Ten years after gay university student Matthew Shepard was attacked and left for dead near Laramie, Wyo., the Alameda High School drama department has decided to share the story of this hate crime in the interest of furthering understanding and acceptance of differences.
"It's an important work to present, especially on the 10-year anniversary of Shepard's death," said Fred Chacon, director and drama instructor at Alameda High. "He was a gay student at the University of Wyoming, and his death as the victim of a hate crime got a lot of publicity and notoriety."
Of course, telling the story of the brutal attack isn't easy for Chacon or for the students.
"It's an intense work to perform and very challenging," he said. "But the theme of tolerance is an important one, one we try to teach each day."
Students acting in the drama say they wanted to participate in the production because of its strong message.
"People should be understanding of the fact that terrible things happen to others because of discrimination," said Lauren Mercado, one of the performers who is also the play's stage manager.
Jeanette Zhu plays a narrator in the show, and other narrators are played by fellow students Jason Berk, Kristin Little, Eleanor Johnston and Sofia Fatone-Zayas. Shepard's two assailants, Russell Henderson and Aaron James McKinney, are portrayed respectively by Ben Hughson and Garren Orr.
The controversial drama was written by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project, who interviewed dozens of individuals for the script, which includes close to 70 roles.
More than 25 student actors are participating in Alameda High School's production, which will be presented in the school's Little Theater at 7: 30 p.m. this weekend and next Thursday through Saturday. The play includes strong, adult language and is not recommended for children.
"Drama is a kind of medium that is very effective at teaching lessons about tolerance and giving students awareness of what happened and how the story unfolded," said Chacon.