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, June 29, 2010

Code Switching as I Learned It from My Grandmother

Although it's probably not typical of my generation, estate auctions made up a large part of my social education when I was growing up.  The women of my childhood were all antique collectors, and an important part of our social lives was spent at auctions at private houses and fairgrounds.  These are nothing like Sotheby's auctions where the so-called "auctioneer" is actually some Art historian with a faux continental accent and most of the bidding is by agents.  These are rowdy, fast-paced events in dusty front yards or livestock arenas, with auctioneers in cowboy hats calling off numbered lots of everything from tack and harness to bent coffee spoons a flutter-tongued syllabary of their own making.  A good estate auction is a social event where friends from around the state catch up, ranchers and wives eye their competitors, and buyers vie with one another in a cutthroat, symbolic contest of subtle gestures for the highest bid.   It takes time to learn that non-verbal language, and it's easy to be misunderstood; for that reason, my grandmother made me sit on my hands when I was on the auction floor until I was about seven years old. 

There's such a feeling of freedom once you learn to become a free operator, however, and you learn how to maneuver through codes at the auction house.  I blushed with pleasure the first time I had the winning bid on a lot when I was about eleven-- a beautiful old copy of A Child's Garden of Verses in maroon calico, which I outbid a dealer for and I still have.  And I have to admit, I also felt a little rush of superiority several years ago when my college in the Deep South auctioned off their impounded bikes and I was practically the only student there who knew the ropes.  I had to explain the codes to the young men around me as they scratched their heads, unable to follow the bids.

Why I'm interested in all this will take some time to explain; for the moment, let's just start with the basics on learning the social context of language use and where I first learned it existed. 

Derek Hopkins explains the Auctioneering trade on NPR, The Way We Work (via YouTube)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Eat Romaine! Romaine Patterson's official website

I can still remember the first time I met Romaine Patterson.  I was a freshman in high school, and I was competing in my first big speech meet in Powell, WY as an extemporaneous speaker.  Speech meets are pretty awesome places in Wyoming if you like teenage fringe culture: we had everything from bona fide conservative Young Republicans in their blue jackets, red power ties, and Maalox in their briefcases to punkers to to hippies to a Humor competitor who always wore a three-piece suit made of silver duct tape.  He had a duct tape fedora and wingtips, too.  Did I mention that?

Anyhow, I was on a real, live college campus, hanging around in the student union in between rounds in my event and pretending I was so cool, lounging on the couches and drinking my first honest-to-God Italian creme soda from the coffee kiosk.  (It was raspberry.  Oh yeah.)   Never mind the fact that I only weighed about eighty-five pounds and looked like a twelve-year old; I was at college, and it felt like heaven.  I was sitting about ten feet away from my coach/theater director Mr. "J" when two rambunctious girls, an orator and a poetry person, came trampling breathlessly into the lounge.
"Mr. J Mr. J, Mr. J, Mr. J!" one of the girls shrieked.  "You'll never guess what We! Just! saw!"  My coach's eyes bugged out in alarm.    
"What?!"  He asked.  Judging from the look on his face, I think he was expecting something that would require several fire trucks and at least one ambulance.  The two girls turned to each other and gaped, their eyes bulging.  
"LLLLESBIANS!" They gasped in unison.  Mr. J just about choked on his own amusement. Then the "lesbian" in question walked through the door in a black leather jacket,  and that was the first time I met Romaine Patterson.
 I always liked Romaine in high school, and we knew each other slightly.  When I introduced myself to her that afternoon, she quipped, "Hi, my name is Romaine.  Yes, like the lettuce," she continued with a mock eye roll and a grin. And with that she eternally won my approval. 

In any case, Romaine was always a talented actor and personality in high school, and it seems that part of her character has served her well.  Since Operation Angel Action, she's worked pretty tirelessly on the political activism scene, she wrote a book, and she has a job on Sirius satellite radio as a talk show host. 

She has a dedicated website that gives a lot of good information about her activism work, her take on Shepard's murder, and her life.  If you're interested, check out Eat Romaine  for information.  You'll discover that she's been up to a lot. 

