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Monday, May 17, 2010

"Has Anything Changed?" cont.: The Other Side of the Fence

I don't hate this play, I really don't! I swear!  *ahem.*

Okay, so I figured that after the last post I put up on this subject, it wouldn't hurt to make that point a little more clear.  My relationship with Tectonic is admittedly conflicted, but I'm not a "hater."  Actually, you wouldn't find a bigger supporter of reading, teaching or performing this play than me.  M'kay?  Alllright, so let's move on to the good stuff now. 

So, last time I spent an inordinate amount of time picking apart The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later from the perspective of outsiders judging the Laramie community and how that changes the feel of the new play.  That's not the only way to look at this situation, however.  The play gives us a lot of reasons to think that the question "Has anything changed?" isn't so much their question as Laramie's.  In the Epilogue to The Laramie Project, Kaufman and his acting team instead reveal the internal criticism of the community and their drive for change. In these instances, Tectonic acts more as a sort of midwife, bringing Laramie's own questions and ambivalence into the spotlight. Knowing Laramie's reticence to address this topic, this actually makes Tectonic Theater's presence in the community at this moment all the more important because they can bring those voices of frustration, resistance and hope out into the open.

Let's start with who they interview-- a lot of the people in Laramie are the ones asking that question, and the most pointedly.  Whether or not Laramie has changed means a lot to Dr. Connolly and Dr. Loffreda-- they're the ones who are trying to push for more reform and feel the university pushing back.  In a sense, the way that Tectonic comes alongside those four University employees to tell of their struggle for same-sex partner benefits and alongside Connolly as she fights against the DOMA bill in the state legislature fits this more 'insider' role where they give them a voice and a platform to evaluate the culture.  It's pretty cool. 

Or take Jonas Slonaker: I can't help but keep bringing this one up because of how much it ticks me off.  When the Boomerang effectively puts a gag order on Jonas Slonaker, Tectonic basically comes alongside as a kind of midwife to give his grievances a fair hearing in the public eye.  In this case, they're enabling Slonaker to evaluate and speak out against the mainstream culture when others try to prevent him from doing so. If Tectonic hadn't come back to Laramie then, what other outlet would Slonaker have short of wearing a billboard on the corner of 3rd and Grand? 

But there are other figures where this feels like the case.  For instance, when Tectonic comes alongside the police department to give their opinion of the situation and to speak out against their treatment at the hands of ABC's 20/20 program.  The ability to address those grievances against the media in this case is really quite important.  The stories of Laramie residents' grief and their abuse by the national reporters needed to be told.

But there's one more figure that Tectonic allows to speak and to evaluate the situation: Father Roger.  In the original play Father Roger says that "our most important teachers must be Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney.  They have to be our teachers"  (89).  He also fears that most people will refuse to learn from them.  What Tectonic does by including their voices is he allows Father Roger's wish made real: we learn from Henderson and McKinnery-- perhaps not what he had hoped, seeing as Father Roger held out for some kind of remorse from McKinney-- but we learn from them nonetheless.  In this case, Tectonic's position outside the community allows this need to finally be met, when both McKinney and Henderson finally agree to interviews at Father Roger's behest.

So there is an "inside community" voice that is asking the question, "has anything changed?"  Yes.  Tectonic allows us to hear those voices inside the community dialoguing with those on the outside; the evaluation and judgment are just as much theirs as Tectonic.  It's also mine as well.  And that is a valuable service that I think Tectonic has allowed to the community.  It just means that their relationship to this community, as outsiders working for insiders, is extremely complicated and has a lot of unpredictable consequences.

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