Calling all Theater companies and performers!

Open Call to Theater companies, performers, researchers:
I would like to hear other voices besides my own on this blog. If you'd like to write about your TLP experiences here, e-mail them to me and I'll put them up.
Topics can include dramaturgy to staging to personal responses to the play. Anything goes!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Welcome to Casper

Well, the moment that classes were done and grades were turned back in, I hopped a plane from the South to Casper, Wyoming in preparation for heading  home for Christmas, and I'm hanging out in my in-laws' house.  Right now, Casper is cold, windy and snowy-- just like I like it:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Myth and Bull$%!t

Myth is a reality immeasurably greater than concept. It is high time that we stopped identifying myth with invention, with the illusions of primitive mentality, and with anything, in fact, which is essentially opposed to reality... The creation of myths among peoples denotes a real spiritual life, more real indeed than that of abstract concepts and rational thought. Myth is always concrete and expresses life better than abstract thought can do; its nature is bound up with that of symbol. Myth is the concrete recital of events and original phenomena of the spiritual life symbolized in the natural world, which has engraved itself on the language memory and creative energy of the people... it brings two worlds together symbolically.
-- Nikolai Berdyaev, from Freedom and the Spirit (1927-28)
[I got this quote courtesy of fellow blogger Steve Hayes.  Thanks again!]

I was sitting in my Anglo-Saxon class a little while ago as we translated "The Battle of Maldon" together and discussed it in class.  If you're never read "Maldon," it's a fascinating poem.  The setup is that a group of Vikings under Anlaf sailed down into East Anglia in 991 and demanded a paid settlement with Aethelred their king in return for keeping the peace.  Aethelred refuses, so his nobleman Byrhtnoth takes a force of men to the shores of the river Blackwater to head them off.  We don't have all the poem to know how it ends, but history tells us fairly clearly: Byrhtnoth is buried in Ely Cathedral in eastern England-- without his head.  We can figure out the rest based on the fact that the East Saxon kings made a point of paying off the Vikings with the Danegeld for many years afterward. 

My professor for the class is also my dissertation director, and he's worked a lot with Anglo-Saxon texts that have to do with history and storytelling.  As we got to the point where Byrhtnoth dies from a spear-wound, lots of people start making "last stand" speeches before jumping into the fray.  "It's just like a faculty meeting, isn't it?" My professor jokes.  "Everybody has to jump in and get their say, only in 'Maldon,' the speeches get shorter and shorter instead of the other way around."  We all laugh.  But then our thoughts turn to the depiction of the battle, and our conversation left me thinking about the nature of myth once again.

Friday, December 18, 2009

TT's trailer for "10 Years Later"

Tectonic Theater has a YouTube channel, and there's only one thing in it-- a trailer for the Oct. 12 performance!  Actually, "short documentary" might be a better description.  It's rather interesting and features some footage of Jed Schultz, Reggie Fluty and other people involved.  You can check out the clip on YouTube:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Down the Rabbit-Hole: Hindsight

 Whoever said that hindsight is 20/20 probably never studied memory.   If anything, hindsight needs bifocals and blinders.  On the one hand, memory is extremely susceptible to the decay of time; the details slowly get effaced, warped and rearranged.  But there's also problems in the way we record memories in the first place.  You see, ever since I did some digging into the cognititve/ psychological aspects of autobiographical memory for the class I teach, I've become extremely sensitive to the vagaries of memory and the way in which we schematize our stories for different purposes.  In layman's terms, we have to fit our memories into stories-- and the story format we use to make our memories make sense can change the details we remember.  For instance, Schacter's The Seven Sins of Memory and Memory Distortion are great reads for the general reader-- but they'll make you a little bit hesitant about what you say you "know" you can remember.  On a more abstract level, James Young's book The Texture of Memory gives a wonderful case study of how we put those memories to use and build a sense of our histories and identities.  His book focuses specifically on Holocaust memorials, and it's fascinating.

One of the little exercises I have my students do in class is to research a personal memory; they do interviews to get three different perspectives on the same event and then compare them to see where the differences lay.  A lot of times the differences are just a matter of emphasis, but many find substantial errors in one version of their memory.  One student a couple years ago discovered that her childhood memory of a fishing trip was, in a phrase, a complete fish story.  She put people in the story who weren't there, changed locations, events... everything.  She concluded that she had told the story so many times since she was a kid that the story became what she remembered and not the actual event.  She was extremely interested to discover this so many years later. 

