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Still Relevant After All These Years – The Matthew Shepard Story

October MourningThe Matthew Shepard story continues to engender compassion and humanity in a troubled world

It was October of 1998 when a gay 21-year-old University of Wyoming student named Matthew Shepard was brutally attacked, strung up on a buck rail fence, and left to die–a news story that shocked and captivated our entire nation.  Much has changed in the wake of that brutal event, but sadly, still much of the hate and inhumanity behind that attack remains today, reminding us that there is still great work to be done to expose, to illuminate and to eradicate prejudice.

That’s the message that local Long Beach composer Curtis Heard, acclaimed author Leslea Newman, and the Reverend  Elena Larssen hope  to share with the greater Long Beach community in the upcoming production of October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard**.

“This story is still urgently important today, when human rights violations continue against LBGTQ people both here in the US and abroad,” said Elena Larssen, Senior Minister at first Congregational Church in downtown Long Beach.  “The story of Matthew Shepard isn’t ancient history.  The bullying of vulnerable youth and children, the violence we see directed toward immigrant communities or the transgender community, the raw emotions and tumult of Ferguson—all these teach us that we must speak and sing and act against violence.  Inspired by the extension of marriage rights to all people, we tell this story again to keep us from becoming complacent or cynical; we keep telling this story because it shows the power of communities to affirm life in the face of death.”

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard is a deeply moving and hauntingly beautiful musical and theatrical exploration in which the audience member, through spoken word, music, song and visuals, is transported back to that time in 1998.  With the combined poetic imagination of author Leslea Newman and the delicate musical interpretation of Curtis Heard, one experiences the impact of this vicious crime and its aftermath through fictitious monologues from various points of view, including the fence to which Matthew was tied, the deer that kept watch beside him, and even Matthew himself.

Regarding the universal relevance of the piece, Composer Curtis Heard adds, “Although the poems are quite specific to the Matthew Shepard murder, the emotional impact is universal to all hate crimes. It is my hope that audiences will appreciate the work on an artistic level, but also be motivated to do more to help make this a more compassionate world.”

Giving life to this exceptional composition will be a cast of ten professional actors and soloists, the powerful choral blending of the accomplished 50-voice Sanctuary Choir of First Congregational Church, the South Coast Chorale—Long Beach’s LGBT chorus, and the Long Beach Wilson High School Women’s Chorus, all accompanied by a 16-piece orchestra.

Two performances will be presented in First Congregational’s glorious 100-year-old sanctuary at the corner of Cedar and Third downtown on Saturday October 17 at 7:00 PM and Sunday October 18 at 5:00pm.  Suggested donation for these performances is $20.  A third performance will be presented in partnership with The Center of Long Beach at the Art Theatre, 2025 E. 4th Street on Sunday, October 25 at 2:00 PM.  Due to limited seating at this show, tickets priced at $20 will be available in advance and at the box office.  Net proceeds from these shows will be donated to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the South Coast Chorale and the Board of Cultural Arts at First Congregational Church of Long Beach.

**“October Mourning” by Lesléa Newman , Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Copyright © 2012 , All Rights reserved

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