Oh, but let me give you a quick heads-up...  Romaine's a pretty open lady-- meaning, there's a link to a store on the left-hand side for her favorite "love aids"  which is probably SFW but might garner you some pretty funny looks from your boss.  You've been duly warned.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Uncivil unions: my five questions on gay marriage

Okay, so it was eventually going to happen that I would have to tackle this issue. When I go to church every Sunday in my evangelical Presbyterian church and go to LGBTA meetings every Monday, the whiplash was going to catch up to me eventually. The issue I'm really struggling with right now is what to do as a Christian, and as a social justice freak who loves the LGBT community, with the arguments swirling around about the topic of gay marriage.

So, four years ago I had no problem per se with limiting marriage as long as it was handled on the state level and it was done constitutionally.  I was a Christian, after all; at the time, I had a tough time delineating between following Christ and Christian culture, which meant that I didn't question what I had been taught about the morality of same-sex desire.  So when my home state in Appalachia put a marriage definition referendum on the ballot, the (Baptist) church I went to at the time pushed it pretty hard.  I was pretty ambivalent, honestly.  It seemed fishy, but who was I to argue?

When the time came to actually vote, I stared at that question on the ballot for a good five minutes, held my breath, and clicked the "Yes" button.  Then I spent the next six months feeling like an absolute jerk for doing it.  I just didn't think I could challenge the rest of the church on that issue, and I let the pressure push me into voting in a direction I didn't really have any conviction in.  I really regret that now. I should have realized that, if my church was pushing me to vote against my conviction, that maybe that's because something was wrong with the whole situation. 

Things have changed a lot in the last four years.  For one, I feel like I can stand up against the pressure from my church to start looking at the issue more critically.   My problem with limiting marriage now is that the only legitimate arguments I can come up with that hold any water are completely Biblical.  I can make the argument work for within the body of Christ if I actually want to, but I can't find a clear, logical argument for extending that outside into the larger social sphere.  If I can't come up with a clear, obvious reason to apply a law or rule to those outside of the Christian body, I become very reticent to force it upon a larger society who doesn't share my religious conviction.  I'm not a fan of Sabbath laws or liquor sales restrictions for that same reason. 

Next, the Manhattan Declaration keeps telling me about all the vast social ills that will invariably follow from allowing same-sex couples to marry, and I just don't buy it.  The argumentation just isn't there to support it.  So far, no single country has seen a rise in any of the "social ills" they're afraid of because they were already there; and if South Africa suddenly collapses in the next decade or so, it's certainly not going to be because they let gay people get married. It will be from a much larger complex of social problems which the government is trying to address but seems unable to resolve. 

As far as I can tell, the only thing wider society will lose with the adoption of gay marriage is an easy, clean definition they've always made between what we have deemed licit and illicit sex.  All of a sudden, we can't just push people to get married and make their sexual situation "okay" because now marriage can make sex between couples that we don't like "okay" as well.   Gay marriage, if anything, threatens the moral high ground of sexual conservatives by creating a category crisis.  First, we can no longer deny legal recognition of couples we don't really approve of to keep the "us" separate from "them."  That's the same reason miscegenation laws were so popular in the US for a long time too, you know, and those have been completely (and rightly) dismantled.  Secondly, it blurs the social distinction between the two.  When gays and lesbians suddenly become as domestic, sedentary, and monogamous as the rest of us...  how much harder is it to argue that they're immoral and disgusting? (And that's exactly the point, conservatives.  They're not.)
Corner of Gay and Union
So, in short, this erstwhile conservative evangelical is having an extremely hard time justifying definition of marriage statutes in the United States, and right now, few people in the Christian community are helping me out.  I just keep hearing the same old flawed arguments about the collapse of society and the slippery slope.  And, strangely, I've discovered that I'm not the only evangelical to feel this way.  I keep running into scores of other people with the same problems with the Christian right's approach to gay marriage and civil unions, but right now we can't find anybody from our own community who can allay our concerns and convince us that defining marriage to exclude same-sex couples is right.  So my only recourse at this point is to conclude otherwise.

So, here are my five questions for the Manhattan Declaration crowd that need answered if you're going to get me to reconsider my opposition to definition-of-marriage statues and preference for full marriage benefits for all.  If you think you can actually answer these in a thoughtful, reasoned way with good logic and evidence, I would be very interested to hear what you have to say.

And if you're on the other side of this issue and can provide good arguments for gay marriage from within a Biblical framework, I would be very interested to hear from you, too.

