The Laramie Project


LIVE BLOG Last Laramie rehearsal before Tech.

Tonight, I’m live-blogging our last run-through before we head into technical rehearsals. This is the place where actors will pick up some of their notes but is also a way to introduce our readers to our process, our space, our productions. Enjoy!

6:55pm

Worklight views of our beautiful set.

Warm-ups begin.

Click LaramieCastWarmup to see the cast in action!

7:05pm

Our glorious stage manager Don gives notes about live video feeds tonight, live flame (!) for the candlelight vigil.

7:10pm

Actors check presets of the 150 total costume pieces and props. They will wait in their opening places from the time the house opens. We wait for our videographer, Alex, to sync up feed for moment titles and video feed.

7:11pm

WE START!

Bart Matthews’ original score sets the mood with an overture that gives the melodic themes that will carry through the show. His upright piano accompaniment is LIVE!

Actors engage costumes and props as transitional objects, moving from their “roles” as Duke students performing in a play, to Tectonic company members collecting interviews, to Laramie citizens. Each piece is activated as soon as it is picked up.

Jacob and Ben have such a great rapport as Narrator and Doc O’Connor. I wonder if Ben might go ahead and look at Jacob as he saunters over near him while Doc is talking about the trains.

Sgt Hing and the reporter “lady” are in the same place outside in the Laramie but it’s amazing how they see such different things. For him, grandeur and beauty. For her, desolation.

This is a mouthful, “Head of the theater department at the University of Wyoming.”

Ashley/Rebecca maybe needs to feel a bit more judgment, skepticism in the Tectonic listeners. Help her motivate, “I love my students …”

Tectonic members, when you meet Jedadiah, what is your mood? Do you see yourselves in his eagerness?

Andy/Jedadiah, are you defensive or explanatory on “I’m not gay.”

Tectonic members when you’re in the diner, you’re both in the diner and in your journals. So make sure that you play the scene of waiting and ordering and the asides to the audience about what you’ve observed on your trip into this place.

It just strikes me how much Marge and Alison might enjoy flirting a bit with this handsome young actor who is interviewing them — talking about “all togethers” and “Minnie” in the roundhouse.

How “embarrassed” are you to explain, SOL, Alison? Do you treat the explanation as a duty, give it with a smirk, or as if he’s a bit thick for not being able to reason it out?

Afftene/Marge, getting up from the chair at the end of your interview works so well. Do you maybe start to leave and stop yourself and then tell him that last thought?

OK. I sneezed during someone’s monologue and it strikes me, how aware are all the actors of being watched? Of speaking to each other as listeners but to the audience as well? What would you do if someone spoke to you or did something in response to your conversation during the show? Not that I expect people to misbehave, but just to urge you to look in the eyes of the audience if/when you speak directly to them. Consider how they are in the moment with you. This applies to laughs, coughs, any discomfort you sense, any support/affection they show you.

Naomi/Catherine Connolly. I love that you get to the stage space just as you say, “the only out gay or lesbian …”. Perfect timing. It was illegal for them to ask about your “husband” in your interview.

Naomi/Amanda Gronich. How important is it that we know that this is what you remember of that sermon?

Ash/Steven Mead Johnson–you are really taking hold of your position as directing the quartet of religious voices. Is he being honest or self-deprecating when he describes Unitarians as almost not a religion at all? Does Matthew’s death give him a reason to be a religious leader? If so, how does that change his last line in that quartet scene?

Kimi/Zuibaida–love that scene with Stephen. Yeah. I wonder whether you might not, in a Brechtian sense, notice that you are in a theater, performing the play that Stephen has written?

Summer/Baptist Minister’s Wife–where I was sitting I only got your back. I wonder whether you might think about how your posture changes as Naomi/Amanda makes her pleas?

Andy/Matt M. when you say, “every night is ladies night” is it a possible flirtation with Barbara? I just heard that differently tonight and it make me think of the real Matt M’s willingness to participate in that faux nineteenth-century marriage with that performance artist in 2009.

Ben/Matt G.–love watching you explain the night’s events with Henderson and McKinney. It helps set up your later lines about having to “develop a funneling system.” How many of the words that you are using in this description are words you are comfortable with or that you are just using for the first time?

Summer/Romaine and Spencer/Phil LaBrie — do you maybe address your lines to Emma/Narrator, Kimi/Barbara and your nearby audience members because both of you are countering or supporting details in Matt G.’s description.

Afftene/Shadow is so riveting. I never found any coverage of a DJ’s story in news reports which makes me wonder whether Tectonic was the only entity to get his story. What makes him trust/talk to them?

These costumes are becoming so much a part of what you all are doing. So if you don’t get things on exactly when it’s your time to talk, that’s OK. Work them as if your character is putting something on or taking something off during your interview. Jacob/Jon Peacock you had a nice moment of this at the top of Act 2’s “A Laramie Man.”

Giving Summer/Leigh and Julian/Spencer that chance to touch towards the end of Act 1 is such a nice change of the dynamic of separate but intertwined conversations we’ve got going. It’s the only time Tectonic folks touch or closely interact. So really enjoy it, notice its meaning to what you are saying to us.

In the Aaron/Reggie/Dr. Cantway trio it strikes me how isolated the three of them are as they introduce their roles in finding Matthew — “I was riding my bike ..” “I responded to the call ” “I was working the ER the night …” yet the juxtaposition of their stories show that they are not alone, each of their actions is part of the chain of events. The way you all are now referencing each other by the scene’s end helps bring them into conversation not only with us but with each other. Helping each other understand what has happened.

8:08pm

ACT ONE ENDS!

Can I just say how much I love ya’ll?!

8:19pm

ACT TWO BEGINS!

In the “onion” that starts this act, are ya’ll open to smiling, acknowledging smiles or other looks from the audience?

Ben/Matt G. when you’re having that conversation with Andy/Matt M. what happens if you take those “I go ..” and “I said ..” directly while looking at Andy vs. to Afftene.

YAY! We’ve got live video! Jeremy and Manny ya’ll are gonna probably have to shift from doing a crouch to standing head-on to your subjects.

Don, we might need to add camera focus time to the pre-set for Manny and Jeremy and at least a couple of stand-in reporters.

Alex, is there a way to set an automatic focus on those cameras that can make sure that they’re set from the start of the show?

Love the tone and pace of Julian/Judge in “The Essential Facts.” Is there a way to add a wee bit more volume to the sotto voce section?

Here we go — MEDIA CACOPHONY. First time with live video feed. Looking good ya’ll. And the voices raised to cover all the chaos. Good support We might need to set a little time for a separate rehearsal with individual reporters and their cameramen.

Jacob/Jon Peacock is the only person really reacting to the different details from Cameron/Rulon about Matthew’s condition. Not that everyone needs to go into silent film poses in response but remember this is the “first time” you all have heard these details.

The “Seeing Matthew” moment shares some of the same qualities with the “Finding Matthew Shepard” scene. Each of the people we meet — Rob, Aaron K., Catherine, Matt G., Reggie and Marge — talks about “I..” …. “I wanted it so tight …” “Why did God want me to find him…” “I was irrationally terrified …” “I shouldn’t have been washing dishes …” “What I didn’t tel you before …”

Love the dynamic now between Emma/Reggie and Afftene/Marge. Is it a “like mother, like daughter” tendency to use humor to deflect emotion?

Ashley/Murdock Cooper you’ve got a great place on the edge of stage to use an audience member, if you are so inclined, as someone who might empathize with your position about “pickin’ up regular people.”

Nice Julian/Jonas with Andy/Jedadiah. I think you can challenge him even more with “That’s a great philosophy?” You’ve got another speech that end with a couple of pointed questions at the end of Act Three. Might think about these two speeches in relation.

I love the on-stage vigil. It’s gonna look so cool when the lights are down.

Summer/Jen and Jacob/Shannon ya’ll’s dynamic is terrific. Just watch that you don’t get too conspiratorial in your tone, too soft for us to hear or rush through your sentences ’cause you all reveal a lot to us about Aaron McKinney.

Kimi/Homecoming Newsreporter — great getting that anchor/reporter in the field persona with physical stillness and vocal variety.

Alex — Did we decide to cut or never include the three circles graphic from the parade in the “Homecoming” moment?

Emma/Sherry Johnson — like the choices you’re making with her. After Spencer/Harry’s emotional evocation of the Homecoming parade, hearing Sherry’s perspective on events helps jolt the audience to the contrast in their views of Matthew.

Julian/Father Roger — YES!! that transition into Father Roger from Greg is exactly what we’re talking about in terms of thinking of costumes and props as a layering-on of character. Ben/Doc, I wonder if you might do something similar with Doc’s coat as you enter the space, first as Stephen in the “H-O-P-E” Moment.

Funny moment when Spencer/Andrew Gomez almost ended up in an intimate scene with Cameron/Rulon Stacey. Afftene remember to move that chair over to the other edge of the canvas when you leave the chair during your earlier scene with Emma/Reggie.

Naomi/Amanda and Afftene/Baptist Minister and Summer/Baptist Minister’s Wife — In both of these phone conversation scenes, ya’ll need to shift in the middle to looking towards the other direction of the stage so that each side of the audience on the aisle get to see your profiles. Here’s where that should happen. As the Minister says “Now , those two people, the accused …” (pg. 68) and in the earlier scene it should come when Amanda says, “Oh, I know, I really understand, it must have been terrible” (pg. 27).

