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!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

We Do Things Differ'nt Out Here...

One thing I constantly have to remind myself when I come home is that the Rockies run on a different set of rules from everything else.  The pace of life is different, for one.  In the winter, the tempo of existence depends completely on the weather, so one makes plans and travels over several days.  When the snow started here last night, everything ground to a slow halt, and we sit with friends and drink coffee and "bullshit" each other, as my mother Goose might say.  When the roads melt off and all are ploughed, the pace of life will quicken back up to a regular, but still lazy pace. Those differences stand out more and more every Christmas I go back and try to pick up the rhythms again.  

For instance, my parents and I headed out to the grocery store, but they stopped by the old A&W to grab a cup of coffee first.  A bunch of people that my Papa Fox knows all meet for coffee twice a day-- 9AM and 3 PM-- and they come religiously.  We piled out of the car in the parking lot, and my father left the car unlocked and running while we sat.  Mama Goose introduced me to one of her friends and her son.  The server brought out the coffee pot and filled us all up.  My  mother pulled out a twenty to pay for the coffee and promptly got the stinkeye. 

"I'm ignoring you,"  the server said to my mother. 
"What, my money's not good enough for you?"  Mama Goose asked with a grin.  The server sniffed at it. 
"Stinks," she answered.  My mom scoffed and put her money back.  So, we all got free coffee as we talked, and that restaurant owner got to show her unusual brand of appreciation to her regular customers and loyal friends.  The small business owners don't always focus on the bottom line, it seems; things run different out here. 
Also, did you know that not every person in this country has to get searched to get on a passenger plane?   Not to mention carriers or locations, but when we brought my grandfather in late at night to board his flight back to Montana, the TSA agent had already been sent home and the only passenger coming in for hours was old Grampa Wolf.  The agent for the flight took and scanned his bags, walked him by hand to the gate, and took him through a side door out to the plane, no pat downs or anything.  We gave him a hug right in front of the only gate in the airport, and out he went, without ever entering the secure boarding area first.  

I'm sure that there's someone out there who'd freak out at the thought of an unsearched person boarding a plane, but around here it makes a lot of sense.  They were picking up a single traveler, an 87 year-old man who caught the very last flight out.  The plane had no connections to anywhere else and only twelve minutes to get back in the air.  There might be two TSA agents in the county, so why keep them there for another three hours to search one person with no carry-on bags?  He was in no danger of entering the larger flight system, and once his ID was verified and his bags checked, there was no reason to make an old man with bad balance and Padgett's disease completely undress for a hand search.  We just do things different here.

So, why such a nonchalant way of relating to others?  I suppose what really makes things different is that there are no strangers...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

This is how Wyoming field trips happen.

Well, after a brown Christmas, I finally made it to my parents' house in Wyoming a few days ago from Casper.  My grandpa Wolf was down here for a few days, and we drove to a town with an airport to fly him back home to Montana.  After the flight took off, however, the airport decided that the runway was too slick to land a plane on, and so my 87 year-old, crotchety, snappish, OCD grandfather had to spend the night with four other passengers in Billings, MT. 

So, now it's the next day, and northern Montana is supposed to get slammed with all our late Christmas snow by 3 PM.  So, with the blizzard bearing down upon them, the airline tried to sneak them all back into Lewistown before the snow hit.  They packed my old Grampa Wolf up onto a plane, circled the Fergus County airport five and a half times, and had to turn back.  Only, now Billings is too nasty to land, so he's been diverted.  To Sheridan, Wyoming.  In the northeastern corner of the state.

Oh, la.  So, my mother's hair is standing on end, and Papa Fox and I are debating whether or not it's worth tromping through Ten Sleep Canyon to try and snatch him up before the snow heads south.  Either way, we'll be driving through snowstorm by six o'clock.

At the moment, it looks like Papa Fox and Jackrabbit will be headed out to outrun the storm, so wish us luck!  I've wanted to see the Bighorn Mountains for quite a long time-- but I just didn't want to see it with four inches of snow on the ground...