I thought I'd try the same thing by researching a little bit to see if I can find holes in my own narrative.  Now that I've told my story and have had a bit of time to reflect upon the version I told you, here's a list of the places where I think my mind might be playing tricks on me.  Some of them aren't very important.  Others make a lot of difference.  I'll be interested to see what others think:

Friday, December 11, 2009

UW's resource page for the Matt Shepard attack

In my quest to find as many resources as possible on the Shepard killing and The Laramie Project I have discovered that the University of Wyoming never cleans out their press releases.  This means that they're turning into a great online source to get the university's response to the Shepard killing. 

For instance, during the media blitz they put together a news page with all the university's official releases on it to streamline media access.   Here is the link to that page for some great primary source information about the university's response to Shepard's beating and murder.  It includes addresses at both the candlelight vigil and the memorial held the next day and some press releases regarding the protests.

The permanent link is as follows:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Some Thoughts on Myth

The myth is, then, not necessarily false.  It might happen to be wholly true.  It may happen to be partly true.  If it has affected human conduct a long time, it is almost certain to contain much that is profoundly and importantly true.  What a myth never contains is the critical power to separate its truths from its errors.  For that power comes only by realizing that no human opinion, whatever its supposed origin, is too exalted for the test of evidence, that every opinion is only somebody's opinion.  And if you ask why the test of evidence is preferable to any other, there is no answer unless you are willing to use the test in order to test it.
--Walter Lippmann, in Public Opinion (123)
[W]hen we have a theory about who we are, and the data goes against that theory, we throw out the data rather than adjust the theory. We are hardwired as human beings not to contemplate our own complicity in things.
--Jeffrey Lockwood, in an interview with Tectonic Theater

The beginning of The Laramie Project starts with some of the stories we tell each other about who we are and what it means to live there:
REBECCA HILLIKER:  There's so much space between people and towns here, so much time for reflection...  You have an opportunity to be happy in your life here.  I found that people here were nicer than in the Midwest, where I used to teach, because they were happy.  They were happy that the sun was shining.  And it shines a lot here... (7)
I know these stories so well because they're mine too-- conservation, self-reflection and space...    But then there's this odd moment in the middle of all this mythmaking when Seargeant Hing starts telling his story about Laramie:
SEARGEANT HING:  It's a good place to live.  Good people, lots of space.  Now when the incident happened with that boy, a lot of press people came up here.  And one time some of them followed me out to the crime scene.  And, uh, well, it was a beautiful day, absolutely gorgeous day, real clear and crisp and the sky was that blue, that, uh...  you know, you'll never be able to paint, it's just sky blue-- it's just gorgeous...  (8)

I know what he means about the sky.  That's why I used to love Maxfield Parrish's paintings when I was little-- because nobody else could quite get that barren, cobalt blue sky to turn out just right.  But this moment for me was utterly surreal when I first saw the play-- the way that Hing's narrative of that "good place to live" with its blue sky, so blue you don't understand unless you've seen it, just sort of blends in perfectly with the Shepard tragedy.  The one story has totally infiltrated the other.  I had a sense of horror the first time I heard these lines, a horror only slightly lessened by my satisfaction at hearing the reporters called "stupid"  just a moment later.  It felt like our story had been hijacked.  That's not who we are at all, I wanted to call out.  That's not the way the story goes. 

I've moved beyond that first reaction to a more ambivalent stance.  Hing couldn't tell his story about Matt Shepard without telling Tectonic who he was, so his myth of blue, blue skies and Shepard's murder site just run together. Anymore, that relationship goes both ways; you can't tell the story of Laramie anymore, it seems, without Matthew being a part of it:
JEDEDIAH SCHULTZ:  If you would have asked me before, I would have told you Laramie is a beautiful town, secluded enough that you can have your own identity... a town with a strong sense of community-- everyone knows everyone... Now, after Matthew, I would say that Laramie is a town defined by an accident, a crime.  We've become Waco, we've become Jasper...(9)
What I'm contemplating right now is this: how easy is it for your myths to change?   And when should they have to?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Emerson College's blog for TLP: 10 Years Later

In my ongoing quest to gather other people's personal experinces with The Laramie Project and the epilogue, I found this great short blog cycle by the cast of Emerson's production of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later.  It's less than thirty entries and easy reading, so it's easy to get through and tells a nice story.  See what you think!