Afftene/Baptist Minister — Love what you’re doing with this man. Wonder if you might stress “that lifestyle” in your very last line in the conversation with Naomi/Amanda.

Alex — I love the rain graphic on the moment slide, but I wonder if it might not go away for Rulon’s update.

Cameron/Rulon — I know we’ve only got one camera on you in this theater, but in the real circumstance he’s got a lot of camera’s on him. So you can look around as you deliver your updates. I missed whether you said a hard “t” in “premature.”

Ya’ll are doing so well on lines! There is so much to remember in this show. Blocking is spot-on, “active listening” is flowing through the space. As you get even more secure, you can give yourselves permission to feel as if you’re really talking to us.

Good with the chairs everybody!Remember the protocol: front legs down first then back.

9:10pm

ACT TWO OVER! You guys ROCK!

No snow machine tonight. : (

9:22pm

ACT THREE BEGINS!

I want a CD of Bart’s music for this show.

The Our Town homage. Black umbrellas slowly fill the stage as we shift to the day of Matthew’s funeral.

Spencer/Priest — I’m sure it’s the latent Catholic in me, but I can’t help responding to your “The Lord be with you” with “And also with you.”

Here comes Fred Phelps/Ash. Maybe kick up the sound on your undercurrent dialogue when Cameron begins “Amazing Grace”? Just so we get a sense of the counter point that Jacob has just described? It will also give us a preview of the struggle that comes later with the angel action.

Phelps protestors are you all prepared for audience members to talk back to you?

Love the harmony with Amazing Grace. Gotta hear you above all that Summer/Romaine!

Andy/Russell — I’ve been reading a lot recently about how flat and unconvincing Russell’s statement to the Shepard’s came across. I wonder whether we really need to see his earnestness, his desire for mercy when he is questioned by the judge in the opening of the “Russell Henderson” moment in order to see any kind of contrast in his demeanor when he speaks to the Shepards. Loved the look to Kimi/Lucy. Does he say what he says to the Shepards because his family has convinced him he should do so?

Kimi/Lucy Thompson–nice tonight. I heard age in her vocal lilt not Southerness.

Ash/Mormon Home Teacher — This character serves a similar role in the play as Dennis Shepard. What happens to the speech if you think of yourself as Russell’s closest father figure. Dennis Shepard speaks to us of losing his son and you, as you talk about Russell, are doing something similar. Excommunication is a serious abandonment; are you risking something by telling Tectonic that you’re going to stand by Russell?

Cameron/Rob DeBree — Love what you’re doing with “This is America.” That’s his big realization. His previous homophobia has been unpatriotic.

Afftene/Marge and Emma/Reggie — nice counter dynamic to your previous scene where humor is punctuating sadness. Now happiness/excitement is flowing through your interaction.

Kimi/Zubaida — Flatten that “A” a bit more in “Aaron.”

NEW EXCITEMENT! Live video in the interrogation scene! We’re doing a bit of the 24 episode quarter-division of the TV screens to capture Rob’s interrogation of Aaron.

Alex and Jeff — Should we keep the feed during “Gay Panic”?

Cameron/Rob — In the interrogation scene, I love Rob’s intensity, but I wonder if you even try to lighten the mood and almost offer yourself as someone who sympathizes with Aaron’s world view.

Active listeners, decide how you are receiving these verdicts. Again, it’s not like you have to draw attention to yourselves, but we are going to be looking at you for some kind of response. There are a lot of blank stares right now.

Jacob/Dennis — Nice build in the description of Matthew’s friends. The “he had God” hit just the right tone. Nice with “who refused to show any mercy,” you took this as a light line vs. hard/angry. You’re going to have to take a moment for yourself to come out of that monologue. It’s probably going to be a good time to find yourself again when Ben/Matt G. starts talking.

Ash/Aaron — “God wanted me to find Matthew …” Really explain to us your realization ’cause it’s been what we’ve heard from you since you were first introduced. This speech is the end of your journey.

Andy/Andy P/Jedadiah — Good transition putting on Jedadiah.

10:05pm

ACT THREE OVER!!!

HURRAY! HURRAH! Shake it out. Give each other high fives, hugs, and kudos. And let’s get our tech hats on!

–Dramaturgically yours,

Jules


His Name is Jedadiah Schultz

Or his name is Andy Chu. It really could be both. Just saying.

Because really, looking for differences between the two of us is a lot harder than looking for the similarities. We are two heterosexual theatre nerds raised in stable, conservative Protestant homes and attending college with the intention of becoming professional actors. We will have both played Jedadiah Schultz. We were both thrilled to become involved in The Laramie Project.

And we both had no idea what it was we signed up for.

I write this now at 5:11 P.M., Thursday, March 31, in the cold, fluorescently lit rooms in the very back of the Bryan Center. I have come here an hour and forty-nine minutes before rehearsal to try to get a handle on the character of Jedadiah. The pressure I have put on myself to get Jedadiah right has crammed me up in my head, where I cannot work, and I intend to fix this in this hour and forty-nine minutes. I write this as I rehearse.

ACT I

MOMENT: A DEFINITION

When Jeff asked me in our individual session so many weeks ago what Jedadiah Schultz was, I thought for a moment, and I told him, “He’s someone who’s thrust into a world where everything that wasn’t supposed to happen, happened.” And what better way is there to describe matriculating to a university? As a freshman (and I write now at the expense of being trite), the whole world is upside-down. For starters, there is a world, and it’s hot and wild and kaleidoscopic and so unimaginably real: and this, you are told repeatedly by FACs and GAs and professors (and bus drivers), is your world to crack wide open. Political, social, religious, sexual mores are thrown out the window, and you have to learn to create yourself again and for the first time.

MOMENT: ANGELS IN AMERICA

So when I met Jeff and found out he was directing The Laramie Project, which was also to be part of the course material for my FOCUS class with him, things really started to click. Not only was Jeff an incredible theatre professor, he also owned his own professional theatre just ten minutes from campus. More than that, he seemed to like me–as a person, a student, and as an actor.

I read The Laramie Project in early September, in just a few hours, and I was taken with the material. The concept of documentary theatre was new, edgy, artistic–and I relished the thought of being a part of it. Particularly, I wanted a chance to play this one character named Jedadiah Schultz, with whom I felt I had connected as I read. And sure enough, when I arrived at callbacks for the show, Jeff had me read Jedadiah’s first Angels in America monologue, as if he had somehow known.

So I read it, and I knew that I could really make a splash at Duke (and with Jeff) if I did a good enough job.

There was, of course, the issue of how Jedadiah’s character arc ended. He gave in, I felt, to the pressures around him, renouncing the ways of his parents and his religion and buying into homosexuality like any other post-modern relativist. But he was such a good character. He was like the best character.

So I decided to do it.

ACT II

MOMENT: LIVE AND LET LIVE

When I was in middle school, two women and a young girl moved in next door. When I asked my mom who the girl’s mother was, she told me that the women were homosexual. I asked what that meant.

Of course, in Asheville, North Carolina, the lesbian capital of the East Coast, it was not unexpected for my mother. It was, however, my first encounter with girls who didn’t like boys. It soon became more regular. In high school, one of my best friends, Deidre, came out to me (I had had a crush on her, so the experience wasn’t easy), and I became more aware of homosexuality in the media, among the theatre kids I hung out with, and in the world at large.

I also knew, from my private Christian high school education, that homosexuality was wrong. Speaking in religious terms, it wasn’t how God had intended it to happen, and no amount of human desire could justify it. After all, humans wanted to do all sorts of things to each other, but desire didn’t seem to justify rape, or murder, or theft.

At the same time, I wasn’t going to treat the gay people I knew any differently. I loved Deidre, and besides, most of the gay people I knew seemed nice enough. I just disagreed with their lifestyle.

The same was true when I got to college. I knew the chances of my coming into contact with out homosexuals was much higher–a.) because of how open and liberal college campuses tended to be, and b.) because I was going to study theatre. This, I knew, became especially true after I was cast in a play called The Laramie Project.

ACT III

MOMENT: ANGELS IN AMERICA

Come March, life was different. I was firmly entrenched in Duke theatre, even before The Laramie Project, which would be the fourth show I had been involved with since arriving; I had great friends and a wonderful girlfriend; and classes were going pretty well. Laramie was going well, too–in every character but Jedadiah Schultz. The murderer, the Mormon, the bar owner–they were all fine, but there was something about Jedadiah that I couldn’t get.

What I realized was that Jedadiah was too much like me. Or I was too much like him. Either way, we were too similar for me to get a handle on him, because who, really, can get a handle on himself? Plus, Jedadiah was going where I didn’t. Jedadiah took a side. With my own opinions about homosexuality in limbo, I was being asked to play someone who chose to believe in it, who was forced to make a decision.

So I did.

MOMENT: EPILOGUE

And the truth is, I can’t any longer justify what I believed about being gay. Like so many things, what I had believed simply didn’t make sense in college, in this bristling new world. And in reality, I had known this for some time–I just had never been able to admit it.

