OREM, Utah (ABC4 News) – Utah Valley University’s production of “The Laramie Project” defies traditional theatrical conventions; the set is immersive, allowing the audience to be involved and walk into the action. The play centers around the aftermath of the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming man who was beaten to death for being gay in 1998.
The play has been performed across the country, premiering in Denver in the year 2000. It’s even performed by some high schools. UVU’s production is the school’s first.
Director Laurie Harrop-Purser said the project hits close to home for her.
“I am gay. This is a difficult topic,” she said. “It would be lovely if this were no longer a relevant subject…or topic…but it is,” said Harrop-Purser.
Recently, Utah legislators have debated strengthening the state’s hate crime legislation, which has been called “unenforceable” by the powers that be. In 2014, Rusty Andrade (now a board chair for Equality Utah) was beaten up as he and a friend walked home from a gay club in Salt Lake City. Since then, Andrade and others have fought on Utah’s Capitol Hill to strengthen protections for LGBTQ individuals against hate crimes.
Late last year, Jose Lopez and his son Luiz were beaten up simply for being Mexican. The incident re-ignited the conversation about weak hate crime legislation in Utah.
For actress Kim Abunuwara, who plays five roles in “The Laramie Project,” the play reminds audiences that there could be another Matthew Shepard in Utah, especially if laws are not strengthened.
“We have to own this. We have to own that this stuff happens in our country…in our neighborhoods. This happens. And the very first step to figuring out how to stop this…is to own it,” said Abunuwara.
“The Laramie Project” runs at Utah Valley University’s Bastian Theatre through Jan. 26. Additional performances have been added due to popular demand. Those will be performed Wed., Jan. 23 at 10 p.m. and Thurs., Jan. 24 at 10 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased here.