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.