Sterling Playmakers returns to the stage with The Laramie Project

Actors in Sterling Playmakers' "The Laramie Project" rehearse for their upcoming performances in June. 

The Sterling Playmakers — a Loudoun County institution for more than 25 years — opened their first in-person show after more than a year. The Laramie Project revolves around the events following the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Laramie, Wyoming.

Shepard was found unconscious, tied to a barbed wire fence, after being robbed, beaten, and tortured. Just six days later, Shepard died from his injuries. During the trial, one of the defendants attempted to use the “gay panic defense,” claiming that Shepard had made advances causing the defendant to go into a rage. This was rejected by the judge and the two defendants were found guilty and sentenced to two consecutive life terms. In the aftermath of the widely publicized murder and trial, public outcry prompted a number of hate crime laws and highlighted anti-gay violence.

In 2000, Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, after interviewing the residents of Laramie, Wyoming, wrote the play, The Laramie Project. The play looks at how the town responded to the murder of one of their own and how they came to terms with their own prejudices.

“It’s a powerful look at the bigotry that can run under a peaceful town,” said director, John Geddie, a lifelong resident of Sterling. “We’ve seen an increase in hate crimes against various groups in recent years, and it’s important to know that these things aren’t new. Even though it’s been more than 20 years since Shepard’s murder, the message is still just as relevant.”

When putting on its first live performance in more than a year, the Sterling Playmakers faced their own obstacles. Auditions were conducted both online and in person. When the cast was able to rehearse together, they wore masks and  maintained six feet of distance, as enforced by the use of foam pool noodles.

“It was definitely challenging,” Geddie said. “However, after being away from live performances since 2020, the cast and crew was willing to do whatever was necessary to bring this important story to the stage. It seems just a poignant way to bring live theatre back to the Sterling Playmakers and Loudoun County.”

For more information, or to purchase tickets for upcoming performances on June 25 and 26 at Sterling Middle School, visit sterlingplaymakers.org

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