South Florida Artists Are Making Matthew Shepard's Story Into an Opera

The story of the events surrounding the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student who was beaten and left tied to a fence to die, will be presented as a musical drama written for the opera stage.

Fort Lauderdale resident Michael W. Ross and West Palm Beach-based Opera Fusion are teaming up to launch a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo.com to raise $150,000 to fund the production of Not in My Town. The performance, if funded, would debut in June 2016 and feature a simple set, seven singing parts, two mute parts, a double chorus, and a nine-piece orchestra. International opera star Dean Peterson, artistic director of Opera Fusion, will direct. The money the group is trying to raise would cover production and all promotions. Four performances are planned — in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Miami.

Shepard's story was pivotal for the gay movement in America, as it drew attention to hate crimes perpetrated against people for their sexuality. On October 7, 1998, two men abducted University of Wyoming student Shepard, pistol-whipped and tortured him, and tied him to a fence in a field outside Laramie, Wyoming. After a cyclist discovered him, the comatose Shepard was taken to a hospital, where days later he would succumb to his injuries and pass away. Shepard’s two killers were sentenced to life in prison.

“Matthew was killed because he was gay, but Matthew is anyone who has been affected by a hate crime,” says Opera Fusion's president, Dr. Xavier Garcia, a baritone and West Palm Beach veterinarian.

Ross wrote Not in My Town in 2013 because he wanted to help keep the story of Matthew Shepard fresh in the minds of people and draw attention to just how much Shepard's story has meant to the LGBTQA community. June was selected for the premiere because it is recognized as Pride Month.

“I wrote it because I don’t think people know what happened after Matthew Shepard died,” Ross says. “I want the audience to see that good can come from such a terrible tragedy.

“As I child, I wanted to change the world. My operas are small attempts at making it just a little better by shining a light on important issues."

As part of its campaign to mount Not in My Town, Opera Fusion will use the hashtag #IAmMatthew on social media. To donate, visit the group's Indiegogo page here.

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