MATTHEW SHEPARD STORY TO BE MUSICAL DRAMA TITLED NOT IN MY TOWN; OPERA FUSION LAUNCHES CROWD-FUNDING CAMPAIGN

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MATTHEW SHEPARD STORY TO BE MUSICAL
DRAMA TITLED NOT IN MY TOWN; OPERA FUSION LAUNCHES CROWD-FUNDING CAMPAIGN

 

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. — The story of
the events surrounding the murder of Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming college
student who was beaten and left tied to a fence, will be presented as a musical
drama written for the stage by Michael W. Ross of Fort Lauderdale and premiered
by South Florida startup company Opera Fusion Inc.

 

Opera Fusion, based in West Palm
Beach, is launching a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo.com to
raise $150,000 to fund the production of “Not In My Town” and to promote the
performance, which is planned to debut in June 2016.  June was selected
for the premiere because it is recognized as Pride Month for the LGBTQA
community.

 

The
murder brought national and international attention to hate crime legislation.
Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention
Act in October 2009, and President Obama signed it on Oct. 28, 2009.  

 

The
“Not In My Town” Indiegogo campaign, including a video with music from the
show, can be viewed at
 http://igg.me/at/NotInMyTown/x/12537295

 

The crowd-funding campaign was
launched on Oct. 28, the sixth anniversary of the hate crime bill’s
signing.  The bill, which makes it a federal crime to assault anyone
because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, is named for Shepard,
who was attacked in 1998, and for James Byrd, an African-American man dragged
to death in Texas that same year.

 

Two men abducted University of
Wyoming student Shepard, 21, on Oct. 7, 1998, pistol-whipped and tortured him,
and tied him to a fence in a field outside Laramie, Wyo.  After a cyclist
eventually noticed him, the comatose Shepard was taken to a hospital in Fort
Collins, Co., where he died that Oct. 12.  Shepard’s two killers were
sentenced to life in prison.  His parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard,
started the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which is headquartered in Casper, Wyo.

 

The
musical drama addresses bullying, “a subject that’s in the news every day,”
said Opera Fusion president Dr. Xavier Garcia, a baritone and West Palm Beach
veterinarian.  “Our kids are bullied constantly and they are either
killed, or they commit suicide or they are scarred for life. 

 

“Mathew
was killed because he was gay, but Matthew is anyone who has been affected
by a hate crime.”

 

The
title of the musical drama, “Not In My Town,” is a major confrontation scene
and “the crux of the show,” its composer and librettist Ross said.  “But
it's not necessarily about homosexuality.  There are parallels to other
civil rights movements — bullying and prejudice of all types can happen anywhere. 
My subjects involve themes of social injustice and are very personal to me.”

 

In
1998, Ross marched in New York City and participated in a candlelight vigil for
Shepard.  He wrote “Not In My Town” in 2013.  “In 1998, most
Americans were horrified by the senseless beating,” he said. “It may have been
one of the most important turning points in the gay movement since the 1969
Stonewall riots.”

 

In
researching Shepard’s story years later, he said, “I had no idea that his best
friend, Romaine Patterson, stepped up from minimum-wage coffee server to become
an activist and ended up having her own radio show.  I had no idea Rev.
Fred Phelps (of Westboro Baptist Church) protested not only at Matthew’s
funeral but also at the courthouse entrance where the Shepard family would have
to walk right by signs such as ‘Matt in Hell.’   (Shepard’s two killers
are serving life in prison.)  I did not know that Romaine organized
friends and built 7-foot-high angel wings to stand in front of Rev. Phelps’
protest group so Matthew’s parents weren’t subjected to such disrespect. 
At this point, it was inconceivable that I would not write this opera.

 

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

 

As
part of its campaign to mount “Not In My Town,” Opera Fusion will use the
hashtag #IAmMatthew on social media.

 

“There
are many ways in which we can carry this message,” said Garcia, the
artist-driven opera company’s founder. “ Ours is through our music, through our
voices.  We need our voices to be heard if we are to make a change in this
world.”

 

“As
I child, I wanted to change the world,” Ross said.  “My operas are small
attempts at making it just a little better by shining a light on important
issues.  There is still more work to do regarding tolerance and
legislation.  ‘Don't ask, don't tell’ and DOMA have been overturned and
most recently, same sex-marriage has been declared legal in all 50 states by
the U.S. Supreme Court.  Yet the inevitable backlash appears in the news
every day.