But Jedadiah is me. Jedadiah is my coming out.

I am a straight man who thought that homosexuality was wrong. Now, after Jedadiah, I am a straight man who thinks that his gay friends and his gay professors are not so different from himself.

END OF PLAY

It is now 6:48 P.M., Thursday, March 31. I can hear Kimi yelling her email from the next room. It is time for rehearsal now. I’ll see you all in a minute.


Signs

I begin work on the signs on Monday night.  It is after midnight; sometimes, between The Laramie Project and my scene design class, moving a bed into the design studio seems like not a bad idea.  Mostly what I’m doing right now is making letter stencils.  If the letters on the signs aren’t uniform, it’s going to drive me completely insane.  To this end, I hang the stencils up on the white board so that I can see how they look together.

My boyfriend is here keeping me company.  Mostly, he does his own work, but at one point, he glances up at what I’m doing, and does a major double take.

What does that say?”

What it actually says is “GOD HATES F” because I’m not duplicating stencils, but he understood what it was going to say.  So I explained the scene in which the signs are used.  He understood, but he still seemed a little disturbed by the idea that I was helping to recreate a Westboro Baptist Church protest.

I leave the studio at 3:30 AM.  The next morning, I’m back at 9.  Now I’m building the actual signs, with help from Shreya (one of the scene shop students) and Kimi, both of whose names I probably just butchered.  While there, I learn the following things:

  • Unfamiliar people will always walk in at the worst possible moments, such as when you are asking how big to make the anal sex stick figures.
  • Cutting with Xacto knives is so satisfying, especially when you need a form of stress relief.
  • G is the most annoying letter of the alphabet, by leaps and bounds.  At least S is consistently curvy, so that you make consistent motions with your knife.  G suddenly becomes hard and angular when you don’t expect it to.  I did not want to put the words “FAG SIN” on the stick figure sign the way they are in the picture, for the sole reason that I didn’t want to cut out another godforsaken G.

It’s fun.  We have a good time.  I feel a little dirty when it’s over, a feeling that is only exacerbated when several people in my scene design class ask me the next day what my unfinished signs are going to say.

I’m not sure why it eats at me this way sometimes.  The Westboro signs are neither the weirdest (that would be an oversized vibrator) nor the most hateful or emotionally wrenching (that would be Hitler Youth armbands) props that I have ever made, and yet every time I leave a session of working on them, I feel like I need to take a nice, long, hot bath with some lavender bubbles.

I guess these hit closer to home.  Talking and laughing with Kimi in the studio, it occurred to me that there is another group of young women (and men) who talk and laugh together while they make these signs, and they aren’t making props for a play.

Are we doing exactly what Father Roger says not to do?  Are we propagating the cycle of violence this way?  Are we, and is the play, legitimizing the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church by giving them this publicity, and this attention?  It’s a fine line to balance, and not a question I enjoy thinking about right now.  I don’t question their necessity as props, obviously, but I dislike giving them more name recognition than they already have.

On the bright side, I now have a great inside joke with a few people about “stick figures.”


Moment: Magnitude

When I came back to my room after callbacks in September, I remember feeling like I had totally bombed my audition.  I was incredibly impressed with the strength of the choices that the other actors at the callback had made and incredibly underwhelmed with my own performance.  My nerves had gotten the best of me and outside the confines of my homey childhood theater group, Play Group Theatre, I had become shaky and shy in front of an audience.  It was my first time putting myself out there for a theater production at Duke and I was sure that it had been a mistake, that I wouldn’t be picked.  My roommate asked how it went and I shrugged her off saying that I was dissatisfied with how I had done.  I then attempted to cover up my disappointment by telling her, “It’s probably for the best that I won’t get cast.  Being in The Laramie Project was going to make me too emotional anyway.”

When I got the casting email I had an incredibly mixed reaction.
First: excitement.  They picked me.  Everyone was so talented.  I can’t believe I got cast.  Now I get to work with all these incredibly talented people!
But the excitement gave way to my initial concern, the concern that I had nonchalantly told my roommate to cover up my disappointment: being in Laramie had the potential to make me an emotional mess.

Then the waiting began.  From September to January I awaited my roles.  I awkwardly waved to the people whose names I remembered from callbacks, finding it incredibly strange that these strangers I saw in passing on campus would be such a huge part of my life in the coming semester.  I wondered what working with Jeff and Jules would be like.  And most of all, I worried that investing in this show would make me fall apart.

As I have mentioned in rehearsal (probably an annoying amount of times) I was in another production of The Laramie Project in 9th grade.  I played Zubaida (Kimi) and Sherry Johnson (Emma) among others and as we discussed with Maude, it was an incredible experience for me as a high school student, controversial enough that I felt badass but, with our slightly edited version, entirely appropriate for our children’s theater audience.  A good friend of mine named Jonah was in the cast with me.  He played Moises and Aaron Kreifels in our version.  He passed away two years ago during his freshman year of college.  I told Ash about Jonah on Saturday amidst the sobbing and hugging going on back stage between acts II and III that Summer mentioned in her post.  It was important to me that Ash to know how great of a job I think he is doing with playing Aaron Kreifels and how powerful that particular role is to me personally.  Initially I was worried that I had freaked him out, that I had gotten caught up in the emotions circulating backstage and opened up in an inappropriate way.  But sharing has been a huge and productive step for me.  I have realized that instead of being afraid of my emotions surrounding this show and its connection to my life, I must use my emotions as a source of motivation to do this play “correct.”

So below is a compilation of my current thoughts on my six characters.

Eileen Engen:  Eileen has changed a lot in the past week.  The removal of her husband, Gil, from our version has given her strength as a female rancher with a strong connection to the land.  I am still struggling to make her memorable enough in the beginning that she is remembered when she reappears in act II, over 40 pages later. Her newfound strength and anger in Moment: The Gem City of the Plains has made her voice much harsher and I am struggling to make her voice consistent in her two contrasting moments.  I am still working on aging her, adding aches and pains to her posture and standing/sitting positions without them becoming a caricature of an old person.  I am looking forward to working with her real hat and gloves and seeing how they influence her and hopefully make her less of a stereotype.

Amanda Gronich: Amanda is finally starting to click for me.  The utility of her scenes with the Baptist Minister and his wife finally made sense for me yesterday.  They are important as representations of the issues that arose when the Tectonic Company members encountered Laramie residents that were not interested in sharing their thoughts. Amanda’s arc has become clearer with that realization: her initial journal entry highlights her concern that she isn’t trained for this kind of work, her scene with the Baptist Minister’s wife highlights her robotic attempt at presenting the project and the empathetic shifts that she has to make in order to create a relationship, and the final scene with the Baptist Minister shows her growth as an interviewer, using her attendance at his service as a way to gain credibility, a way to differentiate herself and her company’s project from the uncaring media.  I have discovered some hand tension/gestures that seems to work for her but hope to further distinguish her vocal quality from Cathy as they are still blending together (and sounding a lot like my go to “acting voice”).

Alison Mears: I feel a lot of pressure surrounding the Moment: Alison and Marge.  It has been stressed repeatedly that this moment is important because it shows in an explicit way what the interviews looked like.  It is one of the only true scenes in the play.  Alison’s newfound posture has strengthened her and definitely elevated her sidekick status that I was initially going for.  She is too still however and I need to try moving around more within my chair while staying lifted as to include more of the audience to my right and to not seem so rigid.  She has sat in this kitchen a thousand times with her friend Marge and her level of comfort with the space needs to be clear.  Marge and Alison need to control the pace of the scene and have physical control of the space until the shift at the end.  Currently Alison and Sherry laugh the same way.  That is a distinction I definitely need to make.  I think Alison’s laugh needs to be more subdued, controlled, and Sherry’s can be more of the cackle laugh that has proven out of place in the Marge and Alison bit.

Cathy Connolly: I get Cathy.  I can put her in my body, in my voice.  She’s confident but vulnerable.  She has a great sense of humor about her situation and I love retelling her phone call story. I still struggle with her depiction of the arraignment.  I want to maintain her strength while allowing her to show how much the court scene got to her.

Sherry Aanenson:  Sherry has been a huge challenge.  Initially I played her as “quiet and sweet,” the way she describes Russell.  During my one on one with Jeff I was encouraged to spice her up.  She suddenly became a divorced woman in her 40’s who drinks and smokes a lot and has secrets that she definitely doesn’t share with her interviewer.  I still feel that I’m not getting her quite right.  Emma and Summer noted that they liked a new rubbing my leg gesture that I tried on Saturday and I appreciated their feedback.  She is a great example of a character who didn’t know what she was planning on telling the Tectonic member when they started the interviewer and it has been hard to find a rhythm that represents that kind of stream of consciousness dialogue.

Cal Rerucha: I am still worried that Cal comes off as a male caricature.  He has a very short piece but he sets up an important “conversation” about the death penalty and I don’t want his manly voice to distract from the information he is presenting about the case.  I tried putting my hair back for him on Saturday but that felt too stagey.

That’s where I’m at right now.  Hopefully this week will be filled with breakthrough acting moments for us all.

