The horrific gay-bashing and murder of Matthew Shepard 17 years ago has previously inspired a number of books, plays and movies. This month, a unique collaboration of Long Beach-area musical artists will offer a new, musical take on the tragedy.
October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard will be presented over two weekends in October at two different venues. First Congregational Church Long Beach, located at 241 Cedar Avenue, is the 100-year old host location on October 17th and 18th. The production will then move to Long Beach’s historic Art Theatre, 2025 E. 4th Street, for a performance at 2:00 pm on October 25th. A donation of $25 is suggested for admission at either venue.
It was October of 1998 when Shepard, a 21-year old University of Wyoming student, was attacked by two men he met in a bar and left to die strung up on a buck rail fence. His story shocked and captivated people not only throughout the US but around the world. While much has changed for the better for LGBTQ Americans in the wake of that brutal event, the hate and inhumanity behind it remains in many places today.
There is still a great need for work to be done to expose, illuminate and ultimately eradicate prejudice. That’s the message that Long Beach composer Curtis Heard, acclaimed author Leslea Newman and the Reverend Elena Larssen hope to share with the community by creating October Mourning.
“This story is still urgently important today, when human rights violations continue against LBGTQ people both here in the US and abroad,” said Larssen, Senior Minister at First Congregational Church Long Beach. “The story of Matthew Shepard isn’t ancient history,” she continued. “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.”
The resulting musical production is, according to its press release, a deeply moving and hauntingly beautiful theatrical exploration. Audience members will be transported back in time to 1998 through spoken word, music, song and visuals. Viewers are promised the opportunity to experience the impact of this vicious crime and its aftermath through imaginative 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.
"Although the poems (written by Newman) are quite specific to the Matthew Shepard murder, the emotional impact is universal to all hate crimes,” added Heard, the musical’s composer. “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."
Bringing October Mourning to life will be a cast of 11 professional actors and soloists; the powerful 50-voice Sanctuary Choir of First Congregational Church; South Coast Chorale, Long Beach’s accomplished LGBTQ chorus; and the Wilson High School Women’s Chorus. They will be accompanied by a 16-piece orchestra.
Net proceeds from all three performances will be donated to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the South Coast Chorale and the Board of Cultural Arts at First Congregational Church Long Beach. For more information, visit their website.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.