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, November 29, 2011

Just... two more days...

And I will be a functioning member of blogging society again.  Hooray!

In the meantime, I am well on my way to finishing the prospectus, and will be back with you shortly.

How's the writing going, you may ask?  Kind of like this:

On the other side of the coin, it's getting done. And that's the important part!


PS:  In case you were wondering, the other "Jackrabbit" gave her dissertation defense yesterday, and I am excited to report that she is now officially "Dr. Jackrabbit."  I couldn't be prouder of her.  Way to go, my friend!  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Six Things my LGBTA Taught me About the Gospel, part 2

Return of the Prodigal Son
I spent a couple hours last month experiencing something absolutely incredible: I was given the opportunity to talk with a loving Christian woman who struggles with the fact that her adult daughter came out as a lesbian two years ago.  She had initially reacted badly to her daughter's confession, and for a time their relationship was shattered.

It took a lot of forgiveness on both sides, but they are on speaking terms now.  However, their relationship had stalled.  She had so many questions about what her daughter was going through, but she needed an interpreter to translate the Christian perspective through LGBT eyes and back again to show her why her overtures for a deeper reconciliation were getting rebuffed.

As we began speaking, I told her about Matt Shepard's death and James' suicide, and what that had taught me. Then I told her about all the wonderful things I was learning from the LGBT community, and I saw such a transformation in her body language as she moved from frustration and loss to real empathy.  For me, seeing that woman's love for her daughter break out unfettered by her suspicion of and frustration with the gay "lifestyle" was absolutely humbling. 

We had scheduled for a one-hour conversation at a local college ministry, but three hours later we left with a hug and a promise to check in with each other again.   She said she felt ready to pray for the well-being and safety of the entire LGBT community and to take a stand against hate in her church.  And, she said with some trepidation, she might even get the courage to meet her daughter's partner and be civil-- but she's not quite ready for that yet.  She still needs a little more forgiveness and time, as we all do, but I feel confident that their relationship is on the mend.  

So, as I finish out my list of lessons I have learned from the LGBT community, I wanted to end with the different perspective that the LGBT community has regarding my faith community, in the hopes of showing why so many well-intentioned evangelicals stumble around on two left feet when interacting with the LGBT community. And so, without further ado...

 4.  If we're all supposed to die to the self, then why do I have to go first?  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stop the ride, I wanna get off...

I love you Dr. L, I really do, but I feel like I'm arguing in circles with a congested, fatalistic turtle called "Prospectus."
Any pointers?

 So, I have a doppelganger in the English Department here who is also named "Jackrabbit" and is a year or two ahead of me in the PhD program.  When I passed my last exam, I was literally skipping down the hall when I ran into her at a desk in our computer lounge.

"Congrats on passing your specialized exam," she told me.   

"Thanks!  It feels so good to be ABD (all but dissertation)!"  I chirped.  "It's all downhill from here!"  She shifted her baggy, exhausted eyes from the disorganized pile of her chapter revisions on her desk to me with baggy, sleep-deprived eyes full of pity. 

"Jackrabbit, I love you and all, but don't you realize?"  She begged.  "You're done with the easy part.  The hard part is just starting.  This stupid dissertation is going to put me in my grave."  And thus, having completely deflated my naive, cheerful buoyancy, she turned back to her revisions with a groan.

"Oh," I answered.

 It only took a month to get to the same point that my friend the other "Jackrabbit" already was at.  I am officially done with the emotional toll of graduate school, and I haven't even finished my stupid prospectus yet.  I'm all for calling it "good enough" and rolling on with the rest of my life. 

Wipe that grin off your face and help me with a thesis
statement already, Falcor.  I'm desperate.
Unfortunately, my dissertation committee, like a certain stodgy turtle from an old movie from my childhood, has other plans.   One of those plans involves another three semesters in school and a grinding, hopeless weight that's pulling me underneath like Atreyu's horse in the Swamps of Sadness, and I'm still waiting to get pulled from the muck by the sudden arrival inspiration with big wings and floppy ears.  Stupid Luck Dragons-- never around until the last possible second.  I mean, look at that face; he's mocking me, I swear.

Some of my colleagues are a lot worse than me right now, however.  In the last month I've had three different PhD candidates crying on my shoulder in despair, and this afternoon I made a freshman burst into tears just by asking her about her paper topic.  To top it all off, yesterday I stepped on a roofing nail and drove the thing almost an inch into my foot, so I earned a visit to Student Health for a free tetanus shot.  Winter vacation in Wyoming absolutely can not come soon enough.   

What that means for blogging, however, is that I'm going to have to shift from regular posts and research on TLP temporarily to more of an ad-hoc basis.  Although, if I'm honest, that's been what I've been doing since April anyhow, so nothing will really change that much on everyone else's end.  It does mean, however, that I won't get near as much progress done on keeping up-to-date with everything as I would wish, but, hey, at least we'll keep rolling.  And, if anybody has a contribution they'd like to add, or advertise an upcoming "Project," or point me to something cool, I'll certainly have the time for that.

And so, do not despair, I am still fully committed to blogging!  I should have a few posts up over the next week and a half.  I find that blogging is a relaxing way to procrastinate from writing a dissertation proposal.  Just as long as Dr. L doesn't find out...  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Aaaaand I'm off!

I'm about to head out to the Maryville College production of The Laramie Project, and I think a few of my friends from the outreach center will be there as well. 

I'll let you know how it went sometime in the near future.  Wish me luck!

Scholarship: Social Impact of the Shepard Tragedy in Academia

If you're a literary person, you're probably like me and can't believe how few literary, scholarly articles there are actually out there on The Laramie Project.  If you widen your scope to documentary theater or work on Tectonic in general, the net gets wider, but few people in my field are tackling this play as a text or performance like any other drama.  The social and historical angles of the play, perhaps, are  taking precedent in the scholarly imagination.

On the flip side, though, that means that other disciplines are interested in Matthew Shepard and The Laramie Project as well-- and they're writing about it.  This past week I found some fun, interesting, and melancholy reflections across the disciplines.  I found doctors, psychologists, archaeologists pedagogy experts all reflecting on the tragedy and the play, and each of them sheds a little light on the social impact both Matt and Tectonic Theater had on America in the previous decade.  Here's a list and shot description of some of the most interesting I found.  Enjoy!

Blackburn, Mollie, and J. F. Buckley.  "Teaching Queer-Inclusive English Language Arts."  Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 49.3 (2005): 202-212. 

Charles, Casey.  "Panic in the Project: Critical Queer Studies and the Matthew Shepard Murder."  Law and Literature 18.2 (2006): 225-252.

Dunn, Thomas R.  "Remembering Matthew Shepard: Violence, Identity, and Queer Counterrepublic Memories."  Rhetoric and Public Affairs 13.4 (2010): 611-652. 

Hoffman, Scott W.  "'Last Night, I prayed to Matthew': Matthew Shepard, Homosexuality, and Popular Martyrdom in Contemporary America."  Religion and American Culture 21.1 (2011):121-164. 

Hurst, James C.  "The Matthew Shepard Tragedy: Management of a Crisis."  About Campus 4.3 (1999): 5-11. 

Noelle, Monique.  "The Ripple Effect of the Matthew Shepard Murder: Impact on the Assumptive Worlds of Members of the Targeted Group."  American Behavioral Scientist 46.1 (2002): 27-50.

Saewic,  E., and S. Marshall.  "Reducing Homophobia in High School: The Effects of The Laramie Project Plays and an Integrated Curriculum."  Journal of Adolescent Health 48.2 (2011): 111.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Upcoming "Projects": Maryville, TN, this weekend!

How did I not know about this sooner? 

