CAMP HILL, Pa. — It's been 24 years since University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was offered a ride home by two men who would later be convicted of his murder. Shepard was beaten, robbed and left to die tied to a barbed-wire fence near Laramie, Wyoming.
A year and a half later, in late 2000, the Tectonic Theatre Company used 600 interviews from residents they canvassed to paint a picture not only of the crime, but of the impressions—both prejudicial and not—of the local community.
The latest production of the play, entitled "The Laramie Project," opens Friday, Nov. 4th, at Oyster Mill Playhouse in Camp Hill, Cumberland County.
"You hear the actual words of the town," Craig Copus, who plays a variety of characters in "The Laramie Project," said.
Those words reflect not only the nature of the crime itself, but impressions of the local community detailing what it may have been like to be gay in rural America in the late 1990s.
"It gives us a real insight to what they're thinking about," Nancy Parson, another cast member who portrays nine different people in the show, said. "You have to dig a little deep and understand the concept, perhaps some deep-seated prejudice that simmers underneath."
Moreover, some of the cast believes this show still resonates today.
"Things have changed, but they haven't changed. Maybe we're targeting a different population," Parson said. "The Trans people are really being targeted now. For me, this show is important. Everybody deserves to be respected."
For Craig Copus, who also performed the show at a different venue in 2006, the show takes him back in time as well.
"I think about how Matthew was two years younger than me when it happened," Copus said. "And it seems like we're slipping back. The LGBTQ community is a target again."
But in recalling one of her many characters, Nancy Parson found a hidden gem in a particular character's arc that gave her hope to hold onto.
"We're all capable of change," Parson said.
Director of "The Laramie Project" Lois Heagy sat down with FOX43 to talk more about the play and Oyster Mill Playhouse's upcoming shows.
Heagy said the playhouse decided to take on such an emotional show because of its community reach.
"A lot of friends that I work with, and a lot of people in the community, in the theater—this affects them," Heagy said.
While Heagy admitted it was emotionally exhausting to practice such a heavy play, she said it is an important show to put on because the tragedy actually happened.
"It's such an emotional play, and it's a true story. When they took the actual words from the people Laramie, Wyoming, and put them on the stage, they weren't making them up," the director said.
This incident wasn't just an isolated case either—making it even more important to educate people on what hate can do.
"Everyone needs to be respected, everybody needs to be listened to and not treated as second class. We are all the same people," Heagy said.
Watch the full interview here:
Heagy also shared what the theater is working on for their upcoming season:
"Verdict," a melodrama by Agatha Christie, runs Jan. 13 to 29, 2023.
"Savannah Sipping Society," a comedy starring four Southern belles, will be on stage from March 10 to 26, 2023.
"Lady Windermere's Fan," an Oscar Wilde play about a woman confronting her husband with his suspected infidelity, is slated for May 5 to 21, 2023.
"Deathtrap," a comedy-thriller play within a play, premiers on July 7 and will be in theaters until July 23, 2023.
"Nunsense," a musical following a convent's antics as they desperately try to raise funds, runs from Sept. 8 to 24, 2023.
"Run for Your Wife," a comedic play about a cabbie trying to keep his two marriages separate, can be seen from Nov. 3 to 19, 2023.