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!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's crunch time-- and I'm getting crunched

So, I've been a little bit too silent here over the last couple of weeks, and it's just because I'm so busy.  I have a field exam in Renaissance literature coming up in early February, and I'm not studied up for it yet.  And so, yours truly is stuck at the library, surrounded by magisterial works of Renaissance criticism, and I feel zonked.  Actually, I keep taking naps.

So, I hope you'll be patient with me for just  a couple more weeks, and I'll give you a taste of the UW campus in complete snow, chat about the wonderful community spirit among the UW faculty, and, yes-- the Airing of Grievances will continue.

So, until then, I shall give you a visual piece upon which to meditate.  Wyoming may be cold and dry, but it has a secret:  I found Narnia there this winter.  Take a look for yourself:

I found Narnia!

Unfortunately, I didn't bump into Mr. Tumnus, nor did I see Aslan. But, then again, I hear he comes at the end of our eternal winter and melts it into spring.  That will happen sometime in May, knowing Wyoming weather. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Specters of Laramie in Tucson, Arizona

Tucson MemorialI had been back on the UW campus for less than twenty minutes when I found out about the Tucson shooting last week.  I was checking the news in the Union building when the alert popped up on my laptop screen.  The next morning, my brother Coyote and I spent most of the morning before I headed to campus and he headed to work watching the press conference.  I only hope that the Tucson community can continue to stand together and support each other as they bury their dead, and that they remain unified in the face of the media speculations about 'toxic rhetoric' and political cheap shots aimed at the other side.

During that same time, I spent a lot of time on the microfilm scanners in Coe Library reading civic commentaries of a different sort, and I started to see discursive echoes of the current Tucson troubles in the Boomerang  and Branding Iron archives.  As journalists and ordinary citizens grappled with the trauma of Matt's beating, I saw them asking similar questions about politics and rhetoric in 1998: to what extent is the national discourse to blame?  How much is the local community to blame?  To what extent should politics and this tragedy coincide in national discussion?  Should political parties be held accountable for their words and policies that might encourage such behavior?   Is the community to blame for the actions of the perpetrator(s), and how should we remember the victim(s)? 
Memorial at Oracle and Ina RD - Tucson Shooting scene
And, now I see that the people of Tucson, Arizona are grappling with similar questions about their identity as a community in the old West.  CNN recently posted an article titled "Tucson Battles Wild West Image After Shooting," looking at everything from the desert landscape and tourist kitsch to the political climate in this Arizona town.  The tone of the article sounds extremely familiar to me:
 ...Tucson sees itself as an oasis of progressivism and diversity in a state that's gotten a national reputation for bigotry and anti-immigrant hate speech. It's the kind of place that hosts mariachi festivals, celebrates Cesar Chavez and asks cars to pull into parking spaces backward, for the safety of bicyclists.  
But after the Democratic congresswoman was shot and six were killed Saturday during a political meet and greet at a supermarket on the northwest side of town, this place of golf courses, taquerias and cactuses started to look at itself anew -- examining not only the causes of the shooting but the borders residents put between each other.  (par. 5-6, emphasis mine)
This same formulation shows up everywhere in the 1998 archives.  This same article on Tuscon even shows the town struggling to understand the shooter's place in their community as well, in almost the same words as Laramie once struggled to place McKinney and Henderson:
[Others] see the accused shooter, Jared Loughner, as mentally unstable. The event, they say, was an aberration -- not a reflection on this unique town, where the hot, dry air attracts arthritis patients seeking relief.
"It's the nicest place on Earth, as far as I'm concerned," said Mark Gardner, a New Yorker who spends the winter in Tucson because of the warm weather. 
Gardner is like many who end up in this city of retirees, immigrants and transplants -- where chain stores are dressed up like pueblos and corduroy-textured cactuses line the roads, their stumpy hands outstretched like hitchhikers. He came to Tucson with romantic visions of the American Southwest.
What he found wasn't far off.  (par. 11-14, emphasis mine). 
There is also speculation about whether or not the society at large should bear some of the guilt for the Tucson rampage, a question which was asked, often unfairly, of Laramie as well.  At the same time, the question itself is legitimate: is there such a thing as social or societal guilt for a member who acts alone?  From a religious perspective, that question has an interesting answer, and one that Stephen Prothero explores in regard to the Tucson killer this week on CNN's Belief blog.  He confesses, "I can't help thinking we have at least a spattering of blood on our hands."  Despite the controversial nature of that comment, I find part of myself wanting to agree with him. Not just about Matt, but about Arizona, too.  Maybe we're all somehow a little more fallen because of what happened, less innocent.  Maybe our social connection to the killer and victims made us all somehow present in Tucson, just as I was once in Laramie, and perhaps that comes with some kind of social or metaphysical guilt attached.  I don't really know. 