The Laramie Project is returning to Appalachia!  A small college within driving distance of my home in Appalachia is doing a performance this weekend.  It will be a small affair, involving both college students and community members.  The director of the performance is interested in the ethics of performing real people: 

Dr. Heather McMahon, associate professor of theatre at Maryville College, said she selected the play for a variety of reasons.

“For one thing, the play is a challenge for actors, since all cast members will play a variety of roles,” McMahon said. “Each actor must differentiate the characters from one another so that the audience can see the townspeople of Laramie, Wyo., come to life. Because the play represents real people, there is an even greater responsibility to do justice to the characters.”

What makes this performance stand out to me is that Maryville College is a religiously-founded institution with Presbyterian roots, so their interpretation of events should be really interesting, I hope.  I'm really hoping I can make the trip to go see this this weekend with some of my friends.  It would make such a nice point of comparison for the Duke performance (of which I still need to talk about, I know.)

You can read up on the performance in the Knoxville News Sentinel here, or at the theater's website here

Location:  Clayton Center for the Arts, Maryville, TN

when:  Thu, Oct 6 thru Sun, Oct 9, 2011
where: Haslam Family Flex Theatre
time:   8:00 PM Thurs. through Saturday, 2:00 PM Sunday

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Matthew Shepard Effect

You often hear of the positive effects of Matthew Shepard's story on other people, but not a lot of people get on YouTube to explain that in a video. A friend of mine posted this on his webpage, and so I wanted to share it with you. 

YouTube vlogger Denactor created this post to give his reactions to-- and appreciation for-- how Matthew Shepard's death impacted his own life, starting at age twelve, to a closeted teen, and now to an outspoken gay adult.  It's an interesting trajectory to see in one guy's life. 

Such are the power of stories-- even the horrible ones, like Matt's murder-- for they teach us about who we are.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Six Things My LGBTA Taught Me about the Gospel, part 1

Knox Pridefest, 2011
Just because I love this motorcycle.

This post gets kind of preach-y at other Christians.   
Proceed with the Jesus talk at your own discretion.

So: this year marks the start of my third year with the LGBTA as the random, straight evangelical who hangs out with them at meetings.  Usually, when I talk to other Christians about why I'm there, they think that I'm walking among my gay brothers and sisters from some moral high ground and I'm giving them moral instruction.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  The fact is that they have taught me more about how to be a Christian than I think I ever did in my six years in the SBC.

It's not that I didn't learn a lot about God in the SBC; they supported me through my first years as a believer, and though their higher organization grieves me a lot, they still deserve some credit (or blame?) for making me who I am.  It's just that I learned more about this whole Gospel thing by walking with my gay friends than I ever did by running with the holy rollers.
 I have learned some great lessons from the wonderful people of my Appalachian chapter of the LGBTA, the outreach center on campus, and especially one specific professor, who is one of the coolest people on my campus and a good friend.  And so, let me share a few of those lessons with you.  So, if you're not of a particularly religious bent, feel free to skip this post, and I'll see you in a week or two.  Here we go!

1.  Jesus came to save the world from the religious.  So should we.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Head, meet desk. Repeat.

It seems that now is not an auspicious time for me to start TLP blogging again. A friend of mine sent me this link a little while ago, and while it's not in Appalachia, it's close enough to my home to make me queasy. So: now that it appears that pastors are using deacons as bouncers to rough up gay family members, what is the appropriate, Christian response? Anybody?

Naturally, it's a little early to know for sure what's going on, and the truth will come out in time. I just know of one pastor that needs to be booted from his church.

October's Aphorism of the Month, courtesy of Nothing Profound

So, it's October once again, and with it has come the first cold weather here in Appalachia, the changing of the leaves, and the end of our midterm cycle. 

For me, though, it's also a bittersweet month.  It makes me think of Laramie thirteen years ago.  It makes me homesick, and it makes me think of Matt.  With all this in mind, I picked this aphorism to guide the blog for this month, as always, courtesy of Aphorism of the Day

Leaves, while they live, hang together;
dying, they fall one by one.

Thanks again, Marty, for giving us something to ponder.  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I'm back!

With the conclusion of my final graduate exam just a short while ago, I am officially less busy than I've been recently. 

I also passed my oral exam!  I am officially ABD (all but dissertation,) and I have been declared competent enough in my field to write 200 pages of nonsense.  Something about Anglo-Saxon geographic and spiritual identity, or something. 

The bad news is that I now have to write a dissertation proposal in the next three weeks, so I'm not out of the woods yet.  But I do have time to reconnect with you all in TLP-cyberspace and start blogging again. 

So:  in order to start my return off with a "bang," I want to highlight an important new source for research on The Laramie Project for play productions and researchers, but this time it's not a what-- rather, she's a whom.  I'd like to introduce you all to Susan Burke, who started this past summer at the Shepard Foundation as their new Laramie Project Specialist.  Here's a little blurb from her profile on the Foundation's website:
Susan attended the Graduate Acting Program at the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago (now The Theatre School at DePaul), and has strong backgrounds in theatre, journalism and Matthew’s story. At the time of Matthew Shepard’s murder, his funeral, and the trials of his killers, she was the Executive Producer/Senior Anchor for the evening news at KTWO Television. Based in Casper, KTWO-TV was the statewide NBC affiliate, and it was Ms. Burk’s primary responsibility to arrange and implement coverage for all of these events, including community reaction and response. She produced a series on the making of The Laramie Project film that won the top news awards from both the Wyoming Associated Press and the Wyoming Association of Broadcasters that year. She is based in Casper, Wyo.
Wow: Susan is a woman of many talents who was also personally involved in Matthew Shepard's story.  Her job is to make intersect with the Laramie Project theatrical community and make your life easier.   And, plus, she's a wonder person to talk with.  She and I have communicated with each other a little bit by email and I have found her to be an engaging and upbeat person with a lot of great knowledge.  I would completely endorse her as a "must see" source for TLP for a wide range of questions. 

If you're interested, take a look here at the Shepard Foundation's website, and contact the organization for more information on the help which Susan Burke can provide. 

It's good to be back.  And it's even better to be back with a new supporter/research buddy to share the same adventure with! 


Friday, September 9, 2011

Upcoming "Projects": Camarillo, CA, 2012

The first director to take me up on posting comes from Camarillo, CA, where a new production of TLP is in its earliest stages.  Jolyn Johnson's production isn't until April 2012, but it sounds like a little help from the larger community would be useful:
I'm currently studying all I can about TLP and Laramie itself. I'm directing the show at Camarillo Skyway Playhouse and auditions are in January, but I wanted to get the word out early. Recently, I attended our county's PRIDE Festival to spread the news to the LGBT community. I called and spoke with a member of Tectonic Theater as well as contacting the Matthew Shepard Foundation for resources.
I still feel like I'm not quite there yet, that I haven't found the truth of Laramie. I want to know all about these people and this town, about the hard times and the hope. If anyone has information they could pass to me since I sadly lost my dramaturg, it would be greatly appreciated! Photos, stories of the *people*, anything to show my rather conservative community what really happened in Laramie. Our show goes up April 13-May 13, 2012. I'm excited and honored to be the director of TLP; I only hope that I can do it justice.
 Good luck moving forward, Jolyn, and I hope to hear about your progress as the play moves into full production. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Calling all Theater companies!

Oh, for the time to blog again! 

I ask you to forgive the long, long pause in the progress of "Down the Rabbit-Hole" recently.  Like most PhD students, at set times in my life cycle I tend to hibernate in dark, gloomy caves (read: libraries) and only come out for fresh air and coffee.  Now is one of those times. 

With only one comprehensive exam standing between me and the much-coveted "All But Dissertation" status, I have been hunched over the books for the last two months trying to cram as much random crud about medieval geography in my head as possible.  The process is much like trying to cram clowns into a Shriner's car, and just as messy. The exam is in about two weeks.  I ask for prayers for stamina now that I've been forced onto a caffeine-free diet. 