All right, so my five problems are as follows:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Yarrrgh! *facepalm*

Being the day in the life of a straight, conservative, evangelical fledgling LGBT activist... who screws up.

Okay, so it's no real surprise that I absolutely hate pointless bureaucracy, especially in academia because sometimes we over-think things way too much and bury even simple little matters under a flood of paperwork.  But the power relations and power politics that go with those positions really pisses me off now and then, especially when they involve me.

So, there is an extremely important administrative process I need to get through for my grad work, and I've had an extremely hard time getting all that done before I run out of the state next week (because I am behind this summer, for a variety of reasons).  There's an administrator in a small but very important section of cubicle-land on my campus who has to review that paperwork and give her seal of approval for my department.  I was in her office last week getting some final clarification and turn in the last of my paperwork before I leave for three weeks and miss the deadline. 

So, this woman and I are chatting about my research, and eventually it turns to my research interest in The Laramie Project.  She seemed genuinely interested, so I told her about the plays and what they were about, and how in particular the GLBT community was affected by Matt's death.  At one point in the conversation, however, she pursed her lips at me disdainfully.
"Well, you know, they do bring a lot of that on themselves, you know," she said as she fiddled with the edges of my application on her desk.  I felt my eyes slit at her instinctively.
"Um, what do you mean?" I asked, a little too carefully.  Some serious outrage was welling up and I was trying to swallow it. 
"You know, by forcing it on us the way they do," she continued as she fiddled with my application.  "They just make things harder on themselves by causing trouble.  If they'd just lived their lives in quiet and didn't force it on the rest of us, then nobody would ever bother them." 
 Okay, I thought to myself, What does she seriously mean by that-- that gays and lesbians shouldn't be politically active?!  I had this overwhelming urge to start arguing with her, to explain to her how outrageously closed-minded that was.  How the hell do you justify blaming the victims of injustice for speaking up?  Would she blame the victims of the civil rights movement for picking up a placard and marching with MLK after Bull Connor sicked the dogs on them?! Besides, it's not true.  There are a lot of hate crimes that occur just because some jerk decides s/he wants to roll somebody, and the gay kid ends up being the target.   

In the end, I didn't say any of those things; I just squirmed in my seat like a beetle pinned to a card and felt completely powerless.  My paperwork was literally in her hands-- and if I pissed her off or suggested that she was perhaps that her perspective was a bit too narrow, my application might take even longer to get approval-- or never get approved at all.  So, instead, I just smiled blandly, and nodded, and suggested that perhaps it was a very hard decision for a person to have to choose between being open about who you are or being safe.  She didn't even bat an eye at me, and my pathetic little attempt to argue with her went unnoticed.  And I left her office feeling like a sellout.

So, I learned a few things this week.  First of all, just because you work in a Carnegie Research I institution doesn't make you an enlightened human being like intellectuals often think it does.  And, just because you have a moral conviction on something doesn't mean that you'll always have the spine to stand up for it when you're in a socially powerless situation.  I have friends that have lost jobs because of their moral convictions, and, hell-- I can't even be bothered to get caught up in a bureaucratic shuffle?!  Pah.

Man, I hate academia sometimes.  Almost as much as I hate myself right now.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Uncivil Unions: Rome is Falling

 Most of you have probably never heard of Paulus Orosius, but he's somebody I've studied extensively as a medievalist.  Orosius was a Spanish priest who played postmaster between Jerome and Augustine of Hippo in the fifth century, but he's mostly known in modern circles (when talked about at all) as the author of an enormous, bizarre history of the world starting with Adam and ending shortly after the sack of Rome.  According to Orosius, Rome was the fourth, and blessed, world kingdom, which God used to bring about the conversion of the world and subdue it for Christ.

In reality, it was a pretty untenable argument, but Orosius held onto that premise so doggedly that he eventually bent historical fact, logic, and Scripture itself to try and fit his theological bed of Procrustes.  For one, it leads him to argue a lot of silly things, like that the barbarian sack of Rome wasn't really a sack, or that Constantine (who wiped out a lot of his family) was a model of virtue.  His theology is absolutely terrible (Augustine pretty much tears it apart in City of God, Book 18), but its Christian-imperialistic vision appealed to the clerical masses-- so it stuck around as a fundamental text of the European middle ages and was even translated into Arabic.

