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!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Even 4chan Can't Stand the WBC...

Wanna see something just hilarious?  Click on the image below to read the whole thing. 

The image screen capture is courtesy of the blogger Joe My God.   I've decided to put our differences aside for one day and give him a high-five for snagging this.   Thanks, Joe!

Apparently, Cindy Phelps Roper got just a little mouthy about the purported Internet attack on Westboro Baptist Church and Anonymous has finally had enough.  Shortly after proclaiming on a live, on-air radio program that God made the Internet just so WBC could spread their rant to the whole world and (more or less) invoked the protection of God over their servers, a spokesperson from Anonymous (on the same radio program)  took their website down in about 45 seconds with a "swift and emotionless b%&#%slap" courtesy of 4chan.

As of 3:00 EST today, I tried to get on the WBC servers, and all their sites are STILL down.  Yowza.  If you like brimstone served with a side of poetic justice, you can see most of the radio interview on YouTube courtesy of the David Packman Show.  If you want to skip Cindy Phelps-Roper grinning like a zombie and being her generally unlovable self, however, the money shot starts somewhere around the 8:00 mark. 

I know I shouldn't take joy in the suffering of our enemies.  But I did a little dance for joy when I saw this nonetheless.  Oh well. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

This Just In: I'm Not Flunking Out!

Well, I heard back officially yesterday: after writing what I thought was the most unintelligent, incomprehensible piece of oh-just-forget-spelling-I-want-to-SLEEP examination I thought possible, I have actually passed my field exam in the Renaissance! STOP THE PRESSES!  I have been declared competent!  I'd like to thank God, my husband, my exam coordinator, Prozac, the guy who discovered caffeine, and my therapist. 

But do you know what this really means???  I am officially cleared to teach your children British Literature I.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Winter Sunset in Laramie

So, it's been a week since I turned in my second field exam, and I'm finally feeling like I'm "recovered" from the experience. Due to some medical quirks, stress just tends to wipe me out physically, and when I turned in my exam I went back home and slept for eleven hours. So that was my convenient excuse to sit on my butt most of the following week and do nothing.

Well, I didn't exactly do nothing.  In the last week I went to two SEC basketball games with my husband, a choir concert, and a friend's birthday party.  I finally got to go to my liturgical prayer group, get back involved with the LGBTA, and even do a little curling.  After months of doing nothing but school nonstop, I feel like such a hedonist.  And I discovered that it feels pretty nice.

The only thing I'm missing in this sudden glut of Appalachian spring are the sunsets.  Normally, we have simply amazing sunsets here in the evenings, full of blazing deep oranges and fuschia, but they haven't been living up to expectations recently.  The afternoon clouds roll in like the tide and stifle the twilight sky.  So, that naturally means I'm longing for some wide, open vistas with color.  So, I thought I'd share the ones I keep sticking on my computer while I'm supposed to be working. 

I'll start from north-central Wyoming, not terribly far from where some of my relatives live:

A Wyoming Sunset

That's still not as deep as it looked from the top of this pasture.  My dad and I were just speechless at how vibrant the pink clouds looked. 

This is from Bosler as I approached Laramie from the North back in January.  The sky had a nice, deep set of salmon and yellow to it:

Sunset at Bosler

Sometimes, even Bosler can be pretty. Both summer storm-clouds and twilight skies  suit it admirably. A little farther down the road I stopped and snapped this one:

Laramie Sunset

This one is from Laramie, about eight miles or so north of town.  Yes, the color vibrance has been adjusted in this photo, but not as near as much as you'd think. That tiny purple streak along the very edge of the horizon wasn't showing up as well as I could see it with my eyes. I hope you enjoy!

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Texture of Memory Is Corduroy

[Jackrabbit is nearing the home stretch on her field exam!  In the meantime, here's part two of that conversation regarding cognitive literary studies and The Laramie  Project.  If I have any brains left after the exam, I'll rejoin you shortly.]  

So, in my last post I shared a personal anecdote that created a little doubt about Jed Schultz's version of events regarding his parents' ambivalence to his acting career in The Laramie Project.  He claims that his duet from Angels in America was the first time his parents hadn't come to support him, but my friend "Andie" can remember lots of times that they didn't come to events because of scheduling conflicts.  So, whom do I believe?  Now that we're almost ten years down the road...  I believe them both.  Perhaps I don't believe that they both represent objective reality.  But I do believe that both versions have story truth, and without any way to determine the objective facts, that's what I have to settle for.