Link source:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why So Elitist, Academia?

Forgive me please for going off on a tangent on an unrelated rant, but there's something that really burned me the other day and I need to vent. You see, sometimes I feel like I've spent most of my adult life caught in the middle of a domestic squabble between my academic career in the humanities and my Western, rural upbringing. On the one hand, when I embarked on my career as an academic in Laramie eleven years ago, my father gave me a hug and a piece of advice: "Don't let 'em turn you into a commie liberal, okay?"  On the other hand, every time I pull a Leatherman out of my backpack to fix the stapler or the door knob in the graduate office, my fellow grad students look at me like I'm a weapon-toting lunatic.  So I'm a little bit over-sensitive to class issues, I suppose. 

So with that said, a couple of days ago I was at attending a humanities reception.  It was your typical academic affair: a lot of people in dull suits chatting in bored tones while lean-cheeked graduate students cruise the food table multiple times to inhale all the goodies.  There's a bit of a hierarchy among the grad students even: the students in well-funded departments (like mine) can afford to pick lazily at the food.  The poorer ones, the underfunded, famished History students, for example, often wear cargo pants to social events and some have been known to carry Tupperware in their backpacks.

But, to get to the point: I was chatting with one of the professors in another department when a colleague came over to talk, and the conversation turned to his upcoming move...

Sunday, December 6, 2009


***It's officially Winter!***    

Okay, so I know it's a little off-topic, but I had to share: my Thanksgiving wish got answered yesterday.  Here it is: 

Well, wonders never cease.  What you are looking at is about three quarters of an inch of snow on my front steps in the Southern United States.  It was mostly gone by about three in the afternoon, but I don't care-- it's snow!  Happy Winter, everyone! 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Owning it: Some Thoughts on Henderson and McKinney

[This was a post I was saving for later, but due to some recent questions from a generous commenter, I thought I'd like to share them now. Thanks, kbxmas for some hard questions! --Jackrabbit]

...I'm not going to step away from that and say, "We need to show the world that this didn't happen."  I mean, these people are trying to distance themselves from the crime.   And we need to own this crime.  I feel.  Everyone needs to own it.  We are like this.  We ARE like this.  WE are LIKE this.
--Zubaida Ula, in TLP (2001): 60

Zubaida makes an important point about the Laramie community: "Everyone needs to own this crime." It's a statement I've tried to take to heart recently.  Whether either of us like it or not, Zubaida and I both belonged to a community which produced a McKinney, a Henderson, and a Matt Shepard.  It also helped mold the two of us into what we are.  As much as we might value our unfettered individualism out west, communities like Laramie are heavily interconnected, and each person has to claim some knowledge of and responsibility for another.

Another problem is that this realization flies in the face of a western plains ideal: each person is only responsible for themselves and their own.  For that reason, there's a tendency to deny the fact of that interconnectedness of the community when it comes to personal responsibility.  "Why should we have a black eye over this?" many of us might reason.  "I didn't murder Shepard, and I didn't approve of it.  You can't force this on me."  I've heard that same argument from my family on several fronts, and the argument is always the same: I am not the perpetrator.  If I didn't personally do it, then I'm not personally responsible for it.  We don't want to own it even if it's woven into the warp and woof of our identities.   

But, don't we have a responsibility to own this?  Don't we have to embrace our identities so that they don't define us in ways we can't control? 

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"a balladeer" Gives Tribute to Shepard: Um...

So, on my way flipping through BlogCatalog this afternoon I ran across a post on the class blog of the Hans Christian Andersen Class of '09 about a tribute song for Matthew Shepard written by a Dutch band called "a balladeer."  Naturally, I decided to take a peek at the video, and my natural, lazy curiosity quickly turned into something else, more like being a horrified rubbernecker on the scene of a car wreck. 

Okay, so I know this band is trying to be very respectful.  And they're trying to set up a memorial to Shepard, and the actual film of the town is nice.  The way they focus on the bicyclist is interesting, literary speaking, I suppose..  

But I have to be brutally honest: this left me feeling horrified.  Is this in fact a strange, creepy tribute to Shepard, or is it just that I'm too darn close to the event to appreciate the gesture they're trying to make? I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, but my utter horror won't let me. 

