The murder of gay university student Matthew Shepard made headlines around the world. Though it was almost two decades ago, the issue of hate crimes and gay rights still resonates today.
The tragedy inspired a play that has become one of the most produced in the world. Now, it’s coming to the stage in small town Alberta at the Rosebud School of the Arts.
“I never would have thought Rosebud would do a show covering this subject.”
Matthew Oliver van Diepen is in his second year at the school of arts and plays several characters in The Laramie Project. He is transgender.
“I am the only out person on the LGBTQ spectrum in this town. It’s isolating,” van Diepen said. “It’s a rough show and an honest show; it’s a little picture in a daily life of a queer person.”
The student cast and crew feel it’s their obligation to engage those uncomfortable conversations, particularly in Rosebud, which is a Christian community. The school of arts is also faith-based.
Actor Heidi MacDonald moved to Rosebud from Three Hills, Alta. to study with the school.
“I had some trepidation because my background is conservative and my family is very conservative and knowing the patronage is, too, I thought, ‘I don’t know how people would receive a story like this,’” MacDonald said.
Artistic director at the Rosebud School of Arts, Morris Ertman, feels there is a need to initiate conversations.
“You get inside of any pickup truck in rural Alberta and there’s a reckless conversation,” Ertman said. “Doing this play in Rosebud is absolutely apropos because we are right in the middle of farm country. ”
Paul Muir is education director of the school and the director of The Laramie Project. He decided to have talkback discussions with the audience following every performance.
“In telling this story, we’re walking this line to say, ‘No matter what you believe, surely we can all come down on the same side about what we feel about hatred,’” Muir said.
The cast and crew said they’ve been transformed, even during rehearsals.
“I thought I was open-minded and I realized how often somebody living a lifestyle that I don’t agree with or understand, I won’t engage,” MacDonald said. “Now I want to understand how you live and how society treats you because of how you choose to live.”
“This show is a celebration for me to think even our conservative Christian school can do shows like this,” van Diepen said. “I don’t think I can become more proud as a queer person.”
The production runs at the BMO Studio Stage in Rosebud until April 22. Tickets are available online.
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