BWW Interview: A Utah Premiere, CONSIDERING MATTHEW SHEPARD Uses the Power of Music to Transmute Cruelty to Hope
Matthew Shepard's head and torso were so caked in dried blood that every inch was covered except for two strips under his eyes -- tracks left by his tears.
In the 20 years since the savage and mercilessly brutal attack, his murder has become an enduring symbol of hate and hope. A widespread awareness followed of the dangers that members of the LGBTQ+ community face every day. And served as a catalyst for progress in America's laws and culture.
Opening on Friday, Oct. 26, when the ashes of Matthew Shepard will be interred at the Washington National Cathedral, the Utah/Idaho Performing Arts will stage the Utah premiere of CONSIDERING Matthew Shepard at the First United Methodist Church of Salt Lake City under the baton of Kathryn Thompson and produced by Joey Calkins.
"Moving among styles ranging from Lutheran hymnody to blues to Broadway, this modern-day Passion will move many listeners to tears even as it reaches beyond tragedy to peace, understanding, and forgiveness," according to The Chicago Tribune.
Please introduce UNIPAC.
JOEY CALKINS: The Utah/Idaho Performing Arts Company was founded to be a place that local opera singers -- people that like to sing opera, but don't necessarily want to make a career out of it -- could perform. We produce recitals and concerts throughout the year, and as budget allows, fully staged operas and plays. Recently, we have produced "The Crucible," "Facing East," and "The Consul (in Concert)."
Why did you select CONSIDERING Matthew Shepard for production?
I first heard of CMS in March of 2017 when I came across the choral sheet music of a song from it called "All of Us." I bought the recording that afternoon and less than two hours later (the length of the recording), I decided UNIPAC needed to do it. The message of CMS is something that needs to be heard; it's not just about the tragedy of Matt's kidnapping and brutal murder, CMS calls for unity and "coming together" to find peace after tragedy and hope for the future. That is what draws me to this oratorio.
During the trial of [murderer] Aaron McKinney, [Matt's father] Dennis Shepard talked about how he "would like nothing better than to see (McKinney) die... However, this is a time to begin the healing process." That healing process is long overdue. The religious and LGBTQ+ communities have long been at odds with each other. (Certain announcements from the LDS church within the last three years haven't helped much with the healing process.)
How do you hope audiences will benefit from the staging?
Music is inspiring and comforting. And this oratorio is that: inspiring and comforting. During the course of the work, we hear the voice of the fence that Matt was tied to, the protesters at Matt's funeral, a call to gather "where the old fence ends and the horizon begins." We also hear from Judy and Dennis Shepard and Matt! We hear conflict and healing and peace. Something we need: peace.
During his statement, Dennis Shepard also said, "Matt became a symbol--some say a martyr, putting a boy-next-door face on hate crimes. That's fine with me. Matt would be thrilled if his death would help others." I hope that audiences will be moved to be better, to help others, to stand against wrong-doing.
[Oratorio contributor] Lesléa Newman once asked the audience at a presentation she was giving "to think of one thing they could do to help put a stop to homophobia...and do that one thing before the week was through." I hope that the audience will be moved to do the same.
What has been most rewarding for you personally about the show?
Seeing people come together in support of LGBTQ+ people has the best part for me. I've seen that off and on over the years. Sadly, though, the support has been overshadowed by the often louder opposition.
Those associated in this production have their own reasons for wanting to be involved. My reason is to provide peace and hope; two things my life has been lacking. I first started to realize I was gay when I was 15, but it would be another 13 years before I came out. During that time, I was bombarded with hateful words from church leaders, family, and friends. (I wasn't out, but their words still hurt because they were saying these things about me.) Being involved in this production reminds me that it does get better. It gets better every day. And I want to share that message.
Calkins is founder and general director of UIPAC.
There is a $10 suggested donation to UNIPAC's production of CONSIDERING Matthew Shepard. Donations made at www.unipac150.org, with 100 percent of the proceeds to be donated to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which was established to "replace hate with understanding, compassion, and acceptance."