I'd be interested to see what you all think: 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Down the Rabbit-Hole: Jackrabbit's Story, Part 4

You know, up until three years ago, I was extremely resistant to admit that the Shepard murder had any profound or lasting impact on my life. I'm not entirely sure even now why that was the case; I think maybe it was because how much the whole experience left me jaded and worn out. It probably also had to do with denial; it didn't hit home until I saw a TLP performance just how psychologically battered the whole mess had left me, and the less I thought about everything, the better.

But Matt's death, and the trials, did leave a lasting impact on me. Like it or not, the worldview I had inherited from my conservative parents and my farm-born grandparents was undergoing a sea change. In a lot of ways, I still consider myself more of a conservative on some things, but I was rapidly turning into a rabid egalitarian when it came to issues of human rights and tolerance. When I later became a believing, evangelical Christian, I took those lessons with me into my faith; I moved progressively away from the staunch, legalistic individualism of my Western American upbringing (and the Baptist Faith and Message) to something much more closely akin to Desmond Tutu's ubuntu theology.  I can't deny that these years following Matt's death have been a major influence for all of that.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Blogspot community member weighs in on TLP spinoffs

The theater blogger Broadway & Me ran an interesting post back in August about the Tectonic-style spinoff of nonfictional theater-- particularly, the plays The Amish Project and The Columbine Project.  The blogger brings up some interesting points about the daring and experimental form of Kaufman and Deveare-Smith:  what happens when the journalist/ethnographic format they pioneered is done badly, or done without a sympathetic connection to the community?  The results, it seems, are pretty bad, and they're getting panned in the reviews because of it.  You can see Broadway & Me's comment on the two shows on this blog.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from Jackrabbit

I hope everybody's taking the day off to sit back, relax, and enjoy the good things in life today for Thanksgiving.  If nobody else has told you so yet, I hope you have a blessed, happy day.  Although wishing for snow in the South is a little bit pointless, here's where my mind is at the moment: 

St. Matthew's, Laramie, WY
photo courtesy of elmada's Flickr photostream

I used to crunch around here in the snow and soak up the architecture when I was a budding medievalist in college.  St. Matthews is on 3rd and Ivinson in Laramie.  Happy Turkey day! 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Down the Rabbit-Hole: Jackrabbit's Story, Part 3

You know, I'm not really sure where the next place I should go with this should be. There was a pretty long hiatus between the insanity of the first weeks, the arraignment of Henderson and McKinney, and then the news reports, but that doesn't mean that time was calm. Someone in our program died in a wreck in Telephone Canyon, which was extremely tough for some of the upper classmen. I went home for Thanksgiving for the first time since I had started college and all hell broke loose. It seems like everyone except me and my parents were drinking like fish, and we all spent most of our time yelling at each other.   I retreated into my books instead, reading Wise Blood and The Violent Bear it Away, and I marveled at how O'Connor's spiritually distorted, disjointed world looked a lot like the one I was living in.  Over winter break I tore into more Nabokov and tried my hand at some Faulkner.  Quentin Compson hit just a little too close to home, so I put The Sound and the Fury away for a little longer, until I took modern literature with Dr. Loffreda. 

That spring hit us with a dizzying salvo of personal tragedies. Russell Henderson's trial and plea bargain had to compete with a suicide jumper from the 12th floor of White Hall and one of the more ridiculous bomb threats ever concocted. The Columbine shooting was that spring as well, and some of my fellow band students from the Littleton area were devastated. I have a vague memory of Henderson's sentencing sometime around the suicide and just before the Columbine shooting, but it's not very clear to me at all.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Down the Rabbit-Hole: Jackrabbit's Story, Part 2

One of the interesting things I've started to notice about trauma is the need to talk-- to talk to anybody, it seems. The few short days between Matt's assault and the night when he died were almost consumed with people talking-- about the beating, about sexual orientation and violence. That was the week I think I heard the word "hate crime" for the first time, and probably "homophobia," too. There was a sudden need to try and talk through the trauma, I guess in hopes of making it fit into how we saw the world.  But that's the problem with trauma-- it doesn't fit into how we see the world at all.  We can't just fudge it around until it squeezes into our sense of right and wrong.  For most of us, however, talking ended up being impossible anyhow because of the descent of the national media, and whatever dialogue that was happening after the beating promptly vanished.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Sense of Place: a note

So a few days ago I posted some thoughts about Laramie as a landscape and how Amy Tigner's sense of Laramie as a pastoral landscape might help explain how audiences may interact with Laramie as a space.  To recap, my main concern was that people from urban landscapes and are more used to seeing rural America as an "elsewhere" might have a harder time using the play for self-reflection.  

