Senior project brings message of acceptance to stage

Woodland Regional High School senior Mary Pelkey, right, talks with fellow Woodland student Griffin Davis during a rehearsal for the upcoming production of ‘The Laramie Project’ Jan. 16 at the school in Beacon Falls. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — Woodland Regional High School senior Mary Pelkey wants to spread a message of love and acceptance through her senior project.

Pelkey is directing a production of “The Laramie Project,” which will be performed at Woodland Feb. 7 at 7 p.m.

The play focuses on the aftermath of the torture and murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who died in 1998 after he was severely beaten and tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyo. The play unfolds through a series of interviews with Shepard’s friends, neighbors and other people affected by the murder.

Pelkey said she chose the play because she feels the story and message is still relevant.

“I think this message of tolerance and love still needs to be presented today. We still need to be talking about it and just spreading that message of acceptance. That’s what I think ‘The Laramie Project’ really exemplifies,” Pelkey said. “I think this show hits home for a lot of people, whether you agree or disagree with the message.”

Pelkey acted in a production of the play about eight years and it had a profound impact on her.

“I fell in love with it. Even being so young, it resonated with me,” Pelkey said. “I reread it a couple years ago and I thought ‘I want to bring this to the Woodland community.’”

Pelkey has been active in theater, including the Woodland drama club, for years. “The Laramie Project” is her directorial debut. She chose the cast members — some who have little or no experience acting — and crew for the play.

“I didn’t really have an audition process. I asked each of them (the cast) to be a part of it and they were all more than willing to. You can see it on stage,” Pelkey said. “I knew going into it I wanted good actors, but I also wanted someone who wanted to spread this message.”

“Some scenes are very hard to get through,” she added. “There are some very heavy scenes. But it doesn’t dampen their spirits and they still want to be a part of it. I think it will be a fantastic show.”

There is some language in the play that may not be suitable for very young children. Tickets will be available at the door. There is no set price for the tickets, but donations will be accepted at the door.

The proceeds from the show will benefit Woodland’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance club or GSA. Pelkey has worked with the club on the show.

Jess Block, a teacher at Woodland and adviser for the school’s GSA, said the club works toward the mission of empowering lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied (LGBTQIA) youth and educating the community about issues pertaining to equality.

“The cast and crew of TLP (‘The Laramie Project’) share our vision, and their production will do a lot to make issues such as hate crimes and Matt Shepard’s story more meaningful to those who attend,” Block said in an email.