Here's what I mean: I thoroughly believe that this moment was the first time Jed felt disappointment in his parents; it's also the first time he had to break away from their authority and suffer the consequences.  I believe that his dismay and disappointment is real.  And, as for "Andie?"  I believe that her memory accurately represents her childhood recollections of paling around at school and church together with Jed because both of them had extremely busy parents.  Now that the objective truth can't be discovered, I have to settle for story truth.   He remembers the disappointment.  She remembers the strength of their childhood relationship in the face of parents who couldn't always be there.

So, story truth isn't the same as objective truth, but it has value nonetheless.   It's not a distinction we're normally willing to make, but it's an important one for understanding how we should approach the truth of The Laramie Project.  If we treat this play as only forensic, verifiable fact, two things will happen.  One is that people will discover that a lot of it's not "true"  and want to reject what it has to tell us.  The other is that they won't understand the depth and complexity that this play has to offer.  We have to understand that the texture of memory is uneven and full of gaps, layers and crevices.  We have to feel the textures of memory more like it's corduroy than silk.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Feeling the Textures of Memory in TLP

[Hello all!  I'm starting my Renaissance field exam this weekend, and so while I'm tearing my hair out over Christopher Marlowe and John Donne, I've written a couple of posts to bide the time while I'm away.  Hope you enjoy them!]

My brain As is pretty obvious at this point, I am fascinated by memory and how people create their sense of identity from their experiences.  When I teach my research course here at the university, we use autobiographical memory as a theme that we study and learn research techniques about.  In particular, we spend time learning about how frail memory actually is, and how those memories we  use to define ourselves get molded to fit how we see the world.  If you look at the two previous blog series about my own memories of this event, that's really clear, too: my memory is riddled with inconsistencies which are often dictated by the stories I want to tell-- or want to hide-- about who I think I am.

No memory can be told without a narrative, but the contingencies of storytelling-- of audience, of intent, overall meaning, interpretation-- will invariably rework the material of memory into something else, something with a different texture than before.  And those who listen must take that narrative and reverse-engineer it to glean information, to re-create an idea of what that original, "pristine" memory once looked like.  They try to flatten out the textures of memory to make it what it once was.  And I think many would argue that such an exercise is folly.  Instead of trying to flatten out those textures, a better tack might be to run our fingers over them, feel its knap and inconsistencies as part of their makeup. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This moment of ambivalence brought to you by: Iconography!

Okay, since I'm slaving away on studying for my second field exam as we speak, I didn't want to leave everyone without at least something to chew over while I'm away from the blog.  So, without further ado, I'd like to introduce a work by Father William Hart McNichols, a priest, former Jesuit, and very talented Catholic iconographer (check out his other work at that link above).

The work is a prayer card depiction passion, dedicated to "The Memory Of The "1,470 Gay and Lesbian Youth Who Commit Suicide In the U.S. Each Year And To The Countless Others Who Are Injured Or Murdered." I love the sentiment of this prayer card, but...  Whatever.   Let's see what you all think. 

Ready? Discuss. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Interesting developments in the Kato case...

IV Congresso Associazione Certi DirittiNot to harp on current events, but there's been an interesting development in the local coverage of the murder of Ugandan activist David Kato. It makes me think back to a certain 20/20 special with Elizabeth Vargas, actually.  The very beginning of the article briefly characterizes his death as an "iron bar" robbery, but it mainly focuses on Kato as "evil gay person," in a sense justifying his death as a consequence of his personal life.  The international outcry is simply dismissed. 

The piece is being run by the Uganda Daily Monitor, and their newest piece is called "Unmasking David Kato."  It crossed my radar because at least one of their sources is publicly decrying the paper for completely falsifying information-- the blogger GayUganda.  Apparently, the paper took a trip to his blog for information, and GayUganda is crying foul.   To make matters even worse, Kenyan papers are picking up the same information and spreading the story across international borders. Actually the post from the Daily Nation seems much worse than the Monitor story to me. 