There might actually be some truth to that.  For instance, I was reading an article on a high school production of TLP in California back in 2003.  In an interview following the murder of a transgendered teen in his community, the director of the production, Dennis Kohles, made an interesting comment: 
No one was more shocked by the angry faxes [from Fred Phelps] and Eddie Gwen Araujo’s slaying than the play’s director.
“I guess I’ve lived in the East Bay too long,” said Kohles, a lifetime Oakland resident and O‘Dowd alumnus. “Our kids are very open and mature, more like college students. Some of them have gay relatives. And our religion classes here teach the kids to learn how to do a good discernment of tolerance and how people differ,” said Kohles, who remembers himself at their age as “naive.” (Abercrombie). 
I can't help but feel that he's contrasting his cast of mature young adults at his high school in Oakland to what he sees of Laramie in TLP. And, if that's the case, then he isn't seeing Laramie as a reflection of his own community; he sees Laramie as elsewhere.  That comment is particularly interesting when you know he's reacting to the murder of a transgendered teen from his own community.  If the East Bay community is full of "very open and mature" kids, then what about the four young men who brutally murdered Gwen Araujo in 2003?  It could be that's exactly what he's trying to figure out.  If that's the case, then he gets what this play is about.  Or, maybe he doesn't see the disjunction at all; it's hard to tell from the article the exact context of his comment.  If that's the case, then Laramie is still an 'elsewhere' that doesn't register as a 'here'; they don't grow children like that here.  He's lived in the East Bay too long.

But that's the awful, awful blessing of Laramie: we know.  That place is our place.  It's his place, too.  I would love to talk to this man now, six years after this high school production, that teen's murder and Phelp's picketing, and see how he reflects back on this time.  I wonder because the difficulties he's reflecting on are exactly my own.  

My secret hope was that they were from somewhere else, that then  of course you can create that distance: We don't grow children like that here.  Well, it's pretty clear that we do grow children like that here...
-- Jeffrey Lockwood, in The Laramie Project (2001):46

Abercrombie, Sharon.  "'Defeating Hate' with a Play About a Killing: Local Murder Brings Matthew Shepard Story Home for Students."  National Catholic Reporter 21 Mar. 2003: 3. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hello, My Name is Laramie

So, I'm in the Food Court at the Subway about ten minutes ago and I look over at one of the girls working behind the counter.  She looks like she's about nineteen and her name tag says "Laramie."
Wow, Laramie!"  I exclaim.  Her face brightens up.
"Yep, that's me!" she says.  "That's where my parents were from."
"I went to college there," I tell her.
"Wow, that's cool," she replies.  We talk a little bit about how I ended up in the South.  The way she talks makes me think she'd rather be in Wyoming. 
"So what brought your parents down here?"  I ask her.  She shrugs. 
"Some job, I guess.  My dad could get a job just about anywhere, but I guess they thought it'd be cool to live here." 
"I see."
"...they were wrong."  

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Down the Rabbit-Hole: Jackrabbit's Story, Part 1

So, part of what I've been trying to do as I think through The Laramie Project is to reflect back on how much I can actually remember of Matt's murder and the events before Tectonic Theater showed TLP in Larmie in 2000. To be honest, for a long time it was something I didn't like to think about; as a result, many memories are gone, and others are now colored by later events or Tectonic Theater's portrayal. Besides, it's hard to put myself in the shoes of an eighteen-year-old again. I have resisted actually telling this to anybody up to this point because it just felt too narcissistic and self-indulgent, but it's going to be hard to talk about the creation of memory and the constructed nature of identity in a play like TLP if I'm not willing to explain my own.

And part of it is the fact that I'm nervous.  I've had my fingers clamped around this story in a vise grip since 1998.  That grip didn't loosen up until 2006, and this year was the first time I tried setting it loose.  It's time to let this one go.  

