In 1998, I was ten years old. Byt this time we’d already moved to Las Cruces and were living with Grandma. I didn’t really know much about what was going on in the world at the time, save for a few things.
In Laramie, Wyoming a twenty-one-year-old gay man went into a bar to have a beer and just enjoy himself. He met two men and left with them in their truck…only to be robbed, beaten, and tied to a fence to die. He would later succumb to his wounds in a Colorado hospital and die fifty-two days before his twenty-second birthday.
His name was Matthew Shepard.
In 2003, Grandma, Chris, and I went to NMSU to see a friend of ours in a play. It was put on by the university theater department.
That play happened to be The Laramie Project, the play that was created by Moises Kaufman and the Teutonic Theater Company; they went to Laramie and interviewed everyone there that was involved.
I wasn’t really old enough to understand the context, but as I got older, I finally read it.
I was gobsmacked. These were real, actual people who lived and breathed this story. And they gave their thoughts, their feelings on this situation with Matthew, with Aaron Mckinney and Russell Henderson (the men who killed Matthew), with being gay in Wyoming and the US. It would have great connections for me because I came out in high school, and I feel that it contributed to my identity as a lesbian woman.
I said to myself “One day, I’d like to be in this play.”
I had no idea that when I turned thirty, I’d have that chance.
It’s opening night. All of our rehearsals and preparations have led to this moment.
I auditioned for this show back in May–my first show in eleven years–and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be in it. But then I got the news that I was to my great pleasure and delight.
Then came the process. If it’s one thing I’ve forgotten from my acting years, is that a dramatic play is a full-fledged process.
And through it all, I kept thinking about opening night, about what I would feel once the actual play began.
I’m standing near the curtain because I’m the designated curtain puller—I’m not sure what the official term is—and I’m sweating a little on the small of my back. We have a full house, and as I said this is my first play in eleven years.
The music begins after the announcement to silence your phones and not to text during the performance. After a beat or two, I pull the curtain to begin…
It’s honestly one of the best nights of my life.
At one point in the third act, Mr. Shepard, Matthew’s father, speaks to Aaron Mckinney after the jury has found him guilty. Almost all of us are onstage during this scene.
It’s such an incredibly moving scene that I can’t even tell you what my emotions are during this.
But I can hear people in the audience sniffling. And I’m credibly close to sniffling myself.
Then I look at my fellow actor sitting next to me.
Big tears are rolling down his cheeks, and his shoulders are visibly shaking. Oh, no…
I feel hot tears welling in the back of my eyes, and there’s that warm feeling in the depth of my gut that I feel when I’m about to cry. I almost lose it right then and there. But I take a deep breath and hold my composure. There’ll be a time for that later.
The rest of the act goes off without a hitch, and then the final scene happens.
The curtain closes (it’s not me, the stage manager does it at the end)…
There’s a split second of silence as we quickly get into places for the curtain call…
And then there’s thunderous applause as the curtain swoops open to reveal the audience applauding, and then a standing ovation.
All of us actors and actresses are grinning from ear to ear as we take out bows.
Best. Night. EVER