In the meantime, it pains me to see this blog lying fallow when I know that there are dozens of TLP productions getting started right this semester.  Right now dramaturges, directors, designers and actors are asking hard questions about how to stage this play, and why.  There are actors starting to feel the serious emotional demands of their roles.  Wouldn't you like a place to talk about it and to see how others are dealing with the same issues?

Since I don't have time to write until my Prospectus is done, I'd love to hear from others about their current and former TLP experiences from any part of the production process!  If nothing else, tell me about your production and I'll put up a post to advertise it.  If you want to bare your dramaturgical soul about how much you love Brecht's "Street Scene," I want to hear it. 

All interested parties can contact me at  and I'll be delighted to post them.  Take care, y'all!  Drink some coffee for me.   

September's Aphorism of the Month, courtesy of Nothing Profound

Although it comes a little late in the month (yet again), here is this month's aphorism to guide our musings, courtesy of Out of Context:

Thought should be less profound and more human.

Thanks once again for a great spot to start our musings for this month, Marty!

Friday, June 10, 2011

June's Aphorism of the Month

Although it comes a little late in the month this time, here is this month's aphorism to guide our musings, courtesy of Aphorism of the Day:
Ideas stand in the corner and laugh while we fight over them.

Thanks once again for a great spot to start our musings for this month, Marty! 

Radio Silence

So, as it's probably obvious to everybody, I sort of dropped off the planet for a little while after my second Durham trip, and the reason is health related.  For most people, summer brings thoughts of vacations, gardening, swimming pools and barbecuing; for me, however, it brings swollen joints, sinus problems and an irresistible desire to sleep all day.  I've spent the last few weeks in and out of doctor's offices getting things ready to start a new medicinal treatment, which so far has only given me some freaking surreal dreams and zero appetite.  I guess we'll see how I'm feeling sometime around September and go from there.   (Stupid malaria drugs.)     

In the meantime, a friend has dragged me out to tai chi classes to help stretch out the joint problems, which totally makes me feel like a fifty-something granola addict.  On the other hand, it works, so maybe I shouldn't poke fun at it anymore.  But I still feel feel like giggling whenever we get to "Back up To Ward Off Monkeys" our tai chi set. 

So, in the meantime I've been doing a lot of reading for my upcoming orals coming around sometime in September.  The good news is that my husband Badger will be graduating with his doctorate at the end of the summer, so one of us should be bringing in a decent income soon. 

The sad news, however, is that one of my colleagues who graduated with her PhD when I started in 2006 died suddenly this weekend in an accident.  She was a medievalist like me, and her family is from the northern part of North Dakota-- from "my people," so to speak, as my family also has strong ND ties.  Her name was Anita and the memorial is Sunday, so any prayers for her family would be appreciated. 

Well, as I type this, I'm avoiding reading Macrobius' Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, so I'll have to cut this short.  I'll be back again soon to start the series of commentaries I promised to make much earlier...


Sunday, May 8, 2011

May's Aphorism of the Month

In keeping with my new monthly posting ritual, I have chosen the following aphorism for the month of May:

Peace is in the house of the enemy where one has been forbidden to go.

As always, these little maxims of wisdom are courtesy of fellow Blogpost blogger Nothing Profound, from his most excellent Aphorism of the Day site.  If you like an unusual mix of both the whimsical and the deeply profound, you owe it to yourself to check out his daily bits of wisdom.  Thanks, Marty!


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Jackrabbit goes to Duke: the sequel!

This last Thursday and Friday I was back in Durham, NC to talk to the cast of Duke University's production of The Laramie Project, mostly to talk about the production and spend some time with whomever had the time to stop by and chat with me the Friday before finals began.  I had a couple of great conversations with four of the cast members, had an opportunity to explore a tiny bit of Duke's enormous campus, and even attend a get-together at Duke's LGBT resource center (which is a-MA-zing!!!) while I was there. Then, after I had to run, I ran to Trader Joe's for some groceries (and some Two-buck Chuck), promptly locked my keys and wallet in my trunk, and then had a nice, quiet time watching the sun set over a strip mall as I sat on the trunk of my car waiting for the locksmith to show up.  After a lazy drive back to my home in Appalachia, I slept till eleven the next day.

So, how was my trip overall?  Well, it was great, really.  

Now that I've had a chance to talk to actually run by some of my thoughts on the production past the cast and ask a few questions, I'm going to be writing a series of posts on my first viewing of TLP since the reading of Ten Years Later back in 2009. I'd especially like to take some time to discuss how this play can look in different theater configurations and how an over-arching philosophy driving a production can do wonders for a performance.  Thanks so much, each of you, for keeping me company and sharing a little piece of your lives with me last week, and I can't wait to share the fruits of that trip with you shortly.

But there's one catch:  I need your help on this one, everybody.  Human truth is ultimately found, I believe, in dialogue, and since you know your personal experiences better than I do, I would absolutely love your feedback--  particularly because I've only really had a chance to really talk with about 20% of you all, and all your voices count.  By all means, feel free to comment, correct, disagree, or whatever you like as we go along! 

And, as always, thanks to Jules Odendahl-James and the cast and crew of TLP for letting me in on the fun.  I can't wait to read your final blog entries.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Back to Durham

UPDATED UPDATE:  Okay, so it seems that the coffee shop is back open again.  Whee.  I'll see you inside, according to the original plan.  Sorry for the confusion!

*     *     *

UPDATE:  I told everyone I'd be around from 1-3 at the library, but it seems that the pavillion where the coffee shop's at will be closed for a private gig until 1:30.  Check for me just around the corner past the pop-up anatomy book display!  (wait, that sounds like something I didn't, I mean...  whatever.  Just look past the "Animated Anatomies" exhibit.)

Hey all,

Jackrabbit is back in Durham, NC!  I'm taking a second trip to visit the cast and crew of the Duke University production of The Laramie Project.   My hope is that I can have an extended chat with anybody who worked in the production and would like to chat about their experiences.   So, you know who you are, cast and crew:  come find me!  Your wonderful dramaturg, Jules Odenahl-James, can fill you in on the wheres and whens.  The more people who show up, the more interesting the conversation will be.

Just so everyone else knows, my goal from all this will be to write a series of posts in the next month or two detailing the performance, its interpretive decisions, and what kinds of questions it raises.  Due to their unique take on the text and their creative use of space, there's a lot we can discuss and consider-- and I feel like the cast and crew of this production have a lot of wisdom to share about the powers of TLP. 

I hope you all look forward to the fruit of this conversation as much as I do.  See you soon!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Blogging in the Dark

Knox storm damage, 4/25/11
Last night, I was sitting in the final LGBTA meeting on our campus, and just as we were about to finish up, the tiny, windowless conference room we were in went completely black.  Everybody in the room screamed like little girls, and then the cell phones came out to give us enough light to find the door.  When we looked out to the full-length windows in the foyer of our Student Union, the entire world was the same color of angry gray.  It was raining so hard that we couldn't see the trees planted just twenty feet or so past the windows, and the wind was whipping all that angry rain around, 'round in eddies like a tornado.

Then it just... stopped.  The sun came out, the rain still fell, and we all walked outside to find the entire campus covered in plant debris.  Just down the street, a Dodge Charger had an entire tree sitting on its trunk.  Fortunately the driver was okay, but all of downtown and areas west of campus was a litter of downed trees and fallen power lines. Around the English department, only a few of the old, seasoned trees are still standing.  In one spot, a green ash tree was completely uprooted and took out an entire magnolia tree.  The little spot where the touchy-feely creative writing classes like to have lectures is buried under three-odd tons of raw lumber. 