Okay, so bear with me-- I've only ever explained all this clear through twice. I blundered through telling the whole thing to a very patient and understanding member of the TLP: Ten Years Later cast locally, and then I chatted with some other members of the cast a few days later. Now, I feel like I need share it to a larger audience.  I still don't feel totally ready to do this, but I have decided that personal blogs are supposed to be a little bit self-indulgent anyhow so what the heck. Here goes...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Link to the Laramie Project Community website

Tectonic Theater has a .org domain for The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later where they  have an online community of the participants who all took part in the October 12 reading.  Unfortunately it's only of limited use to those who don't have member access (for instance, forums are restricted) but a lot of the blog posts, news items, and whatnot are available.  It seems that anybody can join the community if you're willing to sign up-- I did!  They also have a map where you can see where performances were held.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Sense of Place: Further Thoughts

So, the reason I've been wondering about place recently is because I'm trying to figure out how The Laramie Project understands the way that the landscape and the space informs our reading of Matt's murder. Is this a really a universal landscape, or a particular one tied to the contingencies of a specific place, one that has a special significance to it?

I had a fascinating conversation shortly before the October 12 performance with a group of actors about this very issue. We were chatting about Matt's murder and the first play, and the conversation eventually turned to why Matt's murder happened to capture the national imagination and start a national dialogue on hate crimes. One group of people thought that it was how Matt died that was the major factor. This one guy in particular was emphatic that place wasn't a relevant factor: "it wouldn't matter where Matt died," he kept asserting. "We'd still be having this debate right now." This fellow was adamant about his point, and I sincerely respect his opinion; he has a good argument that I can't refute.

I and about three others, however, thought where Matt died had a lot to do with it, too. I firmly believe that, if Matt were murdered in, say, Boston, Massachusetts instead of Laramie, Wyoming, his death wouldn't have resonated with the nation in quite the same way. And I don't think we would be reading "The Boston Project."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why the hell am I doing this again?

Okay, right now nobody is actively crawling this blog yet, which means that I'm more or less still blogging under the covers with a flashlight and nobody's listening.  So, in this moment of silence, I'm starting to panic: do I want to pull the plug on all this?   Do I really want to bear my soul to the cold scrutiny of the Internet?  Moreover, while the Internet is deep enough to allow some anonymity, Wyoming is not.  I swim in pretty shallow waters back there, and there's no good place to hide.  I can only run so fast before my own story catches up with me.  If I'm as honest with everyone as I really want to be, I will have to give everyone enough information to finally corner and catch the Jackrabbit if they want to.   And, while getting picked up by the ears and getting unmasked won't harm my career, it'd certainly strain my relationship with my parents, who would hardly approve of this sort of thing: good plainsmen don't air their family's dirty laundry for just anybody to hear.  So far, the risks seem to outweigh the reward. 

So please excuse me while I scream and wring my hands a little backstage before the curtain goes up.  Somebody tell me, why the hell am I doing this again, please?... 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TT blog comments on laramieblog

During their time in Laramie, some of the TT cast posted a few blog entries on blogspot.  You can read them (there's only eleven) online on the Blogstpot community.  They're an interesting little tidbit of information about their time in Laramie in 2008.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Blogspot community blogger talks about TLP

Okay, so one thing I would like to do with this blog is collect together personal experiences people have had with TLP into one location so we can get a good range of how different people have had different relationships to the play.  This is pretty old, but Eric Matthew of the Blogspot community wrote about his personal experiences with TLP awhile back.  See what you think of his discussion of the play!  He also has some links to sources on the new addition as well.  The link is below if you need it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tiffany Edwards-Hunt talks of watching "10 Years Later"

One of the original interviewees for TLP, Tiffany Edwards-Hunt, has written a reaction to her experience watching The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later when it was performed in Hilo, Hawaii. She has a great take on the performance, and she discusses both her own reaction to its revelations and her own connections to the community. You can read her commentary at Big Island Chronicle, her news and commentary blog for Hilo.

Also, it's a great community blog. Check it out!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Sense of Place

One of the things that I've been pondering as I thought back on the local performance of "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later" was how utterly homesick it made me feel—how homesick I still feel. I've been staring aimlessly at my screensaver of pictures from Montana and Wyoming for three weeks now. This seemed strange at first, seeing that I only lived in that community for three years when I was in college. And yet, for me Laramie is my hometown more than any other place I’ve lived so far. My father, you see, was a second-generation oilfield hand, cut with the same geodesically etched face and cracked hands as my grandfather and half of my uncles, and we therefore spent much of my childhood chasing the oil. We started in Cut Bank, in the high arctic plains at the base of the Rockies, and we moved progressively south into Wyoming. Each move took us into another sleepy, suspicious community where nobody liked or trusted people who weren’t born on the same patch of dirt as them. It took until college to find the place where I belonged.