Well, just as we were about to head out the door and scream down the road towards Sheridan, my mother finds out that the airplane isn't staying in Sheridan.  It's heading back to Billings, where they couldn't land before but now they can, and they had a 20-minute window to get him home.

Naturally, they missed the window of clear weather.  That means that, after a full day of travel to three different destinations in two states, Grampa Wolf is back in Billings, at the same hotel he had left that morning.  Outside my window, the snow falls in thick, thick cushions over everything in sight.

Grab the hot cocoa and kick back, Grampa.  I don't think you (or any of us) are going anywhere soon...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas from Jackrabbit

Okay, so it's time for a cessation in all this Festivus angst and spread a little more holiday cheer.  Since I haven't really had much of a chance to take some good, wintery photos yet while I'm back in Wyoming, I culled some of my best of the previous year for you.  So, wrap up, grab some hot chocolate, and enjoy the winter chill compliments of Jackrabbit.

To give credit where credit's due, these pictures are a mixture of shots taken both by me and my talented niece Kestrel.  She's really quite remarkable.  For a hint, most of the really good ones are hers. 

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and be blessed, y'all. Love is born this season.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Airing of Grievances, Charge 2

Being the First Part, 
Regarding the Straw and the Plank

A couple of years ago, my Ph. D program requirements led me to take a class on composition and ethnography with our program director.  Part of the requirements of the class was to do a short qualitative analysis on some kind of literacy topic, and if there's one thing I've figured out from going through the rigmarole of IRB supervision and preparing for a qualitative study, it's that you should always distrust the self.

 That may sound paranoid, but it makes a lot of sense for a discipline that requires the researcher to observe and interact with people or cultures.  If you are an outsider, you might have different values or ways of understanding that hamper your ability to understand what's valuable or important in the culture you study.  You might not know what to look for beneath the surface.  If you grew up with the people or cultures you're studying, however, sometimes that can give you blind spots or make you reluctant to draw negative conclusions.  Both of these possibilities require the researcher to stop, look at their own motives and cultural values, and understand that those worldviews or personal experiences will color their observations. 

Hell, let's be honest-- the first nine months of this blog were basically just a really, really long bracketing interview to hash out my motives for studying this play.   The last thing I can do is just assume that I've got it all figured out and that I'm completely on the clear because I never am.   I always have motives.   I always have to accept that objectivity is impossible for me due to my personal connection to the play and events, and the best I can do is to mistrust my own conclusions and force myself to look at all the angles.  And I will still screw up.  
And so, how does this apply to Tectonic Theater?  Some of them (like Stephen Belber) show themselves to be pretty ambivalent and angsty about this process, and boy, do I appreciate that; it means they're concerned about their relationship to their interviewees.  Nevertheless, I think that, as a company, sometimes they believe in their mission so much that they just know what they're doing is the right thing.  That's where maybe they slipped up a little when it came to giving a full, well-rounded portrayal of Laramie: they immediately saw the right answer and ran with it. 

And so, I would like to proceed to the second charge in the Airing of Grievances, which is related to the first:

2.  Failure to Maintain Self-Loathing

Okay, so that's a little harsh, but "Failure to Maintain Self-Referentiality" or "Failure to Bracket" just sounded too academic.  Basically, I'm just saying that maybe they believed in their mission a little too much or didn't stay suspicious enough of their own motives to question if they were getting too focused on the wrong thing.  So, here we go, and let's see what we find-- just remember, ladies and gents, to keep a healthy self-doubt about your view of western culture and Tectonic's motives, too! 

*          *            *

Monday, December 20, 2010

Life among the prairie parishes: Time reports

When my grandmother was born in Garniell, Montana during the Depression, she lived on a farm; the nearest actual town was Judith Gap, in the middle of the Montana breadbasket, and the nearest church was therefore about ten miles away. Her family had a choice of driving to Moore and be a Catholic or Methodist or go to the Gap... and be Catholic or Methodist. The nearest town with any other denominations were all the way in Lewistown.  My grandfather grew up on the other side of the Gap in a staunch Lutheran family.  I think they went to the Methodist church. 

These tiny parish churches and prairie chapels were sometimes a county apart and had only a handful of families in attendance.  Now, their numbers are shrinking as those families commute for services or stop going altogether.