We have power on campus, but everything's still dark back home, and I'm starting to fear for my deep freeze-- specifically, the three and a half gallons of soup stock I froze this weekend.  In the meantime, I'm living on campus so I'm not tempted to open my refrigerator and I don't have to use glow sticks to navigate my own bathroom.

So, for your enjoyment, and while we're waiting for *another* storm cell to hit us, here are a few pictures of the mayhem!  Here's what was left of an intersection a block from our University Center: 

Knox storm damage, 4/25/11

Here's a picture of the Dodge Charger with a tree on top of it.  The falling tree took out most of the intersection lights as well.  That gray thing in the street is the top of a street light:

Knox storm damage, 4/25/11

Knox storm damage, 4/25/11

And it looks like more is on the way. What fun. If you wouldn't mind praying for safety and a lack of downed power lines, I'm sure we could use it...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Little Piece of Laramie

So: I would just like to announce for the world that, not only did I see another performance of The Laramie Project, my first since 2006, I didn't have a total mental breakdown this time.  As a matter of fact, it was great.  It seems that a year and a half of blogging about TLP is doing me some good: just maybe, I'm starting to heal.  Perhaps the ghost has gone and I'm no longer haunted.  It felt so good to have such a normal, healthy interaction with this play.  Everything's perfectly normal. 

I still cried a little, though. 
Not that there's anything wrong with that.  

In a lot of ways, I think that I liked the overall vision and creative performance of this crew even more than Tectonic Theater's 2000 run of the play, and there are a lot of reasons for that.  The way that this company adapted and creatively used their lab theater space allowed for a much more dynamic performance than Tectonic had done.  A lot of that is the difference between working in a lab space with creative arrangements and performing in huge, fixed-space theater halls on tour, but even more important was the kind of interaction with the audience and willingness to doubt their text that the Duke performance brought into the theatric space.  But I'll get more into that later. 

And so, thank you, Duke cast and crew, for giving me a little piece of Laramie re-created on your campus last week, and I hope the final three days' run were as magical for everyone else as Thursday was for me.  Regardless of what you think about all the arguments of "artistic license" or "accuracy" or "documentary" aspects of theater, you embodied a genuine little bit of Laramie in your performance-- and not because of your heavy research or need to get every little detail exact to the place.  Actually, it was quite the opposite.  In your willingness to let yourselves and your characters bleed together in all the strange little ways you've been talking about on your student blog, you invoked Laramie and brought it to life on the stage.  And it was awesome to watch, you all. 

I never got a chance to explain to everybody about the little pieces of Laramie's collective memory I gave you after the performance.  As you know, Matt passed away in the Sherman Hills subdivision in a barely developed area that, back then, was still full of prairie smells and and wind, the marks of its still-lingering isolation from the community.  That area of Laramie's eastern edge is named for the Sherman Range, a geologic upthrust which pushes out coral-colored mountains out of the living earth.  Sherman Hills sits right at the base of their western edge, and the Sherman Granite peeks out of the earth not too far after.

Sherman granite has a remarkable story.  This rose-colored stone was first created deep in the geologic furnace 1.4 billion years ago, but about 70 million years ago, the upthrust which created the Laramie range forced the granite back into the sunlight.  It is a brilliant pink from its high iron and feldspar content, highly crystalline, full of quartz, and it sparkles.  The crushed granite on the shoulders of I-80 glitter in the early morning sunlight.

One would think that an igneous rock made by fire and cooled in the living earth would be impervious, but Sherman granite is more vulnerable than one would think.  Over those millions of years, that granite has weathered under the winter's freezing melt, cracking it into blocks and eating its surface.  The oldest and smallest boulders, isolated from the living rock, crack easily; sometimes their surface comes apart under the push of a strong finger.  The weather has turned both Curt Gowdy State Park and Veedauwoo into castles of strangely broken granite: 

As for your little pieces of the Sherman range, I didn't want to bring you a piece of a grisly tragedy, so your rocks come from a few miles east, from where people camp and hike in a place where the granite stands tall.  I picked up pieces from one of two locations. Your rocks either came from here, deep within Kurt Gowdy where I collected my own little piece of Laramie:

Stark Tree Still

This old boulder-field is deep within the park, full of lichen-covered chunks of granite, where trees and scrub twist deep in their cracks and break them apart.   I'm pretty sure I picked up a bottle of rocks right at the base of that twisted old tree. 

Or, perhaps they came from here, at my favorite star-watching spot not too far from the entrance to the park:

Laramie Night Skies

Laramie sparkles, doesn't it?
Thanks for bringing me a little piece of Laramie. I hope you also enjoy yours, and thank you.


Friday, April 15, 2011

To Durham, To Durham we go...

So, as of 5 AM this morning, I pulled back in my own driveway after a 24-hour road-trip bender to North Carolina to see the lab theater production of The Laramie Project and its student cast.

How was it?  Well, it was...  okay, I'm not going to lie.  It was freakin' amazing.

I'm pretty dead-headed right now, but I'll detail a little more about my visit, chatting with the cast and crew, and eating at Hogwart's (yeah, the Great Hall looks like the movie set) while I was there. 

Spencer, Naomi, Summer, Andy, Jeff, Jacob, and everybody I know I just forgot to mention by name: thanks for talking with me. 

To the crew I only got to see in the shadows:  Thank you for making it snow.  

You all really are truly remarkable. 


Thursday, April 14, 2011

My Six Whole Seconds As a Lesbian

Okay, so over the last weekend I was at a conference in Atlanta to participate in a panel about my friend's dissertation project (because I was one of her data sources) and catch some panels on social justice and the composition classroom.  Last Thursday, as two of my buddies and myself pulled into town, I was a weary, exhausted, nervous wreck.  And I hadn't eaten since 11 AM.  By the time I had checked in to our massive, creepy-looking hotel (I felt like I was standing inside a giant pink ribcage like in the end of Pinocchio) and actually found my room, I had missed every dinner invitation and was starving.  Actually, I had low blood sugar and was about to become a dizzy pile of goo. 

I didn't have a clue about where to find food, but as I was stumbling out the door to find something, anything to eat, I ran into my friend "Althea."  She was just getting back from one of the dinner invites I had missed.  She saw my glazed eyes and took over.  "We have to get you some food fast," she said, and she grabbed me by the arm and marched me out the door.

Now, there's something you should know about both myself and "Althea."  I grew up as an incurable tomboy and to this day don't really like dressing up "femmy," so to speak.  My hair is currently an inch and a half long.  Even on a day I dress up I can run the risk of "slipping under the gaydar," so to speak. On that night I was in travel clothes: blue jeans, hoodie, and my old, comfy Doc Marten's combat boots.   "Althea," in contrast, is old Southern society and was raised to be a debutante.  She was dressed in a sun dress and her "rhetorical pearls," as she likes to call them, and she'd had one mimosa too many at dinner.  On our way into the nearest takeout place-- a pub, as it turned out-- Althea clung to my arm, just a little tipsy, and chatted amicably nonstop.  I didn't think a darn thing about it, honestly.  This is just who Althea is.

We ordered my food and walked out of the bar again, but this time I was getting really woozy from lack of food, so Althea grabbed my arm again to keep me upright.  She put her head on my arm for a second.  At that moment, I looked up at one of the patrons sitting at the bar.  He was watching us.  Then he gave me "the look."  He glared at us like we weren't human.

At that exactly that same moment, Althea giggled and blurted out, "I love you, Jackrabbit!"  That look on his face intensified to something like pure hate.  Even though I was a bit dizzy, I immediately decided to "own" it.  I gave him a nasty smile and tromped out the door with my "girlfriend" on my arm.  I don't really know if Althea had noticed, and I sure wasn't going to tell her.  Pearls or no pearls, she would have seriously gotten in his face for doing that.

