PORT JERVIS - Patty Baughman chose the 20th anniversary of the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, on Oct. 12, to gather all who are interested in a performing or backstage role in “The Laramie Project,” a play about his death.

Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was beaten, tortured and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming, according to news reports. Evidence indicated the murderers were motivated by anti-gay sentiments and brought national attention to the lack of hate crime laws, leading to passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009.

“It’s a controversial performance that highlights some raw material,” Baughman said of the play.

What particularly compelled her to pursue the project was the response of the church after the murder, specifically Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas. Church members picketed Shepard’s funeral with anti-gay signs.

“I think it is very important to be the church, our church, in hosting this project, to show how far we've come on LGBTQI rights in particular,” said Baughman.

"The Laramie Project" is a 2000 play by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project based on their interviews with more than 200 Laramie residents soon after the murder. The idea of performing it was first presented to Baughman by a community member in April, she said.

“I considered it but simply did not have the time,” she said. “As the summer ended, I began reading the scripts and researching. I realized this story needed to be put in motion to be shared now. The 20th anniversary of the death of a human, Matthew Shepard, needs to be brought to our community’s attention. We are very fortunate to be working with one of the original troop members of the Tectonics, an acting troop based in New York City.”

Baughman seeks eight to 12 people for acting roles, but notes the play’s history of elasticity.

“The original play was done with just eight performers who had a wide range of acting expertise, but high schools have performed this piece with as many as 40 members,” she said.

She is also looking for volunteers to fill backstage crew positions and other support roles. “The idea is to allow anyone who wants to be involved to have involvement in some way or shape,” she said.

The play will be performed at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, where her husband, Aaron Baughman, is minister. She notes that the set designer “is very experienced and had personal experience with this particular play.”

She plans to schedule performances for April. Last March she co-directed “The Vagina Monologues” with Noeleen Casey-Tomasi in performances that sold out, she says. Proceeds benefited Safe Homes of Orange County.

An organization meeting and audition will be held Oct. 12 at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 31 West Main St., Port Jervis. For more information, contact Patty Baughman at patty.longenecker@gmail.com or 330-416-7633.