Time ran this interesting short piece about the traveling pastors who serve these tiny farming communities in Minnesota. Apparently Blogger isn't fond of flash videos, but this displays remarkably well in full-screen if you choose.  In any case, the plight of these pastors is very similar to what we see in Montana and Wyoming as well...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Good Riddance, DADT...

National Equality March_038
Photography by Jason Pier, at:
Well, it's finally happened-- and not via the courts as I expected.  After a wacky year of bizarre surveys, court decisions and President O seemingly backing off on his campaign promises, and John McCain having a conniption fit, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" might finally become legislative history.  CNN is reporting that the Senate voted by a margin of nearly two to one to end the military policy.  Although it rather shames me to know that the bill would have failed after the lame duck session was over, I am quite grateful to the eight Republicans in the Senate and the fifteen in the US House who voted for it.

Was this a "Hail Mary pass" like the Washington Post said?  Sure it was.  The bill is less than two weeks old.  Does the bill contain some compromises?  Yes.  But, when the smoke cleared, the decision that most people could see was the right conclusion happened.   

What I find especially interesting, however, is how the news sites are covering the vote.  For two examples, you can see CNN and Fox News' coverage at the two links above.  I especially like how each of them frames the names of the eight Republican senators who voted for the measure. 

I'm sad about the DREAM Act and that Republicans are too worried about the "message" the bill sends to make a humanitarian gesture to kids who didn't have any choice over coming to the States legally.  But, hey, I'll take progress where I can get it!

Oh, and I'm typing this post less than ten feet from my in-laws, who very much don't support the repeal.  Especially my ex-Marine father-in-law, who means well but can only compare Marine culture to his own experience in the sixties and seventies.  I don't think he understands how much of a non-issue this is for my generation and younger.  Yay, fun!

PHOTO CREDIT:  Jason Pier, who provided this photo via a Creative Commons License.  You can see his entire Flickr photostream here.  

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Remember to always drink responsibly, boys and girls...

Most of the time, I really love living in the South-- well, at least this part of the South.  But every once in a while I see something that just sets my rage a-flaming.  You know, like this:

So I go to pick up my prescriptions this afternoon, and this is what I run into-- a freaking drugstore serving forties and ping pong balls together in the same cooler.  It wasn't like it was just the one spot, either-- every other door had a hanging display of em'.  Nothing says encouraging responsible alcohol use on my party campus and the high school three blocks down the street quite like one-stop shopping for all your beer pong needs.

You can't blame this on just this CVS, however.  The drugstore three blocks down the road is a Wallgreen's, and they do the same thing.  Ladies and gentlemen, I don't want to say that this is the reason for the alcohol abuse culture I see with my students...  but it sure ain't helping.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Links: Morning Has Broken- Una Vita Spezzata

Morning has broken . Una vita spezzata
Well, it seems as if my Flickr ticker on the blog has yielded another loose Laramie narrative running free, this time in Italy.  The photo you see here (and which showed up on my blog a couple weeks ago) is from a concept performance called Moring Has Broken- Una Vita Spezzata, which debuted in Firenze, Italy back in November around the same time that we were having Thanksgiving back stateside.  The performing company described it as a "reportage" moments and excerpts from both The Laramie Project and Judy Shepard's book The Meaning of Matthew

As you can see from the photo at left, the staging is extremely minimalistic, it focuses on the abstract, and...  well, it's in Italian.  (If my Latin doesn't fail me, that sign says "The shining lights of Laramie.)  Unfortunately, I can't find any information about the content or staging of the performance, so I can't really speculate about the content.  I'm fairly intrigued, however, by the idea.  By calling this a "reportage" they claim to be relaying news in an abstract sense, but their main texts are a memoir and a play.  So, if anything, it's a reportage of first-hand accounts, creatively rethought.  I wish I could find a little video clip of this, but there's nothing up on that, either.

