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!

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.

What really stands out for me during this time were the protesters. In a way, they seemed to be an extension of the media, little more than carpetbaggers that rode in on the reporters' coattails to lap up all the spilled publicity. I think that's what particularly bothered a lot of us about the protesters: by and large, none of them represented our perspective. Rather, with the exception of the counter-protesters like Romaine and "Angel Action," they were largely unaffiliated organizations who decided to force their ideas upon us. They came from Kansas, from Texas-- everywhere, it seemed, except from home. And we had the feeling that we were being judged by the crazies who had swarmed into Laramie to get their point across.

The first shock was that stupid fraternity float in Fort Collins. Two greek organizations (whom I will not name) sponsored a float in the homecoming parade down there and, at some point, trussed up a scarecrow on their float that had the words "I'm gay" spray painted on it. CSU and UW are sport rivals, which might explain the impetus for something this stupid. Other than that, it's completely inexplicable to me.  Even though it didn't happen in our town, the outrage on campus was real but diffuse. It just seemed like an isolated incident. 

We couldn't have been more wrong.  Fred Phelps and his cult-church from Kansas showed up about a week later in Casper to protest Matt's funeral. I was actually in Casper the same weekend that Matt was buried (it was the same weekend as the marching band competition in the Casper Events Center) and we made a point of avoiding downtown. While they held their neon signs and screamed hate at people, the UW marching band was across town in the Casper Events Center wearing yellow and green armbands while marching in an exhibition. I had never seen so many police cruisers in one place in my life.

That was just the beginning, however.   Hateful protesters from all political views descended on the Albany County courthouse for the opening jury selection for Russel Henderson-- pro death-penalty, anti- death penalty, anti-gay... there probably were some crazy pro-gay activists there, too. I just don't remember seeing any. The PD had corralled them all off with black plastic snow fence to keep them off the sidewalk, like they were animals. The different groups, it seemed to me, were trying to one-up each other in outrageousness in an attempt to steal the spotlight from one another. I remember one in particular that infuriated me: some pro-death penalty group had built a buck fence on the back of a flatbed with a protester trussed on it, and they towed it around town. I wanted to scream every time I saw it.

Phelps later showed up to our campus, I think for the first time during the opening of the Henderson trial and plea bargain in the spring. He was there for days, off and on, through the whole trial ordeal. I'm not sure if he was running two groups, or if they would divide their time between the courthouse and campus-- either way, they were the first major protest that had hunkered down on the university campus itself. They had a large pen cordoned off for them on the south and west side of the student union building, where they'd stand with their neon-colored signs. If I remember correctly they were mostly silent, but they would occasionally shout obscenities at the gawking crowd.

I had an English class in the engineering building, and the only sensible way to get there from my dorm was to cut between Coe Library and the Student Union. The signs I saw in the corridor made me stop in my tracks. I had to pass within four feet of the orange plastic barrier to get through the crowd that had gathered. This rail-thin, hard-bodied man with eyes the color of snakeskin stared at me as I passed. "Are you ready?" He hissed, or something like it. "Are you ready to burn?" I'm not sure why he singled me out. I felt my hair stand on end, and I backed away from Fred Phelps about as fast as I could manage in the crowd.

When I got to the west side of the union facing Prexy's, I could get a better look and view the whole scene. I saw kids-- oh my gosh, the kids, some of them couldn't be more than eight years old, holding signs about "homo sex" and whatever that they couldn't even understand, waving them about like the adults. These weren't little zombie, children-of-the-corn kids, either. That would have made it more tolerable. Instead, these kids danced about listlessly or balanced on their toes, they played with their gum and got bored and whined like normal children. What they were doing, it seemed, was part of an otherwise "normal" childhood. That was chilling.

But that was also when I saw the angels for the first time. I walked farther forward to get a better look, and that's when I saw Romaine Patterson on the front of the picket line. I knew Romaine from high school from speech and debate, and I hadn't really seen her since she graduated. I knew her slightly from speech and debate.  When we'd see each other in the hall, Romaine used to click her tongue at me and my debate partner in mock consternation.  "Oh, you skinny, skinny people,"  she'd tease us, and we'd both laugh.  We called her the "Lemon chick" after her dramatic monologue performance, which I think was from Aunt Dan and Lemon. One of her main competitors was a friend of mine who did The Bell Jar (and was thus dubbed the "Sylvia Plath girl"), so I got to see Romaine perform a lot in high school. She was amazing. 

There was Romaine in a long line of angel-garbed protesters holding hands, blocking out the cattle-pens of the WBC protesters from the rest of us. Besides thinking, "Wow, that's Romaine Patterson," all I could think about was Angels in America, where the angel crashes down upon Prior Walter at the end of the play. I had first read the play, I think at Dr. H's suggestion, and we were in the middle of reading it in my Political Theater class with Dr. P.  I was also in the middle of a presentation on Kushner and wrote two papers on the plays. That's what Romaine seemed to me: Prior's angel, crashing in from the ceiling.  I couldn't talk to her in the middle of the protest, so I left her there with her other angels.

One of the best parts of the protest, however, never got mentioned in TLP-- the pizza party that the LGBTA sponsored on the steps about thirty feet away from the protest area. They had free pizza for hundreds of people, which was drawing far more students with hungry bellies than the protesters were drawing with their hate. People came, snagged some pizza, and chatted amicably like WBC didn't even exist. "Sascha" was there too, looking far more composed and hopeful than the last time I had seen her. I think it helped a lot to actually be doing something in response to the WBC verbal attack. It would take her a long time, however, to finally heal over from Matt's murder.

But the best part of the counter-protest was the massive stereo system that the LGBTA had set up on the front entryway to the Union.  They were blasting every song by a gay or lesbian musician they could get their hands on: Melissa Ethridge, Indigo Girls, the Village People, Elton John...   As we chatted and caught back up, "Sascha" told me to look back at the protesters: those children in the protest area were waving their hateful signs about gay people, but they were dancing enthusiastically to "YMCA" while they were doing it-- and there wasn't a damn thing their parents could do about it. "Sascha" and I just laughed.

So, those were my two miracles in the middle of the Henderson trial: Romaine's angels, and making those children of hate dance in joy to the very thing they condemned.

Actually, make that three miracles: I saw "Sascha" smile again.

No comments:

Post a Comment