Orosius was so convinced that God established the Roman Empire as the backbone of his new Christian order that he argued it was essential for Christian society to thrive on earth. So, if the Roman empire fell...? Hmm. Perhaps it's for the best that Orosius never lived long enough to see a barbarian king on the Roman throne and the dissolution of his beloved empire into little states run by Franks and Vandals. He'd have thought the world had gone to hell in a hand-basket.

So, I was morbidly interested to discover that the Manhattan Declaration invokes the same event, the presumed fall of Rome, in its Preamble:
After the barbarian tribes overran Europe, Christian monasteries preserved not only the Bible but also the literature and art of Western culture.
What's funny so about this is that it isn't really true.  Barbarian "tribes" didn't exactly "overrun" Europe; except for the Huns, a large part of them were already there, and the Romans pushed into them first.  And, a huge portion of the Burgundians, Franks and Goths were Roman federates, soldiers, or-- depending on whose articles you read-- Roman citizens.  The earliest copy of a non-Latin vernacular Bible is in Gothic.  And, in just a couple of generations those monasteries they mention are stocked with so-called "barbarians" copying out the Bible themselves, completely unaware they almost destroyed Western Civilization.  These barbarian invasions are mostly just a story we use to buttress our feelings of pride in our Christian heritage, and one the Manhattan Declaration invokes without question.  There are a couple of other ideas they invoke without question, too-- things that make them pull an Orosius and distort their argument to make it support a bad premise. 
Corner of Gay and Union
Specifically, Orosius made the Roman empire more important to the continuance of Christian social order than it really was.   I think that's my main problem with the Manhattan Declaration, too: they're trying to build the backbone of the social order on things never meant to bear that kind of weight-- and that thing is marriage.  They think that the continuance of a sound social order rises or falls on the definition of what a marriage actually is. 

So, that's where I'm going to spend some time today: what's the real center of society, as envisioned by the Bible?  Where's the place of marriage?  And what happens when hetero sex gets fetishized to the point of absurdity?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hunter of Justice talks about TLP: 10 years later

Hunter of Justice is a blog run by Nan Hunter, a professor at Georgetown Law which focuses on issues of human rights and equality, and it's a great read.  She focuses especially on issues of gender and sexuality.  You can visit "Hunter of Justice" here and check up on some current posts if you like.  

Nan Hunter had a guest writer give a writeup on the Ten Years Later performance. and you can access the article on 10 Years Later here.  It has some great observations about the play!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Well, just... darn.

Every once in awhile when I'm wandering on "teh Internets" I run across something that just makes me burst out laughing so loud that it makes my husband jerk his head up from whatever statistics work he's doing and give me that "are you nuts?!" look.  Well, the other night was one of those nights as I wandered through a site with a bit of Internet potpourri on it.

What got my attention, you might ask? This, actually:

It took just a second or two to track down the original website, which is full of really, really bad English translations from around the globe.  I don't even know where to start. But if this is what other countries think about where I'm from...  maybe we better start up an exchange program to clear the air, perhaps?  

Hope you enjoy it! 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Uncivil Unions: Why This Jesus-Lover Didn't Sign the Manhattan Declaration

A few months ago I was part of a Veritas planning team to bring in a speaker to our campus.  (If you haven't heard of Veritas, it's a great Christian scholastic organization.)  We brought in a eminent early Christianity scholar to talk with one of our religious studies professors about the creation of the idea of the "heretic" in Late Antiquity.  He was a wonderful speaker.  We also asked him to speak to Christian students about being a Christian academic and how to balance the two.   This speaker, whom I helped bring to campus and whom I genuinely like as a human being, humanitarian and scholar, announced to a room of my colleagues that some moral issues are universally recognized as critical to the Church, like abortion and gay marriage, and that he had therefore signed the Manhattan Declaration as a result.  He implicitly suggested that we as good Christians and role models should do the same.  I flinched. 

The truth is, even though I'm an evangelical Christian for the most part (I do have some liturgical tendencies), I'm no real fan of The Manhattan Declaration.   If you haven't heard of it, this is a religious manifesto created, in their own words, "in defense of the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty. It issues a clarion call to Christians to adhere firmly to their convictions in these three areas."  I was originally interested in it because this is the first time in a while that I've seen Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist and Charismatic Christians of every stripe actually agree on something. 