I didn't have time to think about it until I had some food in my stomach and could finally think straight.  On the one hand, it's not like people haven't "wondered" about the girl who likes to wear boots and pick up frogs before.  I'm used to speculation, and I never cared; I know who I am, and I'm comfortable being the butch-y straight girl.  What was different was the value judgment that came attached this time.  That look was a complete rejection of me as a human being.  It made me feel a little naked and totally pissed off.  Nobody, nobody has the right to judge like that, I fumed. 

And then I wondered what it would be like to feel that feeling for every single day of your life as an LGBT person. My mind was a little blown.  It's one thing to know something mentally and something else entirely to feel it. And, in a weird way, I was kind of thankful that, for my six seconds, I had just a tiny taste of what it's like so I could better understand what my friends are facing. 

A day later, I was slouched on a couch next to the pool with my frind "Pam," and I told her this same story while Althea was soaking her feet in the shallow end.  "How on earth do you respond to something like that?" I asked her.  "Pam," who's married and ex-roller derby, also knew what I was talking about; she got a wicked grin on her face.

"There's only way to respond, Jackrabbit," she told me.  "You answer, back, 'I love you too, babe.'  Then you waltz out the door." I cackled at the mental image. 

Ya know what?  She was right.  I don't think it could have been any more appropriate than that. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Airing of Grievances: A Retrospective

I have thus laid my disappointments in The Laramie Project bare to the world and my personal Festivus has now ended; now, we need to take one step further than the regular Festivus airing.  It's time for me to reflect upon these grievances to determine which disappointments are legitimate and which are just my plaintive whining about how Tectonic did not write the play I would have wanted them to write.

I wanted to get my grievances out in the open with this series, sure, but I also wanted them to turn into something more productive (and less pathetic) than using the Internet to whine like a tragically middle class emo kid with a YouTube channel.  If I am to accomplish that, then I need to step back and look at these criticisms with a little more distance and a lot more insight.  I need to be radically reflexive, which means that I have to rigorously examine my own motives and interior monologue just as rigorously as anybody else's-- and I have to be consciously aware of that process.   If the Scripture calls us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, then our scholarship should call us to work out our conclusions with fear and loathing.  That means it's once more time to dig deep and think hard about fear, loathing, and The Laramie Project.   

Why?  If there is anything I've learned so far from this experience, it's this:  Understand where your own perspective and prejudices come from, and act in awareness of that knowledge.  Every time.  The most inadequate (and inaccurate) scholarship sometimes comes from a failure to understand one's own personal tilt or experiences informing their scholarship in ways they don't intend.  Some of the best scholarship comes from those who do.  And, since I'm in the precarious position of being personally and emotionally tied to this event and the play it produced, I need to be extra aware of how that changes my perspective.  Know thyself, Jackrabbit, and thou shalt improve thy scholarship.  I think the world would be a better place if everybody followed that advice, and since I kind of turned Tectonic over my knee for it, I had better do it with myself, too.

So, which of these ways in which I feel like Tectonic has disappointed me are perhaps legit, and which are merely a difference of opinion or personal taste?  That's a very important question to ask, so let's see how my summation of the Grievances holds up after the jump!  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Scholarship: First-hand Accounts of the Shepard Tragedy

Now that I've had free time to start back up on bibliographic snooping, I'm starting to find a lot of personal responses to Shepard's death from Laramie witnesses, but what surprised me is to see where these personal experiences are popping up: in trade journals.  It seems that a lot of people in Laramie and Fort Collins who were involved somehow with the Shepard attack looked introspectively at how they personally and their professions were forced to respond.  Douglas Black, for instance, bore the nation's brutal outrage and abuse for months afterward as a university spokesperson in CSU; Dr. Klein felt his professional role seep deeply into his personal life and his family's connections to the killing.  

The exception, of course, is Walt Boulden's recollection of Matt Shepard as a personal friend, which is purely a personal recollection of Matt and was published in Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services a year after TLP opened in Denver.  He recalls a strawberry hunting expedition on Casper Mountain with Matt that really humanizes Shepard-- and Walt Boulden, come to think of it.  It's worth a read if you can get hold of it.

In any case, enjoy! 

Black, Douglas. "Straw Men: An Exercise in Virtual Unreality."  American Scholar 69.2 (2000): 93-100.  
As some of you may know, Colorado State University's homecoming parade coincided with Matt Shepard's brief stay before his death at the Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins.  At some point in the parade, which had a "Wizard of Oz" theme, one float erected a straw man in the truck with the phrase "I'm Gay" spray-painted on its face and "up my ass" on its back.  That was the second attack on Shepard, only this time in the form of a cruel joke, playing out not far from where Matt was struggling to survive.  That stunt cost one Greek organization its charter, and another nearly suffered the same fate. 
Douglas Black worked at CSU in the President's office as a staff member, and he bore the impossible burden of the nation's outrage; almost immediately, Black, as the mouthpiece for the university on this incident, became the focus of national abuse.  Outrage against the float mutated into personal insults and threats to him personally, and the incident left Black feeling personally scarred in much the same way as his childhood bullying had; he also notes, "The most savage attackers were those claiming to speak for tolerance."  His perspective on the way the story traveled, how the university responded, first-hand look at how Cyberspace and messaging technology fueled the outrage and fueled vigilantism and abuse is extremely personal and interesting.  We may be used to this in our Facebook world and Twitterverse, but it was still all new in 1998.  Also, the writing is really, really good.  You can tell what Douglas Black does for a living. 

Boulden, Walt.  "A Tribute to Matthew Shepard."  Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services 13.1(2001): 7-14.  
If you want a perspective of Matt Shepard that doesn't involve the typical platitudes but is nevertheless entirely positive, Walt Boulden's tribute in Journal of Gay and Lesbian Services really is rather touching.  Boulden seems to feel he is charged with the impossible task of rescuing Matt's memory from the grave, which is an unfair burden to take on, really; what he eventually produces, however, makes Matt feel more human to me than anything else I've had time to read so far.  
Boulden knew Shepard in Casper and remained friends with him at UW.  There's one particular story of Matt he shares which at first seems a quirky choice-- a tale of hunting for wild strawberries on Casper Mountain-- that offers the reader a tantalizing glimpse into Matt Shepard's personality.  
If you can't find the article, this also serves as the introduction to the book From Hate Crime to Human Rights: A Tribute to Matthew Shepard.  Routledge, 2001.  

Hurst, James C.  "The Matthew Shepard Tragedy: Management of a Crisis."  About Campus 4.3 (1999): 5-11.
 This is the most impersonal recollection of the ones I've read, but that's due especially to the kind of article Hurst is writing.   James Hurst was the VP of student affairs at UW when Matthew Shepard was murdered.  The article explains the university's actions in trying to deal with the sudden crisis on campus it caused, and he details especially what the university president, student organizations, and administration did in the days following the beating to deal proactively with the incident.  This is a great article if you want a backstage peek at how the LGBTA, the university, and the community responded to the hate crime. 
(Oh, and he also mentions that initial reports from the police mention the possibility that the murder was a robbery and/or a hate crime. Simultaneous narratives. Just sayin'. )
Klein, Daniel S.  "What Happened in Laramie."  Annals of Internal Medicine 130.3 (1999): 235-236.
 Daniel Klein is an MD in Laramie and was the county health officer when Matthew Shepard was beaten, and his response to the tragedy is both as a Laramie community member and as a concerned doctor.  His narrative of how his family experienced the crisis shows just how close this community really is, relationally speaking.  Even though he was not the attending physician in the ER that night, his position brought him in the orbit of the murderers, their acquaintances and family, the media, the victim, and the emergency workers who attended to him.  As a personal/professional response to Matt's murder, he gives a good representation of one eyewitness perspective of the Shepard tragedy.  Note especially how the narratives of two previous murders in Laramie, the landscape, and community play in his telling. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Aphorism of the Month, Courtesy of Nothing Profound

Spring is here, a new month has arrived, and in honor of thinking too hard and diving into introspection I am going to initiate a new tradition: My Favorite Aphorism for the month.  These come from "Aphorism of the Day," run by a curious philosopher and lover of experience who calls himself Nothing Profound.  One eye sees things through Nietzsche, the other sees the world through Whitman, all written in the style of Solomon and the insight of... himself.  Marty's an interesting enough guy without all the philosophical trappings. 

