George Mason University

News at Mason

Mason students perform at Matthew Shepard collection dedication

November 5, 2018   /   by Mary Lee Clark

Heather Hicks, Maderi and Jared Pugh. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History.

Heather Hicks was surprised to find out that a student play she’d directed two years ago would lead to a chance to perform at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.​

The museum recently received a donation of papers and personal objects from the parents of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay college student who died of severe injuries following a vicious attack in 1998. ​

At the ceremony, two students and an alumna from George Mason University’s School of Theater presented brief selections from “The Laramie Project,” a play based on interviews collected after Shepard’s death.​

Selections were chosen by Kevin Murray, program manager for the School of Theater, and Mary Lechter, assistant professor in the College of Visual and Performing Arts.​

The actors performed monologues from Romaine Patterson, a friend of Shepard’s, and Harry Woods, a gay resident in Laramie who was inspired by the parade held for Shepard after his death. The courtroom speech given during the murder trial by Shepard’s father, who was in the audience, was included. ​

"They were performing these words right in front of Dennis and Judy Shepard, Matthew's parents, in the first row,” said Murray, who later added that much of Matthew’s family and many friends were in attendance. ​

Maderi, a senior theater student who performed in the Smithsonian reading, described the experience as one of the proudest moments of his acting career. ​

“The performance was an incredibly moving experience from start to finish,” said Maderi. ”Never before have I had the opportunity to perform on such a prestigious stage in front of an audience so deeply devoted to the message and story being told onstage.”​

The actors earned the opportunity based on their direction and performance in the same play in 2016. Heather Hicks, BA Theater ’18, was the original director of the play. Maderi and now-junior Jared Pugh also performed in the original production at Mason. ​

Hicks came across the play when a friend loaned her the script.​

"I got three pages in and immediately was in tears,” said Hicks. “I was so shocked that this had happened when I was alive but very young. I knew I wasn't the only one my age like that. I felt that his story needed to be shared."

Students with the parents of Matthew Shepard and items from his childhood. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History