There are, however, some nice stills of the performance if you want to get a sense of it.  You can view most of the set on a Flickr Photostream here, including a poster for the event, but if you're the sort that prefers your Internet searching to have a soundtrack, someone involved with the production set them up as a slide show with some old school Cat Stevens as a YouTube video

And, there is contact information via a Facebook event if you'd like more information here (and have better Italian skills than I do.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Airing of Grievances, Charge 1

As it turns out, my brother Coyote, who still lives in Laramie, also has an angsty relationship with The Laramie Project. I had already sort of known this, of course; both he and my sister were living in Laramie back in 1998, too, and back in my "I hate this freaking play" phase in the Deep South, he and I had a few conversations about that.

But until this summer, I thought that his complaints just stemmed from his own personal knowledge of the incident.  Coyote, you see, knew both of the killers and Matt Shepard through various channels even though he didn't have any kind of deep relationship with any of them.  He was much better friends with "Sascha" and several other members of the LGBTA on campus.  And, since our conversations had mostly revolved around that social set, I had always thought that his main gripe against the play was just the "accuracy" issue. 
As it turns out, though, I was wrong; his dislike was more complicated than I had given him credit for.  Over dinner one night at a fancy bar and grill (where I was buying him his obligatory steak dinner), Coyote told me that he had watched the HBO version of the play and had some extremely pointed comments about its message.  He said he didn't like what the HBO version had to say about what Laramie was like as a community, and he didn't think that the message had any balance.  He was also surprised that I didn't completely disagree with him.  "On the whole, though, don't you think this play has done some good nationwide?" I asked him.   "I mean, people are actually willing to talk about issues like this now..." 
"Well, sure, yeah," Coyote said.  "I can totally see where this play has done a lot of good.  But, come on, Jackrabbit-- why did we have to be the ones to pay for it?" 

"So, you mean you feel like telling Laramie's story comes at a cost?"  I asked him.  
"Hell yeah," He answered through a mouthful of steak.  "This sort of thing happens all over the country, but I don't see any of them having to relive this story every time somebody puts on a play."  He waved his fork at me for emphasis.  "We can't escape it.  We can't even answer back to it.  How fair is that?"   
I couldn't keep my jaw off of the floor when he said that.  I had sort of been wondering the same thing for months: does the simple fact of telling Matt's story in the context of this community cause social damage?  Like Coyote, I know the kind of social good this play has engendered on the macro scale; but I also wonder, like him, what kind of unintended cost the microcosm of Laramie has had to absorb as a result.

And so, I hereby must proceed to the airing of my first grievance in this Festivus season:  

1.Contributing to the Delinquency of Narrative

Or, I could call it "Transporting an Underage Story Across State Lines," I suppose.  The point is this: in disseminating this story, Tectonic has left many in Laramie feeling like they have no control over their own identities, leaving some people to feel vulnerable or exposed, a point I've discussed before.  That may not necessarily be a bad thing, but let's work out the details to see where it leads...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Laramie in Pictures: Vedauwoo and Ames Monument

Where have all the railroads gone?
asks the Ames monument...
If you follow I-80 to the east of Laramie towards Cheyenne for about twenty miles, one will see two extremely odd sights on either side of the highway. To the left is Vedauwoo, and to the right, the enigmatic Ames Monument-- neither of which seem to quite fit into the prairie landscape that normally defines Laramie's spaces.

Vedauwoo is one of my favorite places because of its strange geologic architecture. The bright pink granite that makes up most of the range between Cheyenne and Laramie is stacked up in these massive, huge boulders which attract rock climbers from all over the nation. It's a popular camping, recreation, and picnic spot for the UW students.  In the dusk, the landscape looks almost mystical. 

Ames Monument is a stranger, more enigmatic spot. A three minutes' ride down a rose-colored gravel road and through a horse pasture will lead you to a massive pyramid built out in the middle of nowhere, a monument to the wealth and influence of the Union Pacific Railroad financiers Oakes and Oliver Ames (two brothers, and rather shady figures.) Oakes was eventually censured by Congress for fraud and died in disgrace. 

