play constructed from hundreds of interviews from locals just after the event. It's become one of the most performed plays in high schools across the country. Since its release in 2000, there’ve been countless works of art, songs, poems, and theatrical interpretations.

Craig Hella Johnson, composer of the latest major contribution to the genre, a choral work called Considering Matthew Shepard, explained why art has become part of Shepard's legacy - it helps us grieve together.

"That alone is one significant aspect of a way that performance and performance art, music, can hold a story and give us deep possibility for processing and holding this," Johnson said.

Leigh Selting, chair of the University of Wyoming's theatre department, is performing a staged reading adapted from the Wyoming State Archives Oral History, a “Matthew Shepard story."

He said distance from the murder allows time and space for new perspectives to be considered. His reading focuses just on the CEO at the Colorado hospital announcing Shepard's death.

"Whether it's a personal, political, or activism or whatever, that’s the value of going back to some of these stories. Saying how does it affect us now, how does it affect us in another 5 years?" Selting said.

The head writer for The Laramie Project says the story doesn't feel aged at all and that the battle continues for equal rights for the LBGTQ community. A choral work called Considering Matthew Shepard is the latest major work being performed around the country during the 20th anniversary of Shepard's death.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.