Normally, I'm a huge fan of such ecumenical movements because 1) I don't believe in divisions in the body of Christ and 2) I spent six years in a denomination where the lion's share of its members doubted whether any the other denominations were actually Christians.  But this brand of ecumenism... well, I'm not sure I like this one.  On the one hand, I am a firm pro-lifer (with reservations about approach) and I'm a huge proponent of religious freedom for all faiths.

But then there's that third tenet: the "defense of traditional marriage."  As you all doubtlessly know, I find myself stuck between the two main communities on this one.  On the one hand, I am a straight evangelical.  I know what the traditional interpretations of Scripture says on this one, and that's something I'm still struggling to understand for myself, and the more I do, the more I find myself on the other side of the issue from my compatriots.  On the other hand, I know intimately the degree to which the Christian moral conviction against sexual sin is really a veil over a deep-rooted homophobia.  I've seen it.  That's why I'm actively participating in our local LGBTA and trying to get my co-religionists to realize that they have a moral obligation to reach out to the LGBT community with love, compassion, and acceptance no differently than we're supposed to be doing to the rest of the world.  And I firmly believe that the church as a whole needs to reach out to the gay community to ask for forgiveness for our sins against them.  The most horrible "coming out" stories I've heard nearly always come from the most zealous Christian families and congregations.

Secondly, I don't like the entire premise of their argument, their reason for drafting the declaration, and the assumptions it makes.   It's based upon a premise that I simply can't accept, Biblically speaking, and one that has been bothering me for quite a while now, long before I'd heard of the Declaration. Besides,  I think it odd that Christians who can't even always agree on the first seven councils of the Church can all agree that gay people shouldn't get married.  So, we can't even agree on the procession of the Holy Spirit or the nature of the Trinity, but we can all agree that we don't like gay couples?!  There seems to be a strange disconnect here with the Manhattan Declaration and the relationship between God and society they create, so that's what I want to spend some time thinking about for a few posts as I work on some more material for TLP.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Aaron McKinney's Tattoos, or the Ethics of Reading Humans as Literature

One thing that I've been wondering about is how little literary criticism has been written on The Laramie Project so far.  When I started thinking about the play, my initial impulse was to write an academic article.   (I've changed my mind since then.)   But when I started to pull together scholarly sources to start my research, I found that there wasn't too much to build from.  I started to wonder: why I can I find so few literary scholars writing about this play?  

For instance, when I did a search in the MLA Bibliography for The Laramie Project, I only got eight hits; six were articles of literary criticism, and one of those is Tigner's.  I tried the International Index to Performance Arts and netted another 4-5 scholarly articles, but they're mostly about documentary/nonfiction performance rather than the play as text.  That seems really strange for a play that has been as popular and culturally important for the last eight years as TLP has.  Just for comparison, Shaffer's play Amadeus had nineteen articles written and indexed in MLAB by 1988.  Why haven't all those gape-mouthed literary professors who teach this text (of whom I suppose I am one) been writing about it? Why are pens so silent in my own professional field? 

Maybe others aren't writing on this text as a literary object for the same reason that I'm a little reticent about writing on this text in an academic forum myself.  I don't like treating actual, living human beings as abstractions (which was probably clear with one of my previous posts).  It's one thing to talk about "Mozart" and "Salieri" as characters because, even though these people are real, the play itself is a total fiction.  I can even do it with Spiegelman's Maus because the conscious meta-narrative and the fictive animal story insulates the reader enough from the unspeakable horror of Vladek Spiegelman's lived reality to give him a more critical eye.  I have a much harder time doing the same thing with a person in The Laramie Project, especially when it's somebody I took classes from or saw in church.

Maybe other critics have the same hangups.  For instance, there are only 36 articles in MLAB for In Cold Blood, and they mostly seem to be focusing on genre or journalistic concerns  rather than treating it as a literary work.  Maybe we're all running into the same question: what are the ethics of reading a documentary work or "faction" (fact-based fiction) as a literary event?  Is it ethical to treat a real, live human as a symbolic construction, whether it be the Clutters, Gary Gilmore, or Russell Henderson?  Do you lessen the gravity of the situation if you talk about Aaron McKinney's failures from a literary, rather than a historical or cultural standpoint?

Or, to put it from a more practical standpoint: am I doing a disservice to Aaron McKinney (and, by extension, Matt Shepard) as a human being if I treat him like a literary construction?