As part of a strategic expansion of its educational programming, the Matthew Shepard Foundation has brought theatre and broadcast journalism veteran Susan Cunningham Burk onto its staff as its first-ever “Laramie Project” Specialist.
Ms. Burk, a former radio and television news anchor and theatre professional, will lead and strengthen the Foundation’s support system for school and community productions of The Laramie Project, an award-winning play by the Tectonic Theater Project which relates the actual spoken stories of Laramie, Wyoming, residents in response to the 1998 anti-gay hate-crime murder of Matthew Shepard.
“We are delighted to expand on the help and advice we’ve been offering productions of this powerful play in order to ensure an educational and motivational experience for participants and audiences,” said Jason Marsden, the Foundation’s executive director. “Susan’s unique set of experiences in theatre, communications, nonprofit work and journalism, as well as her longstanding commitment to embracing diversity, made her a perfect fit for this work.”
Ms. Burk, who lives in the Shepard family’s hometown of Casper, Wyoming, will work to strengthen the Foundation’s existing outreach to productions, including educational materials, audience/cast “talk-back” sessions, production advice and historical context. She has also started to deepen the Foundation’s collaboration with Tectonic Theater Project, which created the show and its Epilogue, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. Plans include working in tandem with Tectonic to expand educational opportunities associated with The Laramie Project, helping theatre companies navigate issues that may surround their productions, and creating and strengthening ties within the online presence and forums of both organizations.
Having attended the Graduate Acting Program at the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago (now The Theatre School at DePaul), Ms. Burk has strong backgrounds in theatre, journalism and Matthew’s story. At the time of Matthew Shepard’s murder, his funeral, and the trials of his killers Ms. Burk was the Executive Producer/Senior Anchor for the evening news at KTWO Television. Based in Casper, KTWO-TV was the statewide NBC affiliate, and it was Ms. Burk’s primary responsibility to arrange and implement coverage for all of these events, including community reaction and response.
When Moises Kaufman of Tectonic Theatre Project came to Laramie to film The Laramie Project for HBO, KTWO-TV was invited to both provide coverage and be a part of the film, appearing as members of the media. Ms. Burk produced a series on the making of The Laramie Project film that won the top news awards from both the Wyoming Associated Press and the Wyoming Association of Broadcasters that year. Last fall, Ms. Burk was invited to Baltimore to serve on a Hate Crimes Panel discussion as part of a production of The Laramie Project at Baltimore University and has moderated other post-show discussions as a friend of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Ms. Burk, who was a professional actress in Chicago and other areas of the country, has also performed in the Casper production of The Laramie Project, and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later with the associated international online event.
Since its debut in 2000, The Laramie Project has been seen by more than 30 million people worldwide on stage and in the HBO film production. It has been honored with numerous awards and award nominations for both the stage and film versions, including a “Making a Difference” Award from the Matthew Shepard Foundation in 2006.