Emotionally yours,
Naomi


Leaps and Bounds

This past Saturday was something else entirely. Since we’ve finished setting movement and costume change patterns, we’ve had much more time to focus on acting. I guess I should have expected a rehearsal like Saturday’s for this reason, but the level of emotion was shocking regardless.

For me it was a scene between two characters, a mother and her daughter, that tipped the scale. I really got the sense that the mother was worried for her daughter’s life. I got the sense of what a mother must feel, worrying for the life of her child. Then I thought about Judy Shepard’s worst and coldest fears becoming harsh and brutal reality. Her son was attacked and savagely beaten, to death. He was the target of violence and hate on more than one occasion because he was gay. Finally, I thought about my mother coming to see this play. I thought about her concern for my safety, for my well being. And that hit home. Everything from that point onward had a very real value and meaning for me. Each monologue, each conversation, each action was a story of a real event that had already happened. This play is a representation of events that have already happened. As biased or as designed as its critics claim it is, this comes from life, meaning real people’s lives.

By the time I was onstage next, I was in this world. Sheafer Theater was my world. I truly felt what my characters were saying. I genuinely believed what I was representing. I deeply connected with what I was seeing onstage. I cried so hard. I was so moved. This transportation was gripping and enveloping. The cast was on, and we made huge progress that day. I talked with other cast members about it over dinner after rehearsal. We agreed: “leaps and bounds.” And on top of all that, this experience is facilitating new growth and relationships. How could I have expected this when I first auditioned seven months ago?

-Spencer Paez


“And it was so good to be with people who felt like shit.”

The Laramie moments are microcosms of all of our lives. Amongst the cast, we joke constantly that there is literally a line from the play that can go with any conversation. But today, the truth of this play was felt by many of us. Rehearsal went great, but also went beyond just smoothing out the transitions and laughing when our blocking went awry.

A lot of us agreed that the emotion started mounting when we got to the end of Act II. MOMENT: HOMECOMING. Seeing the transformation of the character of Harry Woods has been incredible. The tiny gestures and intonations in Spencer’s voice and movement is a beautiful thing to watch.

The moments move the play along so fast that I hardly have time to see with the rapid changes of emotion. Then suddenly, we’re at the end of the act, MOMENT: THAT NIGHT. I always know it’s coming but it seems like every time Cameron reads Rulon Stacey and announces the death of Matthew Shepard, it hurts so much more. When the act ends, we all exit. Usually wait of stage until Don tells us to check the presetting of our costumes for the final act.

But today was so different for so many of us. I know that at least Spencer, Jacob and I left the stage sobbing. Crumpled into little crying queer babies. Just uncontrollable broken people. The cast on that side of the stage circled up and we started talking about our parents’ fear for our safety and various coming out stories. The scene between Marge (Afftene) and Reggie (Emma) shows another intense parent-child interaction that made a lot of us think about our families.

Throughout this play, the cast has gotten incredibly close, and I think we’re understanding more and more what’s at stake. Naomi and I ended up talking for two and a half hours after rehearsal. This is our lives. All of these relationships and connections we’re building is going to show through our telling of the Matthew Shepard story.

I think we’re learning more about each other’s experiences with the deaths of friends, hate and violence that we’ve felt, fear and rage, loved ones with HIV and AIDS, coming out, being allies, and so much more. Today I am so grateful for being part of this cast and the amazing people I am learning more about. People who are allowing me to take my own walls down and share my own secrets. People who, a few months ago I had never seen before, are holding me as I sob backstage or telling me their own secrets.

For all the critiques that Laramie has gotten in our class meetings and discussions, the Project for me has been one of strength through my own losses, and I am honored to feel this love. I know that when we open this play, everyone will see these amazing bonds we’ve forged.

-Summer Puente, Saturday rehearsal March 26th


Listening to the elders.

I fear that the Laramie cast and crew will be in technical rehearsals when this event happens, but I want to promote it anyway.

All too frequently the mainstream media discussion of “gay rights” pits older Americans against younger citizens. Those under 30 are categorized as “open” and “tolerant” whereas retirees are identified as “conservative” (read: homophobic) and “traditional” (read: heterosexual). Amidst this narrative it might be difficult to remember that the large population of baby boomers include those who founded the modern LGBT movement. They were some of the first to live openly and insist and fight publicly against discrimination, for equal rights and protections. It seems inconceivable that such trailblazers would cede their sexual identity after flinging open their closet doors, but Stu Maddox’s 2010 documentary Gen Silent argues that LGBT seniors often return to the closet due to overt and covert discriminatory practices by senior centers, retirement and nursing homes, and medical facilities

On April 2, 2011 UNC’s School of Social Work will host: “Breaking Generation Silent: Facing the Needs and Challenges of LGBT Elders.” The event, which is free and open to the public (though pre-registration is requested), will happen at at the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education beginning with a 1pm screening of the film followed by a panel including the filmmaker Maddox and

  • Mandy Carter,  a co-founder of the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization for black LGBT individuals and their allies dedicated to fostering equality by fighting racism and homophobia. Carter is on the Advisory Board of SAGE, the nation’s largest and oldest advocacy group for LGBT elders, and has helped support training for North Carolina’s Area Agencies on Aging via the North Carolina chapter of the AARP.
  • Debi Lee,  the lead regional ombudsman for the Centralina Area Agency on Aging. Lee hosts the “Gay and Gray” program for Charlotte’s Lesbian & Gay Community Center.
  • Connie Vetter, an attorney and mediator in Charlotte, whose practice focuses primarily on legal services for LGBT individuals and couples. These services include estate planning, relationship documents, and adoption.
  • Dee Leahman, director for Community Partnership for End of Life Care, a program of Hospice & Palliative CareCenter in Winston-Salem. Leahman has worked closely with LGBT families on end-of-life issues. He is the 2010 recipient of the American Hospital Association’s Society for Healthcare Consumer Advocacy Award.

(I pulled these biographies from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work site for this event.)

Gen Silent was screened a couple of weeks ago in Winston-Salem, its showing sponsored by Northwest Piedmont Area Agency on Aging. It is gratifying to see a state sponsored senior services agency involved in the promotion of this film, especially considering that discrimination for LGBT seniors  (and juniors) will be exacerbated by the bill (SB 106) that’s working its way through the North Carolina legislature. The bill seeks to amend the state constitution to both prohibit same-sex marriage (something that is already prohibited by North Carolina law) AND to deny any equivalent relationship status and any benefits (such as health insurance) that might be offered LGBT couples by public or private institutions.

The wonderful folks at In the Life Media, who provided us with the counter-narrative to the 2004 20/20 episode about Matthew Shepard, screened Gen Silent and talked to Maddox in November of 2010. Check it out there if you can’t get over to the Friday Center next Saturday.


Me Too Next Year!

This post is a call for artistic staff for next year’s Me Too Monologues from our very own Afftene Taylor and Kimi Goffe. This year’s production was amazing with audiences of 750+! If you missed it, check out the Me Too YouTube channel to see what you missed. Be sure to get on board for 2012!

The 2012 director/producer are accepting applications (read: 3 short questions) for the Production Team for the Me Too Monologues 2012! Your responses are due Sunday, March 27th to metoomonologues@gmail.com.

Production Team Positions
–Assistant Director
–Assistant Producer
–Technical Director
–Publicity Manager
–Photographer and Videographer (can be two people)

*Please note: the asst. director and producer would preferably be non-seniors, so that they can carry their knowledge over to next year’s Me Too Production team.

If you aren’t ready to take a leadership role– don’t worry! We might also need a couple extra people to help publicize and select monologues, so if you’d be interested, put that in your application as well.

Recap: let us know by Sunday, March 27th, if:

1) you’d like to be on the Me Too Monologue Production team in any capacity

2) you are interested in a position listed above

Application questions:
1. Have you been involved in Me Too Monologues before? How?
2. What position are you applying for?
3. Tell us why you’d like to be involved and any ideas you have for next year’s show.

Thanks!
Afftene Taylor and Kimi Goffe
Me Too Monologues Director and Producer


Performance and Social Activism THIS FRIDAY

For those of you interested in the intersections of performance and social action, check out this event at UNC’s Memorial Hall Friday night. Tickets can be picked up/reserved at the box office (919-843-3333). ADMISSION IS FREE and there will be free food at the Health Gala Reception after the performance. The poster below lists some of the artists involved but there are also more community and interinstitutional partners worth mentioning such as

  • Duke’s own wonderful DEFMO
  • Rev Carl Kenney – Author of Preacha Man & religion writer for Durham’s Herald Sun
  • Poetik M.I.C. resident poet of AADE w/ nosi dance co. of Durham
  • “but is that the true figure?” features work by Leah Wilks (dancer-choreographer) and Kaitlin Houlditch-Fair on piano.


On your day off …

World Theatre Day 2011 is this Sunday, March 27, 2011. For some reasons why it is important to note/mark this celebration, I give you Jeffrey Wright (Tony and Emmy award winner for his role as Belize in both the Broadway production and HBO miniseries of Angels in America). He speaks in this promo as an acclaimed artist and as the co-founder and chair of the Taia Peace Foundation. Taia focuses its efforts on Sierra Leone, helping it and other resource rich African nations develop strong economic, environmental, and political infrastructures. I was particularly taken by Wright’s assertion of the transformative power of listening and theatre’s unique contribution to spurring social change. Sounds ever-so-relevant to the making of documentary performance.