It’s one of the strange blessings of a university: you find yourself in the middle of an entire community of temporary exiles with whom you have nothing in common other than approximate age and loneliness. Laramie took me in and defined who I would eventually become: I found my faith there, while stargazing in a field a little over a mile from where Matt had died, and I was married in Laramie as well— in a tiny building most people only know as “The Baptist Church.” (I've never met "The Baptist Minister," BTW.) So for me, Laramie is my home, and watching the reading on October 12th made me realize just how much loss I still felt from leaving my home behind.

First Thoughts: It's More than Just a "Project"

I guess a good way of explaining why I felt the need to start a weblog about The Laramie Project would be with an anecdote. I was walking with a friend to grab some dinner a few weeks ago when he cheerfully replied to something I said with the quip, "Well, tie me to a fence and pistol-whip me." I felt like he slugged me in the stomach. To my friend, who is an out gay male, that image is little more than a cultural reference used just a little too casually among his like-minded friends. To me, I can't see that image in my head without seeing Matt Shepard's face right in front of me and revisiting everything that happened afterward. My friend had no clue how badly that quip shocked me because at the time, I had never told him that I was there.

You see, I am one of thousands of media casualties left over from the journalistic onslaught in Laramie from 1998 to 1999, when we were caught in the crossfire of journalists, protestors, and pundits who descended on our campus and consumed our lives. I was a freshman in college in Laramie, Wyoming when Matthew Shepard was beaten to death; Matt and I never knew each other-- we merely shared a co-incidence of friends-- but his death, and the media conflagration and protests that followed, defined my early adulthood. Whether I like it or not, Matt Shepard changed my politics, my morals, and my sense of identity in ways I'm still trying to sort out. And every time that event is invoked, it brings up the angst and personal trauma of my freshman year back in my face, and the shock of it paralyzes me.

As you imagine, this makes The Laramie Project nearly impossible to watch. I've only put myself through two performances of the original version, Tectonic Theater's Laramie performance in 2000 and a university production in 2006; both times I swore I'd never do it again because I keep having panic attacks. And yet, I'm obsessed with this play in ways I can't even begin to understand. I can't watch it without bawling, but I've taught it to my freshman for three years running now. And I keep reading all the secondary literature on the play even though I can't bring myself to watch the HBO movie.

I more or less forced myself to go to a local production of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later in Appalachia on October 12 after some chatting with the local director and the cast. The performance was beyond amazing; the way that the cast resonated with their characters was electrifying. It has been three weeks now since the revelations of the new addition, and I am still reeling. I really don't know what to do with everything I'm trying to think through. After all the personal growth and self-reflection this play has caused me to undergo, I should think that I would owe Moises Kaufman and Tectonic Theater my gratitude. So why on earth do I resent it so damn much?

After the performance, I've tried to get these things out of my head and on paper, but I don't really seem to be getting anywhere with it-- and it's eating up all of the time I'm supposed to be using to, you know, be a graduate student. I'm supposed to be studying for my exams. I'm supposed to be learning French. I'm supposed to be working on an article about a fifth-century Spanish priest nobody's heard of. But instead, I just keep thinking about The Laramie Project-- and about memory, and the way we write history, and how the things we use to define ourselves and who we are is so vexed, so full of contingencies. I also think about trauma, and the need to tell our stories in an attempt to make meaning from tragedy, and whether or not that's always a good thing.

So is that the project here? I think maybe that's what I'm doing-- I need to tell my own story in an attempt to make sense of things that can't be grasped. I need to think aloud about the work of art that has, to be blunt, messed with my freaking head for eight years now-- and not always in a good way. And I think that I can't be the only one out there.

Actually, I know I'm not the only one. To all of you out there who might be reading this: what is your relationship to this more-than-just-a-play? What is your own attachment to it that defines (willingly or not) a part of who you are? I've talked to LGBT people, actors, directors, and westerners who all have some kind of unique stake in the play as a part of one of its many communities. Only a few of those people were interviewees for Tectonic or had any kind of attachment to Matt Shepard. And yet, the play connects with them just as strongly, and it makes unfair demands of them just like it does of me. What are your thoughts on how the play portrays, and questions, how Laramie sees itself-- and how does it do the same with how we construct our own communities and identities? How does its nonfictional basis change how we relate to it as audience members? And do you have the same sense of angst, or frustration or ambivalence, about this play that I do?