The monument to Oakes and Oliver Ames was built to mark the highest point of the UP transcontinental railroad lines, which were then promptly moved elsewhere; the monument therefore now stands alone, marking the point of an amazing accomplishment now tarnished by corruption and diminished by the Interstate system.   For decades it has sat undisturbed near an abandoned town, but there are signs of development nearby now-- a possible high-end subdivision, it looks like.  (blech.) It seems like no patch of land is safe from breaking out in residential, picket-fenced pimples anymore.

Anyhow, here are a few pictures I took (and a couple I didn't) of these two strange, mythical spots on the edge of the Laramie landscape! 


The weather erodes the pink Sherman granite into the most strange shapes, as seen here.
I wanted to show you the larger stuff, but I didn't have time to venture far into the park.  So, here are two pictures from Flickr to give you the feel:

Vedauwoo Climbers
Photo by Coulter Sunderman, via Flickr. I'm jealous...

Sunset Falling on Vedauwoo
This one's also by Coulter Sunderman, from Flickr.  This might be my favorite photo I've seen. 


As with a lot of public lands, the areas outside Vedauwoo are often rented for pasture. Here's a trio of Angus bullocks who came to check me out as I drove to the entrance...

And here are two views of the Ames monument for you:  


This one comes from Lord the air smells good today's Flickr photostream.
(I just love that name.) 

I'd like to give a special shout out to both Coulter Sunderman and Lord the Air Smells Good Today for sharing their photos via Creative Commons. Thanks!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Oh, Manhattan Declaration, you unruly thing...

Good grief, Steve Jobs, do not make me have to stick up for the freaking Manhattan Declaration...

Okay, so CNN's Belief blog is reporting that Apple had removed the Manhattan Declaration's app for iPhone from their app store, citing complaints about the offensiveness of the content.  (Well, gee, I never would have seen that one coming.)  The main issue, it seems, is a quiz you can have your friends take to show your Manhattan awesomeness or something by asking if you're against gay marriage and whatnot. 

Supporters of the Manhattan Declaration, naturally, are pitching a fit. Oh, and they've also started a petition, as it turns out.   Right now it's only got about 40,000 signers, so it might go somewhere.

Okay, so on a serious note, I really don't like this due to the issues of free religious speech surrounding it.  Sure, I don't care for the Manhattan declaration one bit.  (you can see me rant about it even more here and here.)  But this is dealing with speech specifically protected by the Constitution.  Besides, the App store has tons of religious apps, from a compass that will help me determine the direction of Mecca to Ba'hai commentaries to a complete Catholic liturgy I can run on my iPod (I almost bought that, actually.)   Some of the apps I see in this category I find just as annoying as the Manhattan Declaration.  So, why single out an app that's specifically designed to be a free declaration of a person's beliefs about their faith and its intersections with culture?  (Well, it's a squeaky wheel issue, of course.  That's a rhetorical question I guess.)

Apple Inc. has never really shown itself to be a huge proponent of free speech-- rather, they are usually more proponents of huge profits, and in order to do that, they tend not to stir the muck.  Sure, I didn't complain too much when they discontinued the "Wobble" app and limited other sexually explicit content.  But then again, there wasn't such a clear component of protected speech about that one, either.  Apple reserves the right to oust content they determine to be "widely offensive," but, come on-- stating one's moral opposition is not inherently offensive.  And I'm even saying that as a strong opponent of the MD who has read the thing. 

And so, I find myself in a strange position now.  I'm all for free speech.  I'm especially for free religious expression, whether I like what others have to say or not.  On the one hand, Apple is a private corporation and they have the right to police content.  On the other hand, they are the only way to get apps onto an iPhone.  Their decision to discontinue, then, really moves into the realm of digital censorship at that point, and in my mind, that's where things get sticky. 

So, based on my personal beliefs... do I really have to stick up for the Manhattan Declaration??!?  Blech.  I'd feel like such a hypocrite...

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Airing of Grievances

Ah, Festivus.

To be honest, my family was acquainted with its own version of that holiday long before Seinfeld ran with it on their sitcom, but in my family we called it by traditional names like "Thanksgiving" or "Christmas."  In my family, holidays have never been a source of joy and conviviality, but rather, something much more closely akin to what George Costanza's father had in mind, with feats of strength and the all-important airing of grievances.