Wright’s statement was designed for US audiences. The international address, “A Case for Theater in Service of Humanity” (kaahwa_english_wtd11) was crafted by artist and scholar Jessica Kaahwa, Senior Lecturer in the Departments of Music, Dance and Drama at Makerere University in Uganda. At an event in Paris to mark this year’s celebration, Dr. Kaahwa will premiere her new work, “Putting Words Between the Eyes,” a one-woman show, which chronicles a country’s rebuilding process after its devastation from recent civil war through the eyes of the young protagonist, Sarah.

You can visit Theater Communication Group’s website for details about local and global events. Be inspired to celebrate in your own small way on your ever dwindling days off from rehearsal. You might consider putting on your “Say it Correct” t-shirt and take in the “Cherry Blossoms of Hope” festival in Duke Gardens from 3-5pm to raise funds for victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami.


Brecht Bytes #4

Since my feedback has been centered on paying attention to the specificity of expression within your characters’ testimony — switches amongst verb tenses, the distinction of different kinds of punctuation marks, the colloquial turns of phrase that marks region and culture, and the vagaries of individual word choice — I found a Brecht poem that speaks to why honoring the everyday language is a matter of ethics and politics as well as a means of developing characterization in documentary theater.

I offer this poem with full awareness that the Laramie interviewees aren’t offered to us without alteration; Tectonic has put their stamp on their informants. Brecht is also idealizing (a bit) the “theater of daily life whose setting is the street” as a way to draw a distinction between the kind of wholly immersive acting where the audience interprets actor and character as one person and the kind of demonstration/performance that is essential to the political purpose of distantiation. The actor who stands alongside his character is someone the audience can address, interrogate just as they would a man on the street. Such freedom to question both the actor and the role gives way to questioning the entire scenario presented. Why are things they way they are? Not because of fate but because of action and choice, entirely human and alterable things.

I hope this little reminder of Brecht might help as you work on treating those props and costumes as tools for transformation that allows you to give full presence to your characters’ words but just as easily allows you to drop that piece and move on to the next demonstration.

The entire poem is over 3 pages long, so I’ve done a few edits here and there.

“On Everyday Theatre”
Written during the “Crisis Years” (1929-1933)
Translator Edith Anderson

You artists who perform plays
In great houses under electric suns
Before the hushed crowd, pay a visit some time
To that theatre whose setting is the street.
The everyday, thousandfold, fameless
But vivid, earthy theatre fed by the daily human contact
Which takes place in the street.
Here the woman from next door imitates the landlord:
Demonstrating his flood of talk she makes it clear
How he tried to turn the conversation
From the burst water pipe. [...]
A drunk
Gives us the preacher at his sermon, referring the poor
To the rich pastures of paradise. How useful
Such theatre is though, serious and funny
And how dignified! They do not, like parrot or ape
Imitate just for the sake of imitation, unconcerned
What they imitate, just to show that they
can imitiate; no they
Have a point to put across.

[...]
Take that man on the corner: he is showing how
An accident took place. This very moment
He is delivering the driver to the verdict of the crowd. The
way he
Sat behind the steering wheel, and now
He imitates the man who was run over, apparently
An old man. Of both he gives
Only so much as to make the accident intelligible, and yet
Enough to make you see them.
But he shows neither
As if the accident had been unavoidable. [...]
There is no superstition
About this eyewitness, he
Shows mortals as victims not of the stars, but
Only of their errors.

Note also
His earnestness and the accuracy of his imitation. He
Knows that much depends on his exactness: whether the
innocent man
Escapes ruin, whether the injured man
Is compensated. Watch him
Repeat now what he did just before. Hesitantly
Calling on his memory for help, uncertain
Whether his demonstration is good, interrupting himself
And asking someone else to
Correct him on a detail. This
Observe with reverence!
And with surprise
Observe, if you will, one thing: that this imitator
Never loses himself in his imitation. He never entirely
Transforms himself into the man he is imitation. He always
Remains the demonstrator, the one not involved.
[...]
[...]

Our demonstrator at the street corner
Is no sleepwalker who much not be addressed. He is
No high priest holding divine service. At any moment
You can interrupt him; he will answer you
Quite calmly and when you have spoken with him
Go on with his performance.

But you, do not say: that man
Is not an artist. By setting up such a barrier
Between yourselves and the world, you simply
Expel yourselves from the world. If you thought him
No artist he might think you
Not human, and that
Would be a worse reproach. Say rather:
He is an artist because he his human. We
May do what he does more perfectly and
Be honoured for it, but what we do
Is something universal, human, something hourly
Practiced in the busy street, almost
as much a part of life as eating and breathing.

Thus your playacting
Harks back to practical matters. Our masks, you should say
Are nothing special insofar as they are only masks:
[...] In short
Mask, verse and quotation are common, but uncommon
The grandly conceived mask, the beautifully spoken verse
And apt quotation.

But to make matters clear: even if you improved upon
What the man at the corner did, you would be doing less
Than him if you
Made your theatre less meaningful — with lesser provocation
Less intense in its effect on the audience — and
Less useful.


Just for fun…

I have to share this. It has almost nothing to do with our work on this play except for providing a cautionary tale (with some adult language and humor) about writing in the blog format. A format that exacerbates those slips of the keyboard and brain that produce misspellings, clunky phrasing, discombobulated grammar, and mistaken or inappropriate humor. To keep on the humor path, I’m also following this clip with another segment called “What Teachers Make” by Taylor Mali featured on the Me Too Monologues site as inspiration for slam poemologues (I think I just made that word up). Please to enjoy.


Matthew, Martyrdom, oh and Lady Gaga

Thanks to Jenny for the find. The above clip is of Lady Gaga doing her version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” at the 2009 Human Rights Campaign’s National Dinner. The singing begins about 2 minutes in and her slightly revised lyrics are below.

There is appropriate criticism to be made about The Laramie Project‘s martyring of Matthew Shepard. We know from our research that there was a much more complex story to be told about who he was. The play hints at his history, it hints at the history of his murderers, but none are fully fleshed out. Much like the town of Laramie, they are forever signified as a crime. From what we heard from Maude complexity wasn’t really the intention from the start.

And yet, there is something to be said for martyrs. They are powerful. Certainly, Lady Gaga’s choice of lyric alteration takes on even greater significance in the context of the election of Barack Obama who signed into law, 3 weeks after this dinner but 11 years after both their deaths, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Law.

Imagine
By John Lennon (additional lyrics by Lady Gaga)

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
And only Matthew in the sky*
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday that you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

People of the nation
Are you listening
It isn’t equal if it’s sometimes
I want a real democracy
Imagine all the people
Could love equally

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people
Sharing in the world
With nothing to hate
And nothing to think
Just people to love
And friends to have drinks

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

It’s also worth noting that at this dinner Dennis and Judy Shepard received the HRC’s inaugural Edward M. Kennedy National Equity Award. There was a tribute video about them as well.

And then they spoke … Jacob encouraged folks to watch Dennis Shepard give his first speech at a previous HRC national dinner. If you haven’t had a chance to do so, here’s another opportunity to see how raw their loss remains. And how much their visibility in relationship to Matthew’s absence means for the LGBT community.


Conjouring Laramie

We moved into the theater this week and spent rehearsals getting a feel for our stage space and adding the 100+ costume pieces and small props that will allow a cast of 13 to transform into and out of 60+ characters. Needless to say, much of our time has been consumed with what piece of costume goes where, how an actor moves from one point on or off stage to another, what tweaks and changes are required in established blocking.

However, as we near the end of this chaos, we approach a time when moving in gives way to settling in. Taking time to give voice and body to these characters and their stories will become our priority enhanced ten-fold by the well-selected and engaged costume, props, and scenery. In the spirit of making that shift from learning a theater space to transforming that space and ourselves into the mise-en-scene of Laramie, I thought it might be useful to have a post that reminds us of the Laramie landscape, the landmarks that ground and sustain the characters we meet.

These images below come courtesy of the “Laramie & Surrounding” Flickr feed (photos taken over 2009-2010) maintained by our friend at Jackrabbit Goes Down the Rabbit Hole: Fear, Loathing, and “The Laramie Project.” FYI, Jackrabbit had some nice things to say when he/she gave our blog a shout out last week. Considering the extensive effort she/he has taken to explore her own complicated relationship with the play, it’s a real honor that he/she thinks we’re being particularly thoughtful in our approach and conversation surrounding the production.

SGT. HING: And I’m thinking, “Lady, you’re just missing the point.” You know, all you got to do is turn around, see the mountains, smell the air, listen to the birds, just take in what’s around you (9).

REBECCA HILLIKER: I found that people here were nicer than in the Midwest, where I used to teach, because they were happy. They were glad the sun was shining. And it shines a lot here (6).


JEDADIAH: Now, after Matthew, I would say that Laramie is a town defined by an accident, a crime. We’ve become Waco, we’ve become Jasper. We’re a noun, a definition, a sign.(9).

Jackrabbit's version of Laramie's cover.