So, without further ado, here is the aphorism which will be my secular lectio for the month: 

The power to judge becomes a substitute for the power to love. 
Personally?  I like it.  Feel free to discuss among yourselves.
Thanks, Marty! 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Laramie In Picures: UW by Snowlight

UW Campus in Winter
The problem with visualizing the UW campus from most promo photos is that they don't show what it looks like for most of the school year-- that is, covered in snow. Up on the top of Laramie's sub-arctic plain, the snow comes early and lingers well past its time. As such, most students walk through Prexy's Pasture on the way to their classes when the ground is white rather than green, attended by the crunch of snow under boots rather than the smell of fresh-cut grass. The bewildering spring in Laramie usually comes rather late, and even during finals week, one can often find sunbathing undergraduates not too far from unmelted drifts in the sun-starved shadows.

But we Rocky Mountain types adapt to such conditions rather quickly; very little changes in our routines except the numbers of layers we wear on our way out the door. Most students who bike to class still do so in the winter, their knobby tires balanced perilously on the thick winter skin of ice glazed on the streets and walkways.  Some of my favorite memories involve such tomfoolery as watching my husband-to-be play Frisbee with his buddy in the middle of the soccer field in the dead cold of January, and the year I married my Frisbee-toting trumpet player saw a freak snowstorm in the second week of June, which knocked down power lines and trees all over Laramie. 

One of the things I really like about the UW campus now is the inclusion of some natural elements into the landscape, which soften the edges of the concrete in the summer, but in winter they add dimension to the endless folds of snow.  As such, these boulders, trees and natural grasses make the most of Laramie's most populated season-- winter.  I hope you enjoy the view!

UW Campus in Winter

The best view of the Student Union I could get, with a lot of that landscaping in the foreground.

UW Campus in Winter
North of Prexy's Pasture, looking back towards the Agriculture building and the College of Education (both obscured.)

Although I'd never want to try and ride a street bicycle on snow pack, it's not all that unusual in Laramie. Many students continue to bike through campus even in winter, even though it's impossible to keep the streets and walkways clear of ice and pack. My preferred transport was a mountain bike with very wide, knobby tires.

UW Campus in Winter
Some of that natural landscaping I was talking about.  This is in front of the Cheney Center.

UW Campus in Winter

Oh, that cold, cold wind ripping off the top of the Classroom building that everyone knows so well! You get a sort of natural wind tunnel between the science buildings here sometimes.

University of Wyoming, in Snow

This was one happy mutt, but his owner's fingers got a little cold after their game of fetch.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Links: Kaufman's take on "10 Years Later" in "American Theater"

When studying The Laramie Project, usually the first starting point for studying the play are two articles written by Don Shewey and Moisés Kaufman published in American Theatre.  With the premiere of 10 Years Later came yet another article from Kaufman about the project, again published in AT.  Like his previous work, this article is also an expository work explaining the process of producing the play, from its first inception, changes to the process, and its final form as a worldwide Internet linkup premiere.  I'm not entirely sure how helpful Kaufman's explanation is for explaining the whole process behind the creation of 10 Years Later in reality, but it is surely a great exploration of what Kaufman thought they were doing as they interviewed Laramie residents and former residents again, ten years after Matthew's murder.  It makes his investments, beliefs and goals for the new epilogue very clear for the researcher. 

One thing I found interesting is that Kaufman claims that this new play "deals with history" and how it's created, which is quite different from the first play's goal.  That's fair enough, but he talks (again) about the emergence of the robbery narrative as if it started after the fact, an attempt to re-write history-- and as I have pointed out repeatedly from my little soapbox in this little corner of the Interwebs, the robbery narrative arose at the exact same time as the hate crime narrative.  Oh well.  He also calls his re-interviews with DeBree and Dave O'Malley as an attempt to "clarify the facts."  That may be the most interesting comment I've heard Kaufman make in print so far.

Nevertheless, how and why someone chooses one narrative over another as "truth" is particularly interesting regardless-- not just for Laramie, but for Mr. Kaufman, Tectonic Theater, and myself as well.  You can read the article online here through the Theatre Communications Group website. 


Kaufman, Moisés.  "Anatomy of an Experiment: When the Tectonic Team Returned to The Laramie Project, the Docudrama's Sequel Became a Collective Creation Seen and Heard 'Round the World."  American Theatre Jul/Aug 2010.  Web. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Bibliography Upgrade is Complete!

The updated bibliography lists are now available!  You know, for all dozen or so of you currently studying TLP.  But I hope it helps nonetheless...

After I had gathered a lot of things I wanted to add to my old bibliographic master-list on this blog, I made things easier on myself by dividing things up to make searching through it a little easier on the researcher. 

When you now click on the Bibliography link, which is now just under the title bar at the top of the page, you will be directed to a page asking you to choose which page you want:  literary/dramatic, or non-literary/dramatic sources.  Things which are useful in multiple applications, however, appear on both lists. 

With this also came an increase in useful material on both lists.  If you have any questions, remember you can always email me at and I'll help out as much as possible.  I'll even ferret things out for you from my capacious Research I library if you need it. 

Also, if there's something that should be on this list that currently isn't, please, by all means let me know!  I'll happy to add it to the list. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Airing of Grievances, Charge 4

Being the Final Grievance (hooray!) Against Tectonic Theater
During this Festivus Season 

 I was having a conversation a while back with an acquaintance of mine who also studies The Laramie Project.  Dr. F, as I'll call her, is this beautiful, crazy, wonderful, innovative rhetoric and composition professor in our department, and she's a theater fanatic on the side.  Our chat eventually wandered over to Angels in America, a play which we both love, and she started talking about staging.

 "One thing I've noticed about American theater right now," she told me, "is that most directors don't  seem to trust their audiences as much as those abroad."  I had to ask for clarification on what she meant.  "Well, take the Central Park encounter in Angels," she responded.  "When I was studying in London, I saw a production where the two actors in that liaison were on opposite sides of the stage.  They just trusted the audience to make the connection about what's going on without having to stage the action with each other or even act it out.  It made that moment of sex look as disconnected and lonely as it really was."  Having seen the Laramie production of Angels, I could really see her point, where that sexual encounter was enacted on a platform between the actor playing Louis and Jed Schultz. 

"Most of the plays I saw in London played fast and loose with the directing, which opened up the stage to all sorts of new possibilities," she continued.  "But that meant that they had to lean on the audience to make the connective leap.  I really haven't seen a lot of theater here in the States that is willing to trust their audiences quite like that."  

Trusting the audience.  Although I'm a little on the fence about her judgment of American theater, I've been mulling those words over for quite a while now.  What's more, I think I'm starting to see a connection to that idea with some of the aesthetic differences I have with The Laramie Project.  As I've been working through my "Airing of Grievances," I've started to notice a few patterns; sure, I have problems with the structure of the play and how the concept relates to Laramie as both a community and place, but there's something else here, too, that has more to do with the structure of the play itself.