The Jackrabbit family has always rigorously observed the Airing of Grievances at holiday gatherings and (for some reason peculiar to us) especially Thanksgiving.  There's something about the tryptophan in turkey and the close proximity to each other that makes my relatives feel like it's a good time to explain to each other exactly how we're screwing up each others' lives.  This has always made for a lively Thanksgiving: food, festivity, and, after a few beers and a bottle or two of wine, fireworks.

At this point, The Laramie Project feels like family, too, but more in that Married with Children sense of "family" than The Waltons, which is fine with me; my real family is more like Married with Children anyhow.  My relationship to the play is a little dysfunctional, a little codependent, and definitely just a tad hostile; conversely, if anybody else bashes them, I get righteously pissed.  In my family, that means you love each other, so... I guess that means I love Tectonic Theater.  Welcome to the family, guys.  Pull up a chair and pass the gravy. 

After blogging on The Laramie Project for so many months now, I feel like I'm finally able to tease out some of the knotty spots regarding my relationship to this play.  I can now say truthfully (and with much relief) that I don't hate this play or Tectonic Theater.   I can also say that my ambivalence for the play has stemmed from a lot of issues, not because Tectonic Theater did something wrong, but usually because they did so many things right.  The play makes me angsty and hostile because it seriously challenges my identity in ways I don't always think are fair, but are nevertheless important for social growth.  In some ways, my relationship is a lot like a hostile teenager to a confrontational mentor:  I'll grow up and develop into an ethical citizen working for a just society because of you, but I'm still going to resent it. So there. Nyah. 

I've been spending a lot of time talking about the social good that this play can do, like in my one-and-only academic conference paper on The Laramie Project.  And, except for  couple notable exceptions, every time that I think that I've had a genuine complaint against what Tectonic Theater had done, I eventually realize that I haven't considered things completely and that I don't really have a complaint after all.  Up to this point, I could point to complications, but not genuine problems once I understood the nuance of the situation, so all I had left was sunshine and rainbows. 

Well, I suppose until now, that is.  There are a few nagging questions I've had running around in my head for at least five months, and I think it's about time I address them now.  I've long since raised my blogosphere Festivus pole.  It's time, now that I've had my Feats of Strength sparring with this play and gotten this dysfunctional family around the proverbial dinner table, that we must finally have the Airing of Grievances. 
In a way, I feel like coming to this point represents a genuine breakthrough with my relationship with The Laramie Project because I can appreciate it for both its strengths and weaknesses without feeling that they define who I am, too.  I can also approach it with some critical distance while appreciating all the good they've done.

The play has created amazing moments of social reform because of its unpredictable power-- but that unrestrained power has caused a lot of damage, too.  It's like getting radiation therapy: Tectonic Theater identified a terrible social cancer and started attacking it, but they also damaged the surrounding tissues in the process, agitated the body as a whole.  And in a real sense, you have to take the bad with the good; you can't stop showing The Laramie Project because of the unpredictable consequences.  Yet, you still have to recognize that those problems are there, and that their effects are very real.  I feel we need to have an airing of grievances so that we can realize what is truly at stake with social theater as radical and powerful as The Laramie Project.  If you're trying to be an earthquake like Tectonic Theater and you shake things up...  well, you have to take responsibility for the cracks in the foundations afterward, for the broken earth and shattered windows. 

So that's my plan with my next several posts: I am going to be extremely honest about individual areas where I feel like Tectonic has caused a little unintentional social damage or maybe misunderstood their role in the process of bringing Laramie's story into the spotlight.  Some of these grievances will be fair, and maybe others won't.  Mostly, I want to be extremely honest about what the consequences of those problems might be-- not so that I can judge the play for the damage, but so that we can have a fuller idea of the power and potential of social theater to enact change, be it life-changing in a positive or a catastrophic way.

So:  Let the Airing of Grievances begin!


1)  A Festivus card, from "teh Internets."  I've seen this in a lot of places and don't know who to attribute.  If it's yours, feel free to let me know and I'll attribute you!

2) Earthquake damage in Seattle, 1949, from the Seattle Municipal Archives on Flickr. Available under a Creative Commons License.