So, once again the national discourse is repeating itself, but it has settled upon a new political lightning rod from all the dry, electric static surrounding the nation's new hot-button topic: immigration.  Could the Tucson shooting find itself becoming the next symbol of social turmoil in the national discourse?

I don't really know how to answer that yet, as this story is still just forming, but these events certainly show the same potential for that to happen.  In Laramie, that discourse created an extremely ambivalent response as some people cringed back from the old West motif and claims of intolerance while others took it to heart, indicting the culture.  Some then used that self-scrutiny to make Laramie, and the nation, a better place, and others rejected the notion altogether.

Maybe we know better now how to take these questions, these stories, and use them to create unity and social growth.  Or, maybe nothing's changed.  I don't really know how to make anything positive out of this observation, other than to note how social discourse and national memory seems to be following the same pattern.  What will be the outcome for national discourse, and what will happen to the Tucson community? 

PHOTO CREDIT: Images of the spontaneous memorial at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' office and at Oracle Road, Tucson, Arizona. Taken by Search Net Media, available via Flickr.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Back to Laramie

The first snowfall, for me, has always marked a season of forgetting.  The snow wipes the landscape clean, covering each groove and bump of topography with the same agnostic blanket of white.  The snow hides the comforting marks of law and order painted on the roads and masks the threshold between surfaces, lawn, sidewalk, street, or gravel only discernible by the press of your boot when it strays off the path and into the pale.

As we peer through the falling snow, we are no longer allowed a context to know where we have been or where we are going next; all it offers us is the trace of where we have been just a few steps before and the nagging suspicion we're actually just walking in circles.   We cannot turn back, retrace our steps in this season of forgetting, this season of snow.  In seasons like this, we can no longer look without to make the world make sense; instead we have turn our gaze within, retreat into the den of our minds for introspection until the storm breaks.  Perhaps that's the reason I have loved the snow all these years: this season of forgetting is a good excuse to look within and explore a different landscape.   

 I came back to Laramie a couple of days ago, but this is the first snowfall I've seen since I arrived.  In an attempt to beat the storm front threatening to crawl through the Shirley Basin, I left for here two days early to stay with my brother Coyote.  I haven't seen him in six months.  He's gained some weight and is doing okay, but I've seen him look better.  Coyote abandoned the lease on his old den behind somebody's garage in west Laramie for a different apartment just south of the campus, but that doesn't mean he's in a nicer place.  His new digs have the peeling plaster and musty smell of a flophouse, but, hey, at least he has a bed now-- and at least I can wear flip-flops in the shower while I'm his guest.  As I've watched Coyote over the last few days, he seems to be wrapped in the same forgetful snow as the rest of Laramie; after a raft of health problems, he cut his semester of school short and has to wait before he can apply for more college funding in the fall.  I look at his woes and feel helpless to do anything: he needs a secure income.  He needs to eat more protein.  He needs to stop concealing whatever-it-is that makes his hide twitch with fright when I look him in the eye. I boil with frustration, but I can't see through the static field of this snow around us.  Whatever it is he needs, I can't help him find it.   

For a different group of students I see downtown, the snow allows a different kind of forgetting.   At the bar and grill across Grand Avenue, a rambunctious group of coeds were doing "train shots" every time they hear the rails rumble just outside their window.  (At that rate, they're not going to remember anything by morning when their classes start.)  For them, the snow's amnesia brings no need to withdraw into the self; they know their present circumstances, the warmth of liquor in their bellies and the press of friends on their shoulders, and for the present, that's enough. 

