It is hard to believe that fifteen years have passed since a young gay man in Wyoming was callously tied to a barbed wire fence and left to die. Matthew Shepard’s death on October 12, 1998 at the age of 21 galvanized the nation and, ironically, helped usher in a new era in the fight for GLBT rights.
South Coast Chorale (SCC) will pay tribute this month to Shepard’s legacy with a world premiere musical production, Matthew Shepard — Beyond the Fence. It will be performed over two weekends, October 11-13 and 18-20, at the Scottish Rite Theater, 855 Elm Avenue in Long Beach. A VIP reception will take place prior to the October 12th performance, and special community forums on bullying will be offered prior to each Saturday performance at 6:30 PM. Tickets may be purchased online here or at the door.
“Matthew’s story has inspired me for a long, long time,” said Steve Davison, SCC’s Creative Director. Davison wrote the script for Beyond the Fence, drawing primarily from biographies by Shepard’s mother, Judy, and his best friend, Romaine Patterson.The production will incorporate existing music by gay composers Levi Kreis, Ryan Amador and Randi Driscoll.
“This is a piece that really is about Matt; he’s in it and his mother and his best friend,” Davison said. “It’s totally different from (the play) The Laramie Project, which is mainly about the effects of something tragic on a town. The two shows are night and day from each other.”
Davison, who lives in Long Beach with his partner of 21 years, Jaie Palmero, has been working with SCC since 2009. His longtime “day job” is as Vice President of Parades, Fireworks & Spectaculars for Disney parks around the world. Among other dazzling displays, Davison created the popular World of Color at Disney’s California Adventure and is currently designing a special holiday edition of the show.
“I think emotion is the biggest thing,” Davison replied when I asked him what his work at Disney and with SCC have in common. “That’s what I do at the parks even though it involves fireworks, squirting water and dancers (laughs). And I try to leave people with a message, whether it be about dreams coming true or respecting ourselves as GLBT people.”
SCC, Long Beach’s GLBT performance troupe (which also includes a few straight allies), has become known in recent years for its parodies of entertainment trends and the works of certain composers. Matthew Shepard—Beyond the Fence represents a new step for the chorale. According to Davison: “This is a more heartfelt show although there is still humor in it, but it isn’t a parody show. We are trying to find a new voice for choral music, especially since choral music today is different from twenty years ago.”
Davison and SCC are planning “to tell epic gay stories” in new, musical ways. Their Spring 2014 production will be tied in to the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Perhaps most significantly, they are reaching out to and inviting high school students to see Beyond the Fence and their upcoming shows. “Most of them have never heard of Matthew Shepard or Stonewall,” notes Davison.
It is also critical that GLBT adults not forget about Shepard and his sacrifice. “One of Matt’s final lines in Beyond the Fence is ‘This could happen to you just like it happened to me,” Davison revealed. Thanks in part to South Coast Chorale, Shepard’s spirit will live on.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.