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, 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?