BARBARA PITTS: But as we drove into the down town area by the railroad tracks, the buildings still look like a turn-of-the-century western town. Oh, and as we passed the University Inn, on the sign where amenities such as heated pool or cable TV are usually touted, it said: HATE IS NOT A LARAMIE VALUE (14).

Downtown Laramie

ALISON MEARS: Oh, not just ranching, this was a big railroad town at one time. Before they moved everything to Cheyenne and Green River and Omaha. So now, well, it’s just a drive-through spot for the railroad–[...] (15).

DOC: I like the trains, too. They don’t bother me. Well, some of the times they bother me, but most times they don’t. Even though one goes by every thirteen minutes out where I live … [...] They used to carry cattle … them trains. Now all they carry is diapers and cars (8).

Train headed from Bossler, WY to Laramie.

NARRATOR: Doc actually lives up in Bosler. But everybody in Laramie knows him. He’s also not really a doctor (8).

EILEEN ENGEN: If you don’t take care of the land, then you ruin it and you lose your living. So you first of all have to take care of your land and do everything you can to improve it (7).

Bossler, WY wintertime.

DOC: The fact is … Laramie doesn’t have any gay bars … and for that matter neither does Wyoming … so he was hiring me to take him to Fort Collins, Colorado, about an hour away.

Roadside sign on the road from Laramie to Fort Collins.

MATT MICKELSON: We had karaoke that night, twenty or thirty people here–Matthew Shepard came in, sitting right–right where you’re sitting, just handing out …

Downtown Laramie at night. Note the now-closed Fireside sign near the far right side of the picture.

SHADOW: So when they took off, I seen it, when they took off it was in a black truck, it was a small truck, and the three of them sat in the front seat and Matt sat in the middle. And I didn’t think nothin’ of it, you know. I didn’t figure them guys was gonna be like that.

STEPHEN MEAD JOHNSON: Clearly that’s a powerful personal experience to go out there. It is so stark and so empty and you can’t help but think of Matthew out there for eighteen hours in nearly freezing temperatures, with that view up there isolated, and, the “God, my God, why have your forsaken me” comes to mind (34).

ALISON MEARS: Wyoming is bad in terms of jobs. I mean, the university has the big high whoop-de-do jobs. But Wyoming, unless you’re a professional, well, the bulk of the people are working minimum-wage jobs (16).

University of Wyoming, School of Architecture

U of WY "Old Main" student building.

U of WY Dick Cheney Plaza. Yes, that Dick Cheney.

U of WY Alumni House.

U of WY Simpson Plaza

REBECCA HILLIKER: I think that’s the focus the university has taken–is that we have a lot of work to do. That we have an obligation to find ways to reach our students. …

Foyer of U of WY Fine Arts Building.

FATHER ROGER SCHMIT: Matthew Shepard has served us well. You realize that? He has served us well. And I do not mean to condemn Matthew to perfection, but I cannot mention anyone who has done more for this community than Matthew Shepard (65).

U of WY's Newman Center (Father Roger's parish).

U of WY campus -- Matthew Shepard Memorial Bench.

MATT GALLOWAY: The day of the funeral, it was snowing so bad, big huge wet snowflakes. And when I got there, there were thousands of people in just black, with umbrellas everywhere. And there were two churches–one for immediate family, uh, invited guests, people of that nature, and then one church for everybody else who wanted to be there. And then, still, hundreds of people outside that couldn’t fit into either of the churches (75).

St. Mark's Episcopal Church.

DOUG LAWS: There is a proclamation that come out on the family. A family is defined as one woman and one man and children. That’s a family. That’s about as clear as you can state it. There’s no sexual deviation in the Mormon Church. No–no leniancy. We just think it’s out of bounds (25).

LDS church in upscale Laramie neighborhood.

APRIL SILVA: I grew up in Cody, Wyoming. Laramie is better than where I grew up. I’ll give it that.

Outside Cody, WY.

DENNIS SHEPARD: [Matt] actually died on the outskirts of Laramie, tied to a fence. You, Mr. McKinney, with your friend Mr. Henderson left him out there by himself but he wasn’t alone. There were his lifelong friends with him. [...] First he had the beautiful night sky and the same stars and moon that we used to see through a telescope. Then he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him. And through it all he was breathing in the scent of pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind, the ever-present Wyoming wind, for the last time (95).

FATHER ROGER: Just deal with what is true. You know what is true. You need to do your best to say it correct (66).


Guest Blogger Dan Ellison — TLP, censorship, & discrimination Part 1

A big DukeinLaramie welcome to Dan Ellison (Duke ’77), attorney-at-law, Instructor in Theater Studies, and faculty advisor for Hoof ‘n Horn. Dan has offered his legal expertise to discuss issues of censorship surrounding The Laramie Project. If you all are interested in finding out more about the legal terrain of creating, producing, and consuming performing arts, you should check out Daniel’s fall 2011 course: Legal Issues for the Performing Arts, TS 169S.  In addition to discussions about obscenity and censorship, the course will explore, among other topics, discrimination and copyright issues–both of which intersect with censorship issues.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

The dirtiest book of all is the expurgated book.

— Walt Whitman

Any theatrical performance or visual artwork  that deals with gay issues still continues to raise eyebrows and is subject to censorship in many communities throughout the United States.  Productions of The Laramie Project have been banned at numerous secondary schools, colleges and universities.  As recently as March 2009 (and there are probably more recent examples as well), an Oklahoma public school teacher was forced to resign because of teaching The Laramie Project.

My discussion of censorship divides into three parts:  government censorship, private censorship and self-censorship.  The First Amendment is the starting point.  The First Amendment only prohibits  censorship by the government.  “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech. . . [emphasis added].”  (Through the 14th Amendment, this prohibition applies to the states and municipalities as well.)   Be that as it may, courts have determined that, under certain circumstances,  the government can make reasonable time, place and manner restrictions. [See the very recent March 2, 2011 Supreme Court decision that upheld the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to stage its anti-gay protests at military funerals.] There was no Maryland statute in place, at the time, restricting protests at funerals, so the issue of the constitutionality of a particular statute was not directly before the Court.  Westboro Baptist Church is also infamous for going around the country protesting outside productions of The Laramie Project.  They came to Durham in 2005 to protest the play’s production at the Durham School of the Arts.

Interestingly, obscene speech has been carved out as speech that is simply  not protected at all by the First Amendment.   The legal definition of  “obscene” has changed over the years; furthermore, the determination of whether some particular speech is obscene has never been an exact science.   My grandfather (Charles Marks, a NY judge) ruled in the early 1960s that the 1749 book, “Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure” was obscene and therefore was banned in NY.   The book is tame by today’s standards.   The U.S. Supreme Court reversed my grandfather’s ruling – see the newspaper clipping that follows:

Of course my grandfather, whom I loved and respected, also warned me in 1972, not to go to Flamingo Park in Miami Beach, during the Republican & Democratic National Conventions, because “there were homos there.”   He was from an era of very different standards and sensibilities.  “Homosexuality” was still “the love that dare not speak its name.” At that time, homosexuality was  defined as a psychological disorder and also illegal.  It was not until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses!

Defining obscenity, i.e. defining language that the government is authorized to prohibit, has been continuously problematic.  Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous line, “I know it when I see it,” follows his sentiment that he could perhaps never intelligibly succeed in defining the kind of material he understood to be embraced within the shorthand description “hard-core pornography.”

Assuming, for the sake of discussion, that obscenity should indeed be  excluded from  First Amendment protection, First Amendment scholars and advocates  worry most about the “chilling effect” of overly broad and vague statutes that attempt to define obscenity.   If I am not sure that the play I’m writing is obscene (and if disseminating obscenity is a felony), I might choose to err on the side of caution, and change the text and/or plot of my play in order to avoid the issue of obscenity altogether.   Similarly, if I am a publisher, I might choose not to publish a play that deals with sexual content, out of fear that it might be challenged as obscene. [Last year’s movie, “Howl,” based on the obscenity trial of publisher/beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti (a UNC-CH alum, by the way), whose City Lights Books published Allen Ginsberg’s 1955 poem “Howl,” provides a wonderful and mostly accurate account of that obscenity trial.]

Most states have obscenity statutes that are similar to North Carolina’s:

NC General Statute § 14-190.1. Obscene literature and exhibitions.

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to intentionally disseminate obscenity. A person, firm or corporation disseminates obscenity within the meaning of this Article if he or it: (1) Sells, delivers or provides or offers or agrees to sell, deliver or provide any obscene writing, picture, record or other representation or embodiment of the obscene; or (2) Presents or directs an obscene play, dance or other performance orparticipates directly in that portion thereof which makes it obscene; or [emphasis added] (3) Publishes, exhibits or otherwise makes available anything obscene; or (4) Exhibits, presents, rents, sells, delivers or provides; or offers or agrees to exhibit, present, rent or to provide: any obscene still or motion picture, film, filmstrip, or projection slide, or sound recording, sound tape, or sound track, or any matter or material of whatever form which is a representation, embodiment, performance, or publication of the obscene.

