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.
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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.

So what was it exactly that I'm missing? Certainly some nostalgia for the college, but there was something else, too. When the Tectonic Theater members mentioned driving back to Denver on the Interstate at the end of "Ten Years Later," I found myself taking that same trip in my head—through Telephone Canyon to the Lincoln monument and past Pole Mountain, where my future husband and I used to go stargazing; past the pink granite boulders of Vedauwoo piled to the left of the highway; and the golden, arctic prairie stretching over the Wyoming-Colorado border, prairies now rapidly being carved into bedroom communities and gobbled alive by land developers. While I miss the people, it’s the land that evokes my own sense of loss. The land, it seems, registers the movement of the people, evokes the emotions and fears we won’t share with each other.

After my grandmother died and my brother and I drove to Montana for her funeral, neither of us would talk about her; we did, however, talk about the new wind farm in Judith Gap, and the massive wind turbines that now hulk over the dry wheat fields where she walked as a teenager. Unable to process her death, I instead looked out my window and thought of the death of towns— of Garneill where she was born, now little more than a grain elevator towering over the highway; and also of Judith Gap, whose population has shrunk to a little over a hundred souls and getting smaller with each generation of farm children who can’t stand the isolation (or the wind) any longer.

But does that make those of us who grow up in those lonely spaces unique? It's interesting that Tectonic Theater chose to start out their play-- both plays, now-- with a description of the land, and specifically, the relationship of the people to the land. The first one begins with a fundamental misunderstanding between Seargeant Hing and an unnamed reporter about the spot where Matt was found. I have to admit, "A Definition" is one of my favorite moments:
REPORTER: Who the hell would want to run out here?
SEARGANT HING: And I'm thinking, "Lady, you're just missing the point." You know, all you got to do is turn around, see the mountains, smell the air, just take in what's around you. And they were just-- nothing but the story. I didn't feel judged, I felt they were stupid.(9).
Hing sees something in the land she simply can't fathom. The funny thing is, it's not just the natives that focus on the space of Laramie; even the newer residents talk about the land. It's a kind of shorthand we seem to all speak. It makes me wonder, now-- did Tectonic Theater choose to do that because that's how we all begin our stories, or is it because they find themselves fascinated with the land? Or do they see us as attached to the land in ways that, as mostly urban northeasters, they aren't? I don't know. Maybe it's a combination of all these things.

All I know is that, when I told you my story, I had to start with my places, too.

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