On October 6, 1998, 21-year-old Matthew Shepard met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson in a Laramie, Wyoming, bar. Maybe they were hot guys; maybe Matthew had had too much to drink. Whatever the case, Shepard confided to the pair that he was gay.
He placed his trust in the wrong people. McKinney and Henderson played along and left the bar with Shepard. Outside town, they pistol-whipped him and robbed him of his wallet. Then they drove off, leaving Shepard tied to a fence. He never regained consciousness; six days later, he was dead. Sadists are quite often pussies, too: At their ensuing trial, McKinney and Henderson tried to dodge responsibility for their actions by claiming they had been driven to "temporary insanity" by Shepard's homosexuality.
Playwright Moisés Kaufman spent a year in Laramie after the murder; with four actors from the Tectonic Theater Project, Kaufman interviewed Laramie's residents about what happened during the aftermath. The resulting play, The Laramie Project, is an attempt to understand brutality of this nature by giving voice to the people who live on in its wake. In a gutsy move for a small community troupe, the Alton Little Theater (2450 North Henry Street, Alton, Illinois) performs the harrowing Laramie at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday (October 29 through November 7). Tickets are $6 to $12. The company recommends this production for mature audiences only and strongly suggests you purchase reserved seats by calling 618-462-6562. -- Alex Weir
Art Was Their BAG
Then they packed it and left
Usually an artistic movement originates in New York and slowly spreads across the middle of the country; in the case of Lower Manhattan's "loft jazz scene" of the '70s, the point of origin was St. Louis' own Washington Avenue. From 1968 to 1972, the Black Artists' Group lived on Wash. Ave. while they experimented with a potent mix of performing and visual arts and political activism. Benjamin Looker's book "Point from Which Creation Begins": The Black Artists' Group of St. Louis traces the history of the BAG through the lives of artist Oliver Lake and musician Julius Hemphill (among others), documenting their creation of a new world in St. Louis and their eventual departure for the more cosmopolitan cities of Paris and New York. Looker discusses his book in a free presentation at 2 p.m. at the Missouri History Museum (Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue; 314-746-4599). -- Paul Friswold
Rockin' Around the School House
And learning something too!
Next to Sesame Street and its Muppets, Schoolhouse Rock! was the most entertaining way to learn from TV (especially since The Letter People show was not nearly as good as its theme song). The Rock rocked our youth with catchy songs about things like sentence parts and gravity, and the shorts were so good, they made us remember these songs (and concepts) years later. In fact, the detailed cartoons informed us enough that even some of our lawmakers could learn a thing or two from Bill about how things are supposed to work down on Capitol Hill -- but that's neither here nor there. Sadly, you can't study at the Schoolhouse via TV anymore, but DramaRama Theatre Company, a children's theater group, brings Schoolhouse Rock Live! to the stage Saturday and Sunday (November 6 and 7) at 2 p.m. both days. Take your kids (or your friends who can't remember the basics) to the Jewish Community Center (2 Millstone Campus Drive; 314-605-7788; $5 to $7), and visit www.dramaramatheatre.com for more info. -- Alison Sieloff
Say It in Song
Vocalese is the art of re-creating the solo instrumental break in a jazz song with original lyrics, and Kurt Elling is an acknowledged master of the craft. He has dropped lyrics in the improvised music of Herbie Hancock, Weather Report and Coltrane himself -- clearly, Elling's not afraid to dance with the big boys. He shows off his chops Wednesday through Saturday (November 3 through 6) at 8:30 and 10:15 p.m. at Jazz at the Bistro (3536 Washington Avenue; 314-531-1012). Tickets are $25 and $30. -- Paul Friswold