GayUganda reports that he's unsure what to do about the libel in this case.  I'll be interested to see what he decides to do, but  in any case, it's interesting... 

Monday, February 7, 2011

To Egypt With Love

UT for Democracy in Middle East, 2/7/11
I just love Democracy.  And I really love democracy when extremely disparate groups come together and join in peaceful, public demonstration in support of it.  And, this afternoon on my campus in Appalachia I had a chance too see how awesome that can be.

A very disparate, grassroots group of students started planning six days ago for a rally in honor of the Egyptian push for democracy, which was put together by both domestic, international, and even Egyptian undergraduates.  The turnout was very good, and other than one local reporter pushing a couple of students on some tendentious questions about the Muslim Brotherhood's involvement in the Cairo demonstrations, it was all extremely positive.  I saw students and faculty from secular, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim associations all in attendance, side-by-side. I ran into some of my former students and my minister friend all in attendance. 

One of my co-workers teaches a class on space, resistance and public discourse, and last Friday her students largely told her that they didn't think people could just get together and proclaim their views in public like this.  I saw her taking surveys and interviews with some of the participants just to show her students that, yes, they can publicly call each other to action.  Here are some pics of the event for you!

UT for Democracy in Middle East, 2/7/11

UT for Democracy in Middle East, 2/7/11

UT for Democracy in Middle East, 2/7/11

UT for Democracy in Middle East, 2/7/11

UT for Democracy in Middle East, 2/7/11

UT for Democracy in Middle East, 2/7/11

UT for Democracy in Middle East, 2/7/11

UT for Democracy in Middle East, 2/7/11

Sunday, February 6, 2011

And Much Study is Wearisome to the Flesh...

I came across a little gem in a 1960's study guide on Milton that I just had to share.  Do you ever get the feeling you're living in a completely different world in the 21st century?
Adam's sin, according to Milton, is "uxoriousness,' the excessive love of one's spouse...Most twentieth-century readers would not agree with Milton's condemnation of passion, but almost everyone should be able to see with Milton that one can love one's spouse too much.  For instance, if the husband of a communist spy loves his wife so much that he becomes a spy, too, even though he doesn't believe in communism, most of us would think that he loved too much... 

Look out, Adam, that chick is a communist!  
Sorry, between the chauvinism in that statement and the Cold War, I just found this hysterical.
Back to studying for me...

Arguing with the Voices in My Head

Bart Ehrman speaks at the University of Tennessee
This is Bart Ehrman. I found him to be a
human being, contrary to popular opinion.
So, there is an event that has been weighing heavily on my mind recently, and it's keeping me from studying on my exam.  A week ago Thursday I was in our university auditorium setting up my camera to take pictures for a Bart Ehrman talk.  (Sometimes I think I must be the most tolerant evangelical in the world.  The pictures were a personal favor for a professor.)  I roped my minister friend into helping me set up beforehand, and we chatted quietly as he helped me get the tripod leveled:
"Did you hear about Uganda?"  He asked me.
"No," I answered with a grunt.  "What's up?"
"Some gay rights activist was killed today, and people are blaming Christian missionaries for it..." 
"Who was it?  What was his name?"  I asked, and my minister friend just shrugged; he couldn't remember.  I leaned over onto the empty tripod to kill the nausea rising in my stomach.  I was pretty sure I knew who the victim was before I checked the news reports later that night-- it had to be David Kato. I grimaced in rage. 
"...Maybe I shouldn't have told you," my friend answered, and I shrugged it off for the moment.  We had to finish setting up. 
 I watched Ehrman laugh through my camera lens while I checked the lighting and he shared some gossip with the facilitators.  His lightheartedness against my anger made me feel like were on two different planets.  I had to mentally check out of much of the lecture to sort through what my minister friend had told me, which made me feel bad.  Ehrman was an earnest, likeable fellow in his own way, and he treated me very well; I just had other things to think about.  

 If you've never heard of him, David Kato Kisule was a remarkable and troubled human being.  A Uganda native, he had worked hard on a local, national, and international level to improve the lot of an LGBT population routinely denied even basic rights in a nation where well over 90% of the population strongly disapprove of homosexuality.  He proved to be a vocal and stubborn representative for Ugandan gays, and that openness left him constantly threatened, battered, and harassed.  And, in spite of the psychological toll, he continued. 

