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!

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. 


  1. As someone who grew up in the East Bay and now lives in Phelps country, I know all too well that we grow kids, and adults, off all stripes, in all regions of our country. How can we ever understand the brand of prejudice that leads to brutal murder? I can't answer that. I hope that you can't either. Because to answer that is to understand it, and to understand it is too frightening to me. But I suppose we must keep trying, mustn't we? We can't just bury our heads in the sand.

  2. Hello kbxmas,

    It sounds like you have a unique perspective on this, and I appreciate you taking the time to comment. Thank you so much!

    I guess that's what's so frustrating about the whole, sick conundrum, isn't it? I keep thinking back to Father Roger in "The Laramie Project" and how he tells us that McKinney and Henderson have to be our teachers. I've been struggling with that. What does that mean? Because you're totally right-- to understand what it means to have that level of hate is a terrifying prospect. And yet, we can't hide from it, either. You've hit the nail on the head.

    I don't know-- is knowing "we grow kids like that here?" enough? And that "here" is everywhere? Maybe that's what I can't answer yet...

  3. There is an interview in the Nov. issue of Oprah with Dylan Klebold's mother which was interesting. I think it was easy for us to demonize the parents of the kids in the Columbine shooting, thinking they must have done something wrong. But she was so ordinary, so smart, so thoughtful and compassionate. And it was impossible to just put her (or dare I say it, even her son) in a box and label either one of them as something easy to define: bad mother, monster, etc. In the end, I just felt compassion for her as one mother to another. Not so much for him, though.

    I think we have a responsibility to try to understand the political, social and psychological factors that engender violence so that we, individually and as a society, can do what we can to prevent it (i.e., treat mental illness). But I don't have the desire, nor the capacity, to truly understand what would drive someone to want to hurt another person so brutally. And I hope I never do.

    But we can't pretend that there are not those among us that do have that capacity. That's just life on planet earth. That's why god gives us liberal arts majors. To help make the journey a little more pleasant!