Forgetting has come to community as well, but for the town it comes in different forms.  According to yesterday's Boomerang, the definition of marriage statute which failed in the Wyoming legislature in 2008 will be resurrected for a new vote in the upcoming session.  That didn't take too long, unfortunately, and I'm disappointed.  On the bright side, Dr. Connolly is still in there to lobby against it, and hopefully we can expect a similar result as the "no" vote on the statute which she witnessed two years ago.  It's a shame that this particular bill didn't die and get covered up in the snow. 

And, on another ambivalent note, it seems that yet one more bar has succumbed to the Fireside curse.  A couple of different establishments have sprouted up and died at the old Fireside in the last ten years, but now it seems that the doors are closed for good.  A "For Sale" sign sits in the window of the old building, and the once-prominent vintage sign jutting up from the roof has been removed, too.  That sign may have been repainted, but it was the last recognizable vestige of the old Fireside and now it's gone.  Nor will this building ever likely be a bar again; Coyote told me that they sold the state liquor license from the old Fireside property to Wal-Mart.  

But not all forgetting in the cold midwinter is permanent, damaging or sad-- just melancholy.  For instance:

Hiding somewhere under that snowdrift is Matt Shepard's memorial bench.  Every winter, the students must forsake the benches in Prexy's pasture and around A&S for a warmer places to study, and for a time the snow makes them forget that the benches were ever there.  When the snow melts and all are ready for spring, however, the students will seek this place out, as they have for the last couple years, to feel the warmth of the sun on their faces again.  The snow can't really make anybody forget-- not forever, at least, and not unwillingly...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Just for fun...

I saw these somewhere west of Meeteetsee, Wyoming last week.  They're jackrabbit tracks near the base of an eagle's nest. 

I hope you're having a better break than I am!  The flu fairy or something came to visit me this week.  Lots of tea and crackers for me...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Airing of Grievances, Charge 2, cont.

Being the Second Charge, 
Regarding the Bed of Procrustes

I had known about Anna Deavere Smith by the time I was a sophomore in college, but I never really sat down and read any of her plays until last year.  I'd often heard the comparison between Smith's amazing work and what Tectonic Theater had done with The Laramie Project, but it took my growing interest in documentary theater and ethnography to finally make me pick up Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.

What I found just about knocked me off my feet when I read it.  I could remember the LA riots and the Rodney King trial back when it happened, but it wasn't something that really made an impact on a 12-year old celebrating her birthday in Montana.  Now that that 12-year old is 30 and studying lit, however, Smith's recounting of the event is quite compelling.  I read in Smith's play about everyone from disgraced cops to gang members to old Korean business owners layered together, and it was electrifying.  The voices were messy, sometimes following completely different story lines, but they were woven together by Smith's solo performance and a common bewilderment about what went wrong.  And, at the end, we have the voice of Twilight Bey, a gang member who spoke of hope in the confusion with such clarity that I marveled at him.  When I get back home I want to read through Fires in the Mirror, although the one I'd really like to get my hands on sometime is Let Me Down Easy.

Anna Deavere SmithWhat really fascinates me is the organic way in which these disparate voices seem to come together in Smith's work.  Sure, Smith is a very creative editor, but she felt no need to jettison side narratives that didn't seem to really fit into the whole, like the story of the gang peace talks or the shooting of a young black girl by a Korean shop owner, both of which fill in the richly complicated background of community tension that existed long before Rodney King was beaten.  I almost feel that she's willing to sacrifice continuity for texture.  Some of these voices clash; some don't fit.  And, many of the voices that couldn't fit in the original performance were re-added in the print version as part of her series On the Road: The Search for the American Character.  Smith seems to prefer to keep rather than cut. 

 Now, it could just be that familiarity breeds contempt, but I feel like that there's an unruliness, a slip to Anna Deavere Smith's work that fits the real world pace of painful revelation.  That's an unruliness I don't feel with The Laramie Project, which feels more unyielding and tight like the suspension on a sports car.  I sometimes wonder what had to be chopped off or didn't get noticed when Tectonic wound the plot of this play like a precision watch around the religious narrative.  

Last time, we looked at that story line-- the religious factors contributing to Matt's murder-- which maybe, like Procrustes, Tectonic stretched out to make it fit on their theatrical bed.  What I'd like to explore today are some of the other stories which maybe Procrustes chopped off to make this story run in that direction.  I'm not sure which of these (if any) are really important, but let's see what possibilities we run into!