Calling all Theater companies and performers!

Open Call to Theater companies, performers, researchers:
I would like to hear other voices besides my own on this blog. If you'd like to write about your TLP experiences here, e-mail them to me and I'll put them up.
Topics can include dramaturgy to staging to personal responses to the play. Anything goes!

Thursday, 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.