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!

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