(b) For purposes of this Article any material is obscene if: (1) The material depicts or describes in a patently offensive way sexual conduct specifically defined by subsection (c) of this section; and (2) The average person applying contemporary community standards relating to the depiction or description of sexual matters would find that the material taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest in sex; and (3) The material lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value; and [emphasis added] (4) The material as used is not protected or privileged under the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of North Carolina.

(c) As used in this Article, “sexual conduct” means: (1) Vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse, whether actual or simulated, normal or perverted; or (2) Masturbation, excretory functions, or lewd exhibition of uncovered genitals; or (3) An act or condition that depicts torture, physical restraint by being fettered or bound, or flagellation of or by a nude person or a person clad in undergarments or in revealing or bizarre costume. (d) Obscenity shall be judged with reference to ordinary adults except that it shall be judged with reference to children or other especially susceptible audiences if it appears from the character of the material or the circumstances of its dissemination to be especially designed for or directed to such children or audiences. (e) It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to knowingly and intentionally create, buy, procure or possess obscene material with the purpose and intent of disseminating it unlawfully

It seems clear that The Laramie Project is not obscene under the NC statutory definition.  Even if someone could argue that it lacks serious literary or artistic value (those values are subjective), it clearly has political value.

If it isn’t obscene, how can a public school (an arm of the government) have the authority to censor/ban The Laramie Project or other similar plays?  I plan to address that question in my next blog post.


FREE LUNCH! And a talk about the Arts & Civic Engagement @ Duke

If working on this play has made you interested, anxious, and excited about the ways in which the performing arts can become forces for civic engagement and social justice, I suggest you mark this event on your calendar for THIS THURSDAY March 17. Notice our fantastic scene designer, Torry Bend is one of the panelists along with at least two faculty from Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies.


It Gets Better @ NCSU

If you didn’t already know, the “It Gets Better” project was founded last fall by Dan Savage and his partner Terry Miller in response to a rash of suicides (or at least a rash of mainstream news coverage) of gay youth and youth bullied for being perceived as gay. Dan and Terry were in Washington, D.C. this week for a  national anti-bullying conference hosted by President Obama and the First Lady to mark the launch of a new site StopBullying.gov. Impressively, it has features a special section on LGBT bullying right on the front page.

I mention all of this because this week was when I first noticed that NC State’s GLBT Center had made their own video for the It Gets Better Project (uploaded Feb. 2011). Please to enjoy and thanks to NCSU’s brave transmen, transwomen, gays and lesbians for sharing their stories.


Dots and Dashes

I’m a bit behind in my act-by-act review of language, so I apologize if this information arrives late in your memorization process. On March 2nd, when we reviewed Act Two, I started noticing how the play uses ellipses [...] and dashes [---]. And like with my previous “you know …” post, I thought it might be worthwhile to review when/how these punctuation marks appear and how they function and might reveal character state of mind. While I noticed them particularly in Act Two, these marks appear throughout the piece and, I think, can signal some of the same kind of pauses/breaks as those I’m describing here.

Jeff hit on one characteristic of ellipses when we were working the “Seeing Matthew” Moment (pgs. 51-54), particularly in the section where Reggie and Marge are talking about Reggie’s HIV exposure. When the three dots of the ellipsis appear in Reggie’s dialogue,

One of the things that happened when I got to the fence …

NARRATOR: Reggie Fluty:

… It was just such an overwhelming amount of blood …

they leave just enough time for the Narrator to squeeze in the introduction. Reggie speaks at her own pace with the ellipsis indicating a pause but not a lingering one. “Just a breath,” Jeff suggested. So you always want to see your character’s punctuation in relationship to the other characters’ in the same scene.

Just a moment later Marge has an ellipsis but the speech of Reggie’s that comes between Marge’s first thought and her second is very long. So in that case, it seems to me the ellipsis is more of a trailing off. An unfinished or unthinkable thought that hangs over the scene until another question is asked or Marge’s feeling has passed. Sgt. Hing and Jeffrey Lockwood have ellipses that seem to trail off  in this way in the “Live and Let Live” Moment (45-46).

Catherine Connolly has a kind of ellipsis that falls somewhere in the middle of this during “The Essential Fact” Moment (44-45). Like Marge, there is an ellipsis but the lines that follow are too long to indicate that it’s just a short intake or change of breath. However, when we come back to Catherine, it’s almost as if very little time has passed between what she was saying earlier and where she picks up. It’s the theatrical equivalent of continuity editing. The scene shifts and then returns almost as if the Judge’s reading was being filtered through Catherine’s perspective even though the theater audience sees/hears the Judge for themselves. So connecting those two thoughts would be slightly different for Naomi in that scene than for Afftene in her scene with Emma (Reggie).

Dashes signify slightly different types of pauses than ellipses. In the script we have “em dashes” which are longer (—) than “en dashes” (-). The shorter dashes are mostly used to designate a numeric relationship (e.g., “Duke beat Carolina 67-64″) or to designate two or more terms as equivalent (e.g. “The mother-daughter bond” or Doc’s line “H-O-P-E.”)

“Em dashes” indicate a cut or discernible break in thought.

Oftentimes the break is made to insert another piece of information, as is typical with Matt Galloway’s speeches (he’s got a rather staggering mix of dashes and ellipses in his monologues):

If I had—amazing hindsight of 20/20—to have stopped—what occurred … (52)

Or that of Jedadiah in “Live and Let Live” as he searches to clearly articulate himself:

When you’ve been raised your whole life that it’s wrong—and right now, I would say that I don’t agree with it—yeah, that I don’t agree with it but–maybe that’s just because I couldn’t do it—and speaking in religious terms—I don’t think that’s how God intended it to happen. But I don’t hate homosexuals and, I mean—I’m not going to persecute them or anything like that. At all–I mean, that’s not going to be getting in the way between me and the other person at all. (57).

Sometimes the dash indicates a conscious break, a desire to cut yourself off, to signal you are actively choosing your words very carefully. As with the Baptist Minister:

And let me tell you—uh—I don’t know that I really want to talk to anyone about any of this incident—uh—I am somewhat involved and I just don’t think— (67)

I hope that Matthew Shepard as he was tied to that fence, that he had time to reflect on a moment when someone had spoken the word of the Lord to him–and that before he slipped into a coma he had a chance to reflect on his lifestyle. (69)

Or that you don’t know quite what to say next. As with Catherine Connolly:

So that was the arraignment, and my response—was pretty catatonic—not sleeping, not eating. Don’t—you know, don’t leave me alone right now. (46)

Or what you’ve planned to say isn’t the most important detail. As with Rulon Stacey:

She called me about ten after—he just died. (69)

Sometimes those little pauses allow someone the opportunity to jump in and respond to, finish your thought, or change the subject. As Amanda Gronich does with the minister:

—I am somewhat involved and I just don’t think—

AMANDA: Yes, I completely understand and I don’t blame you. You know, I went to your service on Sunday. (67-68)

All of this nitpicking to say that there are speech patterns written into this dialogue from which you can draw upon when building your characters. It also means that you want to take particular care in memorization not to embellish what’s given with extra pauses, dashes, ellipses, or extraneous “uhs” and “ums”. As always, the standard practice is to think of your lines as coming in response to a question. Looking at the punctuation of a monologue might give you clues on what kind of question (how direct, personal, intrusive, or casual) you’ve just been posed.


Description: Dramaturg

New Yorker cartoon circa 1990s(?).

For outside readers who might be wondering, “What’s a dramaturg and why does this person have her own blog feed for this production?”, this week’s edition of Philly.com (the digital version of The Philadelphia Inquirer) offers interviews with some Philly-area dramaturgs and directors who give their answers to such a question. The article even explores the pesky question of spelling (with “e” or not?) and pronouncing (hard “g” or soft?) the word itself.

Note that many of these folks are talking about “production dramaturgy,” which would mean work on a play that has already been developed/produced (sometimes with a very long production history) as opposed to “new play dramaturgy,” which would mean work on a play from its earliest inception usually up until/including its professional premiere.

Here are some of their responses and those of theater directors who can be welcoming or resistant to another participant in the creative team:

“My job is to make a play more accessible to all the people who come in contact with it. That starts with the cast and director and moves to the audience,” says Elizabeth Pool, resident dramaturg at People’s Light & Theatre Company in Malvern, where she works on everything from holiday pantos to the company’s forthcoming production of Ibsen’s The Master Builder.

Pool – like many dramaturgs – says one of her primary methods of working with directors is to “ask questions about what I see.” To provide the cast with a context, many dramaturgs do what Pool has just done for The Master Builder – compile packets about the play and its setting: the late 1800s, European culture at the time, Ibsen’s period of heavy symbolism.

For Cassy Pressimone Beckowski, a freelance dramaturg who worked on the current Theatre Exile production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore, research brought forth a sizable binder of facts about the Irish underground, including articles, an annotated text of the play, even reviews of other productions.

Then, through rehearsals, “I’m looking for what do I think audience members will have a question about, or what isn’t clear to me, or what’s working really well. Or are there things in the script I need to help actors understand so they can piece the character together in a way that makes sense to them.”

All this help could be seen as meddling, especially if you’re a director or, for a new script, a playwright. “Honestly, I think I’ve been lucky,” says Peter Reynolds, the artistic director of Center City’s Mauckingbird Theatre and head of the musical theater program at Temple, where [award-winning dramaturg, former head of New Play Development at Steppenwolf Ed] Sobel is also a faculty member. Reynolds has never had a bad experience with the dramaturgs he’s hired. “I think they’re amazing benefits to a production. I just really like having them in the room.”

