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, October 3, 2012

The Tectonic Uncertainty Principle: Now for Jackrabbits!

So, fall is here, and that mean that the theater season is well underway. How do I know this? Because I can watch the page counts on Flickr and Blogger tick upwards, like a little barometer, with people looking for pictures. 

It's a surreal feeling, actually.  My ultimate goal was to help people interested in The Laramie Project, sure, and I was aware that my stuff might actually end up in productions of TLP.  Sure, I always new that.  But now that I see it happening on more than just one or two productions...  Just, wow.  It feels strange.  On the one hand, it's nice to know I can help people out, especially with getting a fuller view of the Laramie community for their performances.  On the other hand, I'm having a bit of an identity crisis with this.  I've always been ambivalent about the buck fence as a symbol of torture and death, and now it seems that I have unwittingly helped people further this very discourse.  

Ladies and Jackrabbits, this is officially the most popular
picture I've ever taken.  I'm not sure how I feel about this. 
Let me show you what I mean.  According to Blogger, in the last month, three of the five most popular posts are the ones on the fence where Matthew Shepard was killed: namely, "The Buck Fence and Place," "The Fences of Laramie," and the second post of my "Fences" series.   My post on Matthew's memorial bench actually rounds out the top four.

It's not just a new trend, either.  The stats are historically largely the same for as long as Blogger has offered free site statistics.  A large number of people come to this site specifically interested in buck fences. 

To give you an idea of what that breakdown is, here are some lifetime stats on page views for my blog via Google Analytics:

Pages most viewed:

cumulative for photos pages:  #1 #6, 11.8% of traffic
"Buck Fence and Place":        #5  most viewed, 3.4% of traffic
"The Fences of Laramie":       #7 most viewed, 3.1% of traffic
"Buck Fence and Memory":   #9 most viewed, 1.5% of traffic
"Fences":                                #12 most viewed, 1.3% of traffic

Total:  21.18%

Holy mother of breadsticks.  Keep in mind that there are also pictures of buck fences on those photo pages as well, and a lot of the Flickr cross-links I get are from those specific photos, too.  There are a whole spate of reasons I would have hoped people would come here to read about The Laramie Project and find information.  But apparently I should rename my blog "One-stop shopping for all of your buck fence picture needs" instead.  This is pretty darn interesting.

Things don't look any different if we turn to the Google search engine history.  These are much more varied and capricious, ranging from specific quotes from articles I review to my favorite recurring search term, "Hitler hair," but that's beside the point.  Though more scattered, these searches do start to fall into specific trends.  For instance: 

Total number of Google searches: 3,179

"free Laramie Project photos":  3%
variations of "buck fence":     4.5%

Seeing as searches for the phrase "The Laramie Project" make up just 1.7%, that's significant. 

Then there's the pictures.  When I first conceived of this blog, I didn't have a decent camera at the time, and it never occurred to me that more than, say, five people would ever look at it.  Things changed when I finally got a good SLR camera and started taking pictures back home.  I later decided to make the blog a resource page for people interested in the play-- but the bibliographies I have put up for that purpose account for very little of my overall traffic. It's the pictures that people really want. 

For instance, that buck fence picture above has only been on Flickr for two years, and, as of this week, is my most popular picture with 1647 trackable page views. (What's #2?  A picture of a centaur skeleton, oddly enough.)  It's also now the second image to appear if you do a Google image search for the phrase "buck fence."  And, while curling photos still make up the bulk of the annual interest in my Flickr photostream (which is a long story), a serious number of Google searches every week that end up on my Flickr account are for the words "Laramie, Wyoming," and for "Buck Fence" and "Matthew Shepard." 

Buck Fence
In addition: this photo to the right has been up longer, and has 472 trackable views.  Since it's not as photogenic (and because it doesn't have the search term "Laramie" in it, either), it has been viewed less, but still a significant amount.  It also places high on Google image searches.  Oddly enough, I am now driving the market, such as it is, for images of buck fences.  And that is a weird, weird thought.

But are these pictures getting tied to The Laramie Project or to Matt Shepard?  The short answer is "yes."  Google Image Search has this cool feature now where you can drag and drop images to see where they're being used.   That first fence picture shows up on several different websites aside from my block and Flickr-- some sites talk just about buck fences, but the majority are referring to either Matt Shepard or The Laramie Project.  And I don't know how many people have used them for non-web use except for the ones who have specifically told me-- probably far, far more.  Keep in mind that not a single one of these images have either Shepard's name or TLP listed in their keywords or descriptions.

As I think about all this, two thoughts come to mind.  Here's the first: ever since I've been blogging, I have been touchy about the seemingly "ruined" image of the buck fence in the American psyche after Matthew's murder.  I'm still a little sensitive about the subject today, even though I've accepted that, as a symbol, the buck fence now connotes homophobia.  It is perhaps one small way we must culturally atone for his senseless murder-- that his presence will always haunt our memory of the buck fence.  But now I've unwittingly become a large influence in helping that view of buck fences continue. 

Here's the other thought: I now have to be a little more circumspect about how I talk about Tectonic Theater's influence in the Laramie community.  I once did a post subtitled "The Tectonic Uncertainty Principle" which accused Tectonic Theater of, among other things, not considering their own influence on how Laramie citizens reacted to the media portrayal of Matt's murder.  I have to realize now that I'm having a similar influence.  Not on Laramie, however: I'm apparently influencing how a small number of people are performing the play.   From here on out, when I think about how different play companies perform The Laramie Project and how their dramaturgs interpret the community, I have to be aware of my own influence as well.  And, just as Tectonic had an agenda in how they represented Laramie to the world, I have my own agenda when I talk about Laramie to play companies who are interested in how I see things, too.

At this point, from an ethnographic perspective, I have ventured from the role of a more outsider observer to what ethnologists might call a participant-observer, or even an activist-observer.  That has to change the way I think about The Laramie Project in some meaningful way from here on out. 

But, still: it's nice to know I've found a real niche where I can help people try to make Laramie a real place, and that's apparently through image.  I just hope that they realize that my camera lens isn't impartial, and that, tied up in all those vast, sky-dominated landscapes I have taken of Laramie's spaces, are deep-seated mythologies of the West just as one-sided as any other perspective in The Laramie Project.  

As a postscript, what do I wish was the most popular photo in my Flickr photostream? That's a tough call, but probably this one:
Judith Basin Sunset

This is in Montana rather than Wyoming, from the last time I visited Grandpa Wolf in Lewistown. Land of Big Sky, indeed. 


  1. Hello!
    My name is Julia and I'm in high school.
    So, I'm making a poster for my high school's The Laramie Project play, and I was wondering if I can use some of your photos!

  2. Hello Julia,

    I'd be happy to let you use some of my photos for your production. But I'm also curious about your play project and would like to learn more.

    If you wouldn't mind, could you send me an email at and we can chat? I'd love to hear what your high school is doing with the play.


  3. I think you've hit it on the head with that cultural atonement thought. Buck fences aren't the first innocent object to become charged with negative significance, and sadly I'm sure they won't be the last. :-/ I wish I could think of a good specific example, but I'm blanking. But I know I've seen more than one exchange between someone saying "But it's just a [insert utilitarian object]!" and a member of a marginalized group explaining for the millionth time why it isn't anymore.