 

 “It
is my belief that ‘art’ should shine a light on our culture, our time and place
in history.  It is ‘art’ that lifts the debate as well as the human
spirit, and changes hearts.  It is in the hearts of men and women that the
real battle is won.” 

 

THE SHOW, AND ITS MUSIC

 

“Not
In My Town” requires seven singing parts, two mute parts, a double chorus and a
nine-piece orchestra.  In keeping with its mission, Opera Fusion will cast
only local singers.  Its budget, which it seeks to raise in the Indiegogo
campaign, is $150,000 to cover production and all promotions.  Four
performances are planned — in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami.

 

International
opera star Dean Peterson, artistic director of Opera Fusion, will direct “Not
In My Town.”  The set will be simple and rear projection screens will
enhance the mood and staging. Because the set is easily transportable, the
singers are local, and the orchestra is small, the production cost will be much
lower than that of conventional operas, said Birgit Fioravante, Opera Fusion
executive director.  Performance venues are not yet selected.

 

The
musical drama seemed like the “perfect fit” for Opera Fusion, “considering the
national debate that has raged in the last 20 years as well as the size of the
work,” Fioravante said.  “In addition, Xavier felt a very personal
connection to this work from his own experience as a gay man. 

 

“From
my point of view, this work has everything a new ‘opera’ should have — great
music, great drama, a riveting story, and not too big of an orchestra or set,
so it can move easily from venue to venue, reaching new and differing
audiences.  An added bonus is the tonal palate, which is somewhere between
grand opera and musical theater, giving it a wider appeal than most new works. 
It has the potential to move people much in the same way ‘West Side Story’
first did in its day.”

 

Ross
was both composer and librettist of “Not In My Town,” which allows him
particular flexibility in creating the text.  His music is tonal and
written in English, making it accessible to audiences. “When I sit down to
work, my job is to create a great story with sing-able melodies,” he
said.  “My goal, however, is to entertain and educate the audience while
making them experience a range of emotions.”

 

Peterson
said “Not In My Town” is “a story about prejudice, a story about not allowing
people to be free.

 

“We
all identify with a hero,” he said.  “In this case our heroine, Romaine,
demonstrates fearless heroism in her acts, which brings to all of us the message
of hope.  I don’t believe people necessarily have to know anything about
Matthew Shepard.  However, people should come to the performance
open-minded and ready to be engaged by a very compelling story.”

 

ABOUT
THE COMPOSER

 

Michael
W. Ross, of Fort Lauderdale, holds a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in opera
performance and a master’s degree in music education. His other recent works
include “The Line that Divides,” based on anti-slavery and women’s suffrage
activist Harriet Tubman, and “Yours Truly, Anne,” based on the Holocaust.

 

He
has held positions at New York City Opera, Glimmerglass Opera and The Sylvia
and Danny Kaye Playhouse, and also has sung with the Opera Company of
Philadelphia, New York City Opera, DiCapo Opera and Opera Orchestra of New
York. 

 

After
moving from New York to South Florida in 2004, Ross became the director of
music at the Arts Academy of Hollywood. He accompanies several choral groups,
has a Christmas caroling company, and currently sings with both Florida Grand
Opera and Palm Beach Opera. He teaches private piano and voice on the Ft.
Lauderdale campus of the Pine Crest School. 

 

ABOUT THE OPERA COMPANY

 

Opera Fusion Inc., a nonprofit
artist-driven company, is based in West Palm Beach and will mount shows
throughout South Florida.  It is beginning its second season.  In its
first season, Opera Fusion successfully put on two musical revues, “The
Sopranos: An Opera You Can’t Refuse” and “Duelling Divas,” as well as two
operas, “Bluebeard’s Castle” and “Cosi Fan Tutte/Die Fledermaus” in a summer
“bootcamp” workshop.

 

Opera Fusion aims to invite and
encourage new audiences to experience opera and other classical singing by
presenting its performances at intimate and nontraditional venues.

 

Opera Fusion leadership: Birgit
Fioravante is executive director, Dean Peterson is artistic director,
Robyn Lamp is company manager and Dr. Sally Brown is director of
education.  The board of directors comprises West Palm Beach veterinarian
and baritone Dr. Xavier Garcia, president; Lake Worth Playhouse board president
Michael McKeich, treasurer; attorney Joseph R. Fields Jr., secretary; and
members Renee Greenberg, Peter Ludescher, Elizabeth Giles, Emily Pantelides and
Richard Gaff.

 

For more about Opera Fusion and its
leadership, visit OperaFusion.org.