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!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jackrabbit Goes to the Academy: and I survived!

This past weekend was the bi-annual NEXUS interdisciplinary conference at the University of Tennessee, focusing on the theme of "Trauma and Testimony." Yours truly presented a paper on The Laramie Project dealing with testimony and community identity, which went... interestingly.  I wasn't entirely sure I was going to be able to pull the damn thing off, but after a lot of hair-pulling I managed to get a paper written, and the presentation went off with just a few minor lumps, bumps and bruises.

Actually, I discovered that getting this paper together challenged a lot of my previous ideas about why I resent The Laramie Project so much, and that was a good thing.  Essentially, I didn't like what the play was doing to my ability to define my own existence, but I also realized that it's that destabilizing of Laramie's idea of community that allows the LGBT community to speak.  Secondly, I never liked having to allow certain people (who I will not name because of their litigious personalities) to speak for me.  That's the same argument that a lot of TLP haters use about letting gays and lesbians speak out against them, and I have to wonder...  I think that Tectonic did a great thing by allowing my gay friends and neighbors the agency to speak of their life in Laramie, and in doing so they challenge the way that the "majority" have defined the community, and they feel the same press of being "defined" by a society external to their own.  Is that why I'm so ambivalent for this play-- because now I have a vague idea of what it feels like to be a voiceless member of the GLBT community, defined by the center and unable to speak back?

Anyhow, getting to that realization took a bit of personal wrestling.  Due to exams and other concerns, I couldn't actually write the presentation until the week of the conference.  Even though I had loads of time to do it, I kept staring at a blank screen, tapping my fingers, reading friends' blog posts, doing some creative writing.  Finally, the night before I had to give the paper, I stared at my terrifying, blank computer screen and typed out a single phrase:
a strained and sometimes fractious relationship
 I stared at that phrase for about two solid minutes, and once I had the source of my writer's block on the page, the paper I had been writing in my head for the last month and a half sprouted out from under my fingers.  I stayed up all night writing the stupid thing.  

 The other three papers in my panel were freaking awesome, and there's one in particular I might write about, if "Annie" will let me, that is.  She wrote about her family's personal experience with a personal trauma and the weird position families get into, rhetorically speaking, as they try to urge the press to act as an outlet for their personal testimony. Since she's interested in the ability of victims to speak, as am I, it seems like a good fit...

And, Laramie made its presence known in an odd and interesting way once more to me at the conference.  The website for the conference is illustrated with images of trauma and violence of the sort that the presenters research, and this picture was one which one of the organizers (whom I don't even know) had found on Flickr:
Never forget that Laramie, Wyoming is a town scarred by more than just the Matt Shepard incident; every town's psyche shows the scars of a parade of grief.  The roadside memorial which stands at Tie Siding, Wyoming was erected after eight members of the UW cross country team were killed by a drunk driver just a week after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11.  They were traveling to a meet at the time, and the man who killed them was another UW student.  At the time, I had been attending school at my new college in the Deep South for a little over three weeks. 

When I saw this photo on the website, it stopped me in my tracks.  I mean, I was at a conference to talk about how Laramie has tried to speak through a moment of tragedy, and here I was being confronted by one that I haven't even thought about for years.  What makes one tragedy seem so indelibly burned into our collective consciousnesses and others, like this one, must remain silent except for eight pairs of shoes and a peeling marker at a deserted crossroads?  It sometimes seems so unfair, but that's just the strange way that collective memory works.  Somethings remain, others don't, and all will eventually be forgotten.  Perhaps it was good for me to step back a little from the Shepard tragedy and put it in this larger context-- in comparison to those Laramie tragedies whose presence scars just as deeply but whose stories don't get told: James Merritt, Kristen Lamb, Cindy Dixon, the Tie Siding accident, the 2006 double murder-suicide...


1) The 2010 Nexus logo, used with permission.  You can view the full conference description here.

2)  The roadside memorial at Tie Siding, Wyoming, taken from gregor_y's Flickr photostream:

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