The political wildfire started a little while ago when a few fundamentalist groups whom I rather dislike held a conference in Kampala about the so-called "homosexual agenda" and protecting the society.  After meetings with two of the conference organizers, particularly Scott Lively [oh, barf it's the Pink Swastika guy], the legislature proposed a bill to marginalize the gay population even more: prison time for gay marriage, restrictions on housing, and allowing the death penalty to those gays labeled especially "pernicious."  The international community cried foul; activists helped fuel the outrcy against it, and the bill was tabled.

IV Congresso Associazione Certi Diritti
David Kato, from Uganda.  He was also a human being, contrary to popular opinion.
About four months ago, Kato's picture showed up on a local paper's front page as part of a huge campaign to "out" people.  His picture, name, and personal information were all included-- with a hundred other people's-- under a banner that read "hang them."  Kato and two others filed suit against the paper's editor for invasion of privacy and won.  He only had time to celebrate their legal victory for about three weeks before his friends found him dead.  He was beaten with a hammer.   I love that newspaper editor's response to Kato's death: "When we called for hanging of gay people," he protested, "we meant ... after they have gone through the legal process...  I did not call for them to be killed in cold blood like he was." Well, gee, mister, I guess that makes things all better, doesn't it? 

So, yes, I was disheartened to hear of Kato's death.  But there is something about this story that resonates deep in my bones.  It's not necessarily the brutality or the links to Christian terrorism that bother me  (although I want to give Lively and a few radical ministers a kick in the head).

What bothers me is that David Kato Kisule died in a land of red earth. The words I hear coming from that land of red earth are echoing the voices in my head from when I was nineteen.  I know what those words led to in my own red-soiled land, and I don't like it. I hear the echo and want to argue back. 

I mean, listen to the narrative here:  An out gay male from a culture suspicious of gays is found bludgeoned with a blunt object.  The police focus on two suspects.  At the murdered man's funeral, a preacher goes on a homophobic rant, and the mourners try to block him from the proceedings.  One of the two suspects, when arrested, pulls out a "gay panic" defense.  A certain part of the religious community uses his death to rant about the "gay agenda," and the LGBT community organizes in response.  The international community intervenes, but a lot of people treat the problem like it's "way out there" and not their problem.  And in the end, the larger straight community is unsure what to do, personally and legislatively, in response.  Many of them then call the killing a robbery gone bad.

With a change of location, this narrative could just as easily be about Matt Shepard, and I personally am concerned with how much that past tragedy is scripting others now.  I mean, let's compare notes:   (WARNING: Lively is beyond offensive.  Read at your own risk!) 
Giles Muhame, editor of the paper sued for outing gays: 
"When we called for hanging of gay people, we meant ... after they have gone through the legal process," said Giles Muhame. "I did not call for them to be killed in cold blood like he was."  (source: CNN)
Scott Lively:
"It has since been reported by the New York Times that the local police do not believe this was a hate crime but a robbery. This has not deterred the Times, and the rest of the "mainstream" media from using this crime to advance the "gay" narrative that all disapproval of homosexuality leads invariably to violence and murder of homosexuals. This is propaganda, not journalism and it is a false premise."  (source: bleh.)
Okay, now compare it to these regarding the Shepard incident...
 Fred Phelps:
"You don't kill anybody.  Not just you don't kill a fag, you don't kill anybody, because our laws prohibit it.  But that's not what's going on here.  this has become a cause célèbre for the "gay agenda..." (source: NPR)
Scott Lively (again):
"Matthew Shepard was just another self-identified “gay,” but on October 12, 1998, he was murdered by two men. He wasn’t killed because he was a homosexual, it was a matter of robbery. And the robbers obviously weren’t Christians. However, the timing was right for the “gay” scheme, and so Matthew Shepard became the new martyr of the homosexual movement: a symbol of “gay” victim hood at the hands of the evil Christians." (source: *gag*)
Damon Bolden at November 19th Rally Against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality BillIt's kind of fascinating to watch David's story follow such a similar form as Matt's, and especially the way that the story's being framed.  It also makes me a little nauseous because it makes me wonder how much that previous narrative might help push international discourse in the same direction. How much has Matt Shepard's story set the terms of discourse for incidents like these?  And, is there anything we can do about it?

