Steel River Play house presents the powerful ‘ Laramie project’

Hannah Paczkowski is shown in a scene from “The Laramie Project” at Steel River Playhouse.
Hannah Paczkowski is shown in a scene from “The Laramie Project” at Steel River Playhouse. Photo by John Daggett
JJ Van Name, center, Stephen Waters, left, and Sebastian Antomio  are shown in a scene from “The Laramie Project” which opens March 10 at Steel River Playhouse in Pottstown.
JJ Van Name, center, Stephen Waters, left, and Sebastian Antomio are shown in a scene from “The Laramie Project” which opens March 10 at Steel River Playhouse in Pottstown. Photo by John Daggett

Steel River Playhouse will be presenting “The Laramie Project” March 10 through March 26. This production is based on the true story of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was beaten and tied to a fence and left for dead for 18 hours in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. He was barely alive when he was found tied to the fence and taken to the hospital where he died just a few days later. His life and death became a national story and the work that the Matthew Shepard Foundation has done since his death has been instrumental in strengthening hate crime laws and raising awareness of the violence that the LBGTQ+ community faces.

The cast and crew of this production had the opportunity to meet with Jason Marsden, the Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Jason was a friend of Matthew’s and can talk directly to the person Matthew was as well as the amazing work that has happened in his name since 1998. It was an incredibly moving experience and discussion. Steel River wants very much to share that experience with as many in the community as possible. We are excited to welcome Marsden to Pottstown for the opening weekend of “The Laramie Project.”

Opening weekend events:

Marsden will be joining Steel River for an opening night reception on Friday, March 10 at 6:30 p.m. All who have a ticket for that night’s performance are invited. On Saturday, March 11, SRP is pleased to welcome the LGBT Equality Alliance of Chester County. Members will enjoy a wine and cheese reception before the show. A 50/50 raffle will be held at each show; proceeds benefit the Alliance’s mission.

Marsden will lead community discussions after the play on both nights to discuss with the audiences their reactions to the production and issues directly affecting the LGBT community, including hate crimes, discrimination, and the effect on LGBT youth, among other topics. LGBT Equality Alliance Board President, Rachel Stevenson will also help facilitate on March 11.

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Here is how the community can help:

To facilitate the visit and community talkbacks, SRP must raise between $1,000 and $1,500 to cover travel expenses for Marsden. SRP is kindly asking for donations from the community.

Donations may be made by (1) visiting the SRP website at www.steelriver.org, (2) by contacting Lauren Pierson-Swanson, Development Director, at lauren@steelriver.org, or (3) by mailing checks directly to Steel River Playhouse at 245 East High Street, Pottstown, PA, 19464. All donations received will fund Mr. Marsden’s visit and the production of The Laramie Project.

Leena Devlin, managing artistic director for Steel River Playhouse, noted that “The Laramie Project” was the first show the theater selected for its 2016-17 season. “It was a non-negotiable for us,” Devlin said. “We built our season around this powerful piece. Unfortunately, hate crimes against LGBT have not been declining at rates that anyone would want,” as noted in numerous reports published after the terrible nightclub shooting in Orlando last year.

There is still so much work to be done, and this production – as well as the visit from Jason Marsden – will help Steel River to advance awareness and engage the community, which is a key part of its mission as a theater. If this play, and these talks by Jason, can change just one person’s mind about how they feel about LGBT individuals, or encourage one young person to feel safe coming out, we will have helped to effect positive change.

The mission of the Matthew Shepard Foundation (www.matthewshepard.org) is “to erase hate by replacing it with understanding, compassion, and acceptance.” Jason Marsden has served in his role as Executive Director of the Foundation since July of 2009. During his time as a reporter with the Casper, WY Star-Tribune prior to joining the Foundation, he became friends with Matthew Shepard, and in the aftermath of Shepard’s murder he came out publicly in this newspaper’s pages. He speaks frequently to schools and organizations about issues of importance to the LGBT community.

“The Laramie Project” opened Friday, March 10, and runs through Sunday, March 26, with 11 performances, including four matinees. Showtime is 8 p.m. (Thursday/Friday/Saturday) and 2 p.m. (Saturday/Sunday). Tickets are $29 for Adult, $24 for Senior (65+) and $17 for Student. Tickets can be ordered online at www.steelriver.org. Discounts available for groups of 10 or more. The theater is located at 245 East High St., Pottstown,

About The Matthew Shepard Foundation

The Matthew Shepard Foundation’s longstanding mission is to erase hate by replacing it with understanding, compassion and acceptance. Through local, regional and national outreach, we empower individuals to find their voice to create change and challenge communities to identify and address hate that lives within their schools, neighborhoods and homes. The work is an extension of Matt’s passion to foster a more caring and just world. We share his story and embody his vigor for civil rights to change the hearts and minds of others to accept everyone as they are.