I think that maybe 1) these people are incredible, brilliant, and talented writers with a clear interest in dramatic form, and 2) these form-driven dramatists are afraid to trust their audiences too much with the factually ambiguous story of Matt's murder. Perhaps, Tectonic wants to tell a story of cause/effect through Laramie's voices, but the narratives we have don't lend themselves to it, and the only way to get their voices to tell that cause/effect story is to push them that way.  This problem of overworking, strangely, has an element of narrative and truth to it, too:  Tectonic's willing to let narrative drive most of their play, so long it never gives any doubt about the forensic facts of the murder, of the cause and its effect.  A fear about the fragility of forensic truth might be forcing them to heavily edit the narrative truth. 

And so, I hereby submit my final charge against Tectonic Theater regarding their production of The Laramie Project and 10 Years Later, which I guess isn't really a bad thing at all:

#4: Trying Too Damn Hard

Maybe this is just a difference of aesthetic taste on my part, and on that note, failure to meet the needs of my literary palate shouldn't really be a grievance per se.  Nevertheless, it's a concern I want to discuss. 
Okay, so I know I keep wandering back to South Africa's apartheid past and the TRC whether it fits or not, but hey, it's the only analogue to narrative and determining truth I can comfortably speak about.  So, here goes...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Links: Study Guides for TLP on Sub/Text

For those of you who teach The Laramie Project, one of the most useful things available online are theater website productions who produce study guides.  For instance, verybody knows about the Guthrie Theater and their semi-famous student guides for their own productions (if you don't, you need to look.  I used their guide for Amadeus during my first year teaching), but they don't have material for everything.   Unfortunately, the Guthrie never performed TLP until 10 Years Later came out, and their only available material is a link to Tectonic's study guides.   

A lot of other productions, however, have picked up the slack, and one particularly useful source of information is Sub/Text, which was created by Jeanine Sobeck in connection with the Mead Center for American Theater's Arena Stage.  Sobeck creates pages of background information for different productions every theater season, and there's a great guide for The Laramie Project and the Epilogue, which has some great background material for the study and discussion of the two plays. 

The study guide is full of useful stuff, but the page which first got my attention was this super-useful timeline of events leading up to The Laramie Project and its sequel, which would be great for those teaching students who can't remember the Shepard murder.  

Let me give one more quick shout-out to Jeanine Sobeck for doing such a great job with the Arena Theater's "Online dramaturge," and be sure to check out all the available guides if you teach drama! 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What does cold smell like?

Just for fun, here's a picture I snapped just north of Medicine Bow, Wyoming last January when I was on my way back to Casper for my flight. The weather had been in negative digits in Laramie all week, and it was far colder out in the flats south of Shirley Basin. I can only guess, but I figure it was around ten or twelve below zero at dusk. 

So, what does this level of cold on a sub-arctic plain smell like?
Vaguely of copper, actually.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Prairie Fires and Cannon-Fodder

Being another day in the life of a straight, conservative, evangelical fledgling LGBT activist...

Le Petit homme dans ma têteDo you ever get really bizarre dreams when you're really preoccupied with something? I usually only get weird dreams when I eat pizza right before bed, but anyhow...

I had the strangest dream the other night.  I was somewhere on my college campus in the middle of a massive, angry protest, and I ducked inside a storefront of some kind after the demonstrations turned violent.  Things seemed safer inside, but then everything was filled with the sound of shattering glass as the protesters hurled some sort of heavy projectiles through the windows.  I took refuge in a side hallway to avoid getting hit.  

I saw one of the missiles rolling down the floor near me.   I picked it up and unscrewed the top to see what was inside.  It was full of ground-up pennies and old screws.  Suddenly, the whole contraption under my hands burst into flames like a Molotov cocktail, and I kicked it out a door into the open quad stretching between the four different wings of the brick building.  That's when I realized that I was standing in M______ Hall, in the new LGBT outreach center here on my campus.

Anyhow, the flaming bomb rolled against the big magnolia tree and caught the entire side of the building on fire.  I flew to the next wing of the building looking for a fire extinguisher; in my head I knew that the rioters were on the other side of the building, but now they seemed miles away.  Even the sound of the conflagration was quiet, even peaceful.  When I looked wildly around the hallway for the extinguisher, an old, bearded man sat in the foyer of the building on an old couch.  He was completely unconcerned by all the chaos.   
"Where's the fire extinguisher?"  I shrieked in panic.  "Everything's catching fire..."
"We don't have one," he drawled.  In my dream, I felt my heart skip.  My mind was still full of rioters and flames and panic.   
"What do you mean you don't have one?  Every damn floor in this building is supposed to have a fire extinguisher," I yelled.  That old man didn't even bat an eye at my mounting panic but glanced at me curiously. 
Why are you so worried? his eyes said to me.  That's about when I woke up, for my husband was trying to get me out of bed to get ready for church.

So, obviously, my weird dreams are just a symptom of me trying to work out in my sleep what's been worrying me when I'm awake.  I had spent the last week in some pretty heavy negotiations with my minister buddies and the LGBT center grad student over my presence in the LGBT community.  I've made some rather big plans.  And I'm terrified that they're going to cause a firestorm with the LGBT Powers That Be and the more conservative campus ministers at my university. 

It started with my minister friend.  After our Tuesday prayer group I told him that I was considering volunteering at the LGBT center over the summer.  I knew exactly why I wanted to do it.  I wanted to be useful to my friends in the gay community for a change.  The center was a great place to meet people in a setting that didn't require them to to put on a persona.  And, I wanted to demonstrate goodwill to the administrators of the center.  The goal of this is that I want to start up a non-invasive spiritual study for the members where they can start to heal from their victimization by Christians, and I want to start slowly immersing some curious evangelicals into the LGBT culture so they can get to know them as human beings instead of just a sin category.  That's how I want to start a quiet reconsideration of what their denomination has taught them about what it means to be gay. 

My minister friend was really ambivalent about it:
"I don't know, I think you're crossing the line between ministering to the lost and promoting," he answered.  I'm pretty used to comments like that.  In our circles, it's okay to love gay people as long as you make it very, very obvious that you disagree with their "lifestyle."  Whatever. My minister friend knows better, too, but old habits die hard.
"It's not like I'll be standing at the door handing out condoms," I replied.  "I'd just be there to keep the  door open for the students and answer the phone."  
"But, why?  What are your goals?"  he insisted.  After some pretty intense discussion about sexuality, culture, and my opinion on what exactly "promoting" meant, I told him, "Look, there's only one word in the LGBT community for a straight person, and that's 'Ally.'  I have to take that seriously."  He cautiously agreed with me.  But he was still a little worried.  
My next stop, the following day, was to meet with "Andy," one of the two ministers who had helped me with the street-preacher protest.  We had a long, long conversation.  It has been neat to see "Andy" grow into the idea of laying down the traditional Christian defenses to just minister to gay people's needs like everyone else.  Actually, he's actually grown rather passionate about it.  "Torben" was out for the afternoon, so Andy and I had a long chat on our own.
"So, what do you think about volunteering?"  I asked "Andy."  He shrugged.  
"Honestly, Jackrabbit?  You have to open yourself up to the possibility of making mistakes.  You're in uncharted waters.  If this is your conviction and it's wrong, you'll learn later.  But if it's what you think you need to do, you can't be afraid to do it." 
He didn't see the need to necessarily volunteer at the center for what I wanted to do, but he was fine with the idea nonetheless.  Wow.  A year ago that would have been unthinkable.  

So, the real problem came on Thursday, when I met up with someone associated with the center.   
"Luke" is a great guy--  he's an ally like me, a Christian even.  At the time we met, the first anniversary party for the center was underway, and we were crushed on every side by cake, people, and balloons.  Everything was a swirl of merry, merry chaos. 

I shared with him all the things I had been thinking about doing, but when I got excited about the possibility of some kind of safe Christian/LGBT interaction, he pulled me aside.  "There's something you need to know," he said gravely.  Then he told me that two of the directors of the center, X and Y, were "extremely tired of the Christian/LGBT connection," he said.  What he meant was that X and Y were so sick of covert evangelism and judgment underneath Christian outreach that they didn't want to have anything to do with anything that smacked of Christianity. 