There is one narrative in particular that I noticed, too, but I'll let the blogger Gay Uganda explain.  He has been trying to sift through the news to understand what is going on in the Kato case:
Have just heard it on Capital FM. Apparently, the guy who was staying in David's place, the guy who was working for him has been arrested. At Mukono Police station at the moment.
And, from what I heard, he has confessed to the murder, reporting that Kato forced him into having sex, so he killed him.
True, false, I don't know?...
...yeah, in Uganda, putting the blame on the big bad homosexual works all the time. [Homosexuals] are evil, they are bad, they are terrible. They deserve hanging.
So, I killed him because he attacked me, or he made advances. Homosexual advances. So, I hit him twice with a hammer...
Gay Panic Defense? I believe that is what it is called. And, in Uganda, we [gays] are so vilified, it can work. Terrible as it seems. That is a fact.
Gay Uganda (who also lives in Kampala) is recognizing a pattern within the Kato murder investigation, and "gay panic" is the phrase he settles on to define the way that authorities or perpetrators shift blame to the gay victim and justify their victimization.  When Matt died, his murderer called it "gay panic."  The name, at least, stuck.  But does the influence go no further?  I hope not.  I hope McKinney didn't serve as a role model for such dreck. 

Then there's the robbery narrative, which both the Kampala police and Scott Lively put forward.  Lively has long been involved in the Laramie story because he has long harassed and mocked the LGBT movement.  Not long after Matt's murderers were tried, Lively stuck his nose into the debate and had the temerity (or the insanity) to compare Matt's rise in the media world to how the Nazis adopted Horst Wessel as an icon.  (Oooh, Nazis.  Way to jump the shark there, Scotty.) At the same time, he also blamed Matt's murder on a simple robbery.  Not surprisingly, that's the exact same excuse he used to distance himself from his direct complicity in the Kato murder.  He went to Kampala to fuel this kind of homophobic outrage; whether Kato was a direct victim or collateral damage of his hate campaign is simply a matter of degree regarding his guilt.  It's like he's turned this into his M.O. anytime somebody says he's complicit for the results of the violence-laden homophobia he preaches. 

And, so: where are we now?  It's an interesting puzzle, but it's one that I'm a little too partial to consider correctly.  Of course I see shadows of Matt everywhere; his absence is burned into my memory like a cut-up photograph.  And yet, the story we all tell about his murder has obviously shaped the discourse on gay rights, homophobia, and violence.  What has that narrative contributed to this new story of a Ugandan activist beaten to death just three weeks after he won a suit in court?  Perhaps the Shepard murder's legacy is inscribed in our language, with terms "gay panic" or "gay agenda."  Maybe that narrative has lent us narrative schemas that the culture at large now uses to make sense of similar issues.  Or, maybe Scott Lively has simply found a cheap, dirty way to eschew any responsibility for the human casualties of his hatred and ignorance.

On the whole, the David Kato story isn't like Matt's much at all.  Kato died in a city of over a million people, in his own home.  He was possibly murdered by a man living under his own roof.  At the moment, nobody is really sure what happened or whether to trust the main suspect's confession.  Kato lived in a society with much more than a homophobic subtext; it's the majority opinion.  And, as much as I try to downplay the religious role in my own community, the direct involvement of Christian fundamentialism in Uganda is clearly making people suffer.  It's all really a matter of where you focus, and how you read the signs.

So: did Matt change the way we talk about hate crimes and homophobia?  Is it for good or for ill?  Or, am I just seeing part of a much older narrative of violence and denial?  Has the Laramie murder unwittingly developed a strategy for nay-sayers to ignore LGBT suffering? 

I don't know.  I just don't know where to go with this.  Any suggestions out there???

If you're interested in following David Kato's story, there are some great sites out there from African sources you can follow:

Gay Uganda: a gay blogger from Kampala who was familiar with Kato:
Behind the Mask: an African organization providing LGBT news, resources, and activism:
Gay Rights Uganda: Just what it sounds like:


1)   Bart Ehrman, by me. 
2)   David Kato Kisule, from Abolire la miseria della Calabria, via Flickr.
3)   A NYC protester of the Uganda anti-homosexuality law, from the International Women's Health Coalition, via Flickr.