Controlled Fire in Cross Plains
I was now starting to feel like I was just setting myself up as a giant target for the wrath of X.  She would instantly think I'm some kind of missionary "plant" in her program, and since she's very much a momma bear like me, I have no doubt that she would "protect" her gay college students from me accordingly.   It occurred to me that I was dealing with a cultural war much larger than myself, and that I was stepping out into the DMZ to call for a truce before the two sides had even put down their rifles.  If I wasn't careful, this could make things very, very ugly for my campus.  I could be kindling a reconciliation between my two favorite communities-- or I could be throwing a Molotov cocktail into the center of them, blasting out an irreversible hole between them.  Which is it?

To put it a differeht way, not all prairie fires need to be put out.  The slow-moving fires clear out the dead to make way for the living; they feed the land what it craves.   But some fires, the really devastating ones, can't be stopped once they start burning.  All you can do is sit on the next hill and watch the wind play havoc with the flames and turn the world turn to ash.

So, after my dream, here's the real question: in the midst of this cultural war, which fire am I really afraid of starting?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Coming Soon: Changes to the bibliography!

So, one of the more popular places on this blog has been, since its inception, a running bibliographic master-list of everything I've found regarding The Laramie Project and the Shepard murder and trials.  In order to keep up with the newest stuff coming out and to make it much more reasonable to navigate, I will shortly introduce two new lists instead-- one for literary study and one for everything else.  These will include a lot of updated bibliography and links to video sources as well. 

Eventually, this will include a list of things I think are useful for the teaching of The Laramie Project at the high school and college level.  But that's going to take a little more time.  I'll let you know as soon as both of the new pages are operational! 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Links: The Laramie Project at Duke University

Okay, so I found out about this upcoming production of The Laramie Project in an odd way: linkbacks.  While I was cruising through my Flickr account the other day, this website I hadn't known about showed up in the stats, and when I followed the link back, I found this really, really great classroom and theater production blog.  The space includes a lot of great posts on producing, directing and acting this play, and those are things I can never talk about with authority.  Well, until I quit my job as an Anglo-Saxonist and take up stagecraft or something, that is.

You can find the blog here, where you'll get a variety of different meditations about the entire production process.  It's very, very useful for teaching The Laramie Project.  One of my favorite posts so far, on acting the roles of characters, is linked here if you'd like a good place to start digging through the posts.   If you're in NC or the surrounding area and would like to see the production, opening night is April 7th at the Sheafer Theater.  With this much thought and careful preparation, it's bound to be a great production. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Airing of Grievances, Charge 3

Okay, so it's been a while since I've kept up with my Airing of Grievances, and the Festivus season has long since ended. That's what I get for being way too busy with school since January. In any case, let us proceed through the last two installments!

To some degree, Laramie is indeed presented as a latter-day Grover's Corners, a cozy place where everyone appears to know everyone else's business and actually finds comfort in this. But if ''The Laramie Project'' nods conspicuously to Wilder, this play is ''Our Town'' with a question mark, as in ''Could this be our town?'' There are repeated variations by the citizens of Laramie on the statement ''It can't happen here,'' followed immediately by ''And yet it has.'' 
--Ben Brantley, New York Times

Just for fun, and because I was avoiding reading things for my second field exam, I picked up a copy of Thornton Wilder's Our Town while I was staying with Coyote in Laramie.  Although I personally love drama (my only complaint as an Anglo-Saxonist is that there are no plays) I hadn't really read any of Wilder's work before.  My previous survey courses preferred the work of O' Neill and Arthur Miller, and so Wilder was squeezed out.

I found that I enjoyed Our Town more than I thought I would.  Wilder takes a blank stage and fills it with all the imaginary geology, history and even shop fronts of a tiny New Hampshire town; then he populates that specific space with a strange allegory of individual lives.  The Webbs and the Gibbs could be any two families in America, even though we know exactly where (on stage at least) the Stage Manager positions them.  The Stage Manager even gives geographic coordinates for Grover's Corners; but its people are individuals only in how they relate to one another-- cousin, child, neighbor, parent, spouse-- and it is those relationships in the course of their lives that Wilder is interested in. 

Our Town 5But the reason that Our Town worked as an embodiment of the universal human experience was because it had an aura of utopia-- it seemed to be a "good place" [eu-topia in Greek] that reflected all the best parts of the American dream (and some of its problems) at the turn of the previous century.  But, more importantly, for all its specificity and regional connection to New Hampshire, it was a "no-place" [ou-topia] that had no specific cultural coloring other than the ones which Thornton Wilder wanted it to have.  Grover's Corners was a symbol; it was a specific but fictional community existing at coordinates well off the map of America which could hold all of the nation's ideals and faults in the same space and reflect them back on the culture as a whole.  That was Wilder's genius: the landscape is American and it's real, but the specific location is not. 

But Laramie, Wyoming is neither of these things, really; it has too many of its own idiosyncrasies and small town problems to really be a utopia in the sense of a good place (although it is very good.)  And it is a real location.   I know that was part of the appeal for using Laramie as a backdrop for the national dialogue on homosexuality for Kaufman, but I'm interested in the complicated mess it makes of things as I think about TLP.  In what way does the factual location of Laramie, Wyoming complicate the kind of theater that Kaufman's striving for?  In what ways does the town resist any translation into a symbolic space, and is it a good idea at all? 

I would hereby like to submit charge number three in the Airing of Grievances:

3. Laramie is not Our Town. 

We need to understand that this is, in some ways, an unfair question.  Of course Laramie isn't Grover's Corners; it was never supposed to be.  But it's still a natural enough association I want to look at the consequences.  I don't know if this is going to be a real "grievance" by the time I'm done here, but I'm interested in what comes of it nonetheless.  And so, on to the analysis!  

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Advocate article by Greg Pierotti on TLP and "10 Years Later"

In the middle of all this personal angst about how the members of Tectonic related to the larger Laramie community, I nevertheless feel a certain amount of personal connection to two of its members: Stephen Belber and Greg Pierotti.  Perhaps it is because these two writers and actors of Tectonic Theater have both been willing to lay bare their own experiences with Laramie, their struggles and mistakes, and how the play still haunts them.  Maybe that's also the reason I've found it so hard to find a similar personal connection with Kaufman.  In contrast to Belber and Pierotti, Kaufman usually positions himself as the artistic theorist or architect, and perhaps that distant, forensic persona makes it harder for me to relate to him.

In any case, if you want to see why I tend to sympathize with Pierotti, he has a great article in the Advocate you should really check out.  In a real sense, the first article is telling his own story, and how Matthew Shepard and researching TLP changed his life.  The series ballooned into, so far, a seven-part exploration of the two plays as the company prepared to put both on tour last fall, and the whole thing is a fantastic read.  You can get Pierotti's perspective on everything from how the Tyler Clementi story relates to TLP to safety on college campuses to the problem of making snap judgments-- about gays and lesbians, but also about Christians, and he's very up front with where his own snap judgments lead to.  Please forgive me if I label the whole series a "must read." For those who want to see how Tectonic-- in this case, Pierotti's view, at least-- sees the world, it's quite valuable.  And it will challenge your assumptions about Tectonic Theater and the way they operate. The links to all seven parts are below! 

On the Road with Laramie, Part 1-- August 10, 2010
On the Road with Laramie, Part 2-- August 25, 2010
On the Road with Laramie, Part 3-- September 14, 2010
On the Road with Laramie, Part 4-- October 6, 2010
On the Road with Laramie, Part 5-- October 18, 2010
On the Road with Laramie, Part 6-- Jan 11, 2011
On the Road with Laramie, Part 7-- February 8, 2011