That is not a unaninous feeling. “I find it to be an unnecessary expense,” says Bernard Havard, artistic director of the Walnut Street Theatre. “The people I hire to direct are knowledgable in terms of the work they’re doing. They do their own research – I demand that of them, the same way I’m doing my own research right now on God of Carnage, which I’m going to be directing” next season.

To the cast and crew of Laramie, I’d be interested to know your thoughts on the input of a dramaturg at the end of our production process. What more (or less) should this artist do in relationship to script selection, research, rehearsals, production reception? Does/should the role/input depend on whether a dramaturg works in service to an academic theater or a professional company?


Amazing Grace lyrics

Philosophy cosmetics "Amazing Grace" fragrance.

I wish I could claim the cleverness to link the above image with this post, but I have to credit the idea to music historian Steve Turner and his book Amazing grace: the story of America’s most beloved song (Harper Collins 2002).

Because I’m a dramaturg, I’m rarely content to settle for an easy answer to, “Can you find the lyrics to “Amazing Grace”?” I’m compelled to go deeper, to make sure that the verses we select have resonance and meaning even if those details remain hidden from the audience at large.

Fortunately, I’ve got acres of content at my fingertips, not the least of which is Turner’s book about the hymn and this Library of Congress “illustrated timeline” with “musical examples”. I’m not sure how you want to “run” the chorus of singers, Cameron, but the LofC link gives a host of renditions of the tune. Just be sure to start from about 1950 onward in the timeline because prior to that date the stanza of “Amazing Grace” were set in shape-note music and most of them make use of a call-and-response rhythms that do not adhere the the beat and melody most contemporary audiences expect. The race and class dimensions of the standardization of “Amazing Grace” are given their due in Turner’s text. Since I’ve only given Turner’s book the most cursory of reads for the purposes of this post I will not attempt to summarize the extensive history he has compiled. I will, however, talk a bit about a discovery I made from his book about the verse that I believe Jacob mentioned wanting to make sure we included:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun
.

This has become the expected fourth stanza of the song, however, it was not in the original six verses written by John Newton, the eighteenth-century English sea captain and slave trader turned evangelical Christian preacher and composer of the Olney Hymnal (published 1779), which included  Hymn #41: Amazing Grace.  The above stanza was actually written into “Amazing Grace” by Harriet Beecher Stowe (herself a sister of a hymn writer) in her germinal American novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).

“The Lord forbid!” said Tom, fervently.”You see the Lord an’t going to help you; if he had been, he wouldn’t have let me get you! This yer religion is all a mess of lying trumpery, Tom. I know all about it. Ye’d better hold to me; I’m somebody, and can do something!”

“No, Mas’r,” said Tom; “I’ll hold on. The Lord may help me, or not help; but I’ll hold to him, and believe him to the last!”

“The more fool you!” said Legree, spitting scornfully at him, and spurning him with his foot. “Never mind; I’ll chase you down, yet, and bring you under, — you’ll see!” and Legree turned away.

When a heavy weight presses the soul to the lowest level at which endurance is possible, there is an instant and desperate effort of every physical and moral nerve to throw off the weight; and hence the heaviest anguish often precedes a return tide of joy and courage. So was it now with Tom. The atheistic taunts of his cruel master sunk his before dejected soul to the lowest ebb; and, though the hand of faith still held to the eternal rock, it was a numb, despairing grasp. Tom sat, like one stunned, at the fire. Suddenly everything around him seemed to fade, and a vision rose before him of one crowned with thorns, buffeted and bleeding. Tom gazed, in awe and wonder, at the majestic patience of the face; the deep, pathetic eyes thrilled him to his inmost heart; his soul woke, as, with floods of emotion, he stretched out his hands and fell upon his knees, — when, gradually, the vision changed: the sharp thorns became rays of glory; and, in splendor inconceivable, he saw that same face bending compassionately towards him, and a voice said, “He that overcometh shall sit down with me on my throne, even as I also overcome, and am set down with my Father on his throne.”

How long Tom lay there, he knew not. When he came to himself, the fire was gone out, his clothes were wet with the chill and drenching dews; but the dread soul-crisis was past, and, in the joy that filled him, he no longer felt hunger, cold, degradation, disappointment, wretchedness. From his deepest soul, he that hour loosed and parted from every hope in life that now is, and offered his own will an unquestioning sacrifice to the Infinite. Tom looked up to the silent, ever-living stars, — types of the angelic hosts who ever look down on man; and the solitude of the night rung with the triumphant words of a hymn, which he had sung often in happier days, but never with such feeling as now:

“The earth shall be dissolved like snow,
The sun shall cease to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Shall be forever mine.

“And when this mortal life shall fail,
And flesh and sense shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil
A life of joy and peace

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining like the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.”
(554-556 e-version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, University of VA Library)

FYI, various stage dramatizations of this novel played to packed houses all over the US starting in 1852, fading into obscurity only after the late 1930s.

For her part Stowe borrowed these lines from another hymn, “Jerusalem, My Happy Home” (1790), which boasted 50+ stanzas over its two-hundred year history (that’s 200 years prior to 1790!).

If you listen to some of the musical selections from the LofC illustrated timeline, you’ll notice that post-1950 recordings include and/or end with the Stowe-inserted stanza. That indicates to me that we are truer to the experience of the song for most of our audience if we include it as well.  From the rough timing at last Thursday’s rehearsal it seems as if four stanzas will cover the time we need and still allow us to have the song end definitively as the angels leave the stage. You all will probably need to practice to discover a consistent timing. Here are our four stanzas in order. On the off chance we find we need to include a fifth, let me know and I’ll add one more at the end.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fear relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.


Job Opportunity for budding dramaturgs …

Now that I’ve made dramaturgy look all glamorous …

Note that this job is for the full year next year, so pass it along to folks you know who are graduating.

Deadline for applications is March 18, 2011.

Woolly Mammoth is currently seeking innovative, ambitious, and dedicated candidates for the 2011-2012 season-long literary internship! This is an opportunity to spend a year in Washington, DC at the area’s premier professional regional theatre specializing in the development and production of new plays.

The Literary Intern is responsible for organizing the flow of scripts through the department, reading scripts, writing script evaluations, and participating in season planning meetings with Woolly’s script readers and artistic leadership. The Literary Intern is also responsible for maintaining the literary database and communication with national literary offices. The intern typically works as an assistant dramaturg on one or more of Woolly’s productions, compiling actor packets and secondary research materials; the intern may also have the opportunity to attend developmental readings, design meetings, and rehearsals as
appropriate. Strong writing and organizational skills are essential.

Interns are full-time, and paid a weekly travel stipend. For information and the application form, visit www.woollymammoth.net/get_involved/internships.php. Email application materials and inquiries to internships@woollymammoth.net.

Woolly is an equal opportunity employer; persons of all backgrounds arestrongly encouraged to apply.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company is a national leader in the development of new plays, and one of the best known and most influential small theatres in America. The Company garnered this reputation by holding fast to its unique mission: …to ignite an explosive engagement between theatre artists and the community by developing, producing, and promoting new plays that explore the edges of theatrical style and human experience, and by implementing new ways to use the artistry of theatre to serve the people of Greater Washington, DC.


A word from some experts

I’m not sure how many of you attended the amazing events that were part of the two Duke Performances theater residencies that happened over the past couple of weeks. We had the private audience (amazing!) with Maude Mitchell from Mabou Mines and some of you participated in the master classes offered by Mabou’s Lee Breur and the actors from Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. But in case you missed some things, writers for Duke Performances’ blog The Thread have captured some of the sights and sounds. Such as ….

Abbey Theatre
A review of Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus at the Carolina Theater. There is also another review of the piece by our local Classical Voice of North Carolina reviewer Kate Dobbs Arial. And a summary/description of the Abbey Theatre actors’ Master Class.

I thought it might be particularly interesting to hear their take on acting practice since Terminus is comprised of three interlocking  monologues in rhyming but non-metered verse. There are key differences between the monologues in Terminus and those in Laramie. Not just the verse but the fact that the actors rehearsed separately with only the director for three weeks to get the continuity of their own individual stories and then they worked on how the dynamic changed (or didn’t) when the stories were broken up into three different segments with the other actor’s stories providing an ever-evolving counterpoint.

I’m always struck by how and when I feel like a character’s “dialogue” (and in the common case in Laramie, dialogue means having lines broken up by other lines by other characters not necessarily talking to another character) is actually one large monologue. For example, Romaine and Jon Peacock’s lines on pages 19-20 of Act 1. And, conversely, I’m interested in when material presented as a monologue, might actually be a # of smaller thoughts merged into one speech. I think these moments might be given away by the paragraph breaks in a monologue. So Doc O’Connor’s speech on pg. 18-19 is actually three paragraphs which could mean these are three different assertions he spoke at different times to different people merged into one.

I mention these distinctions for two reasons. One, it might be helpful to know when/where you have a through-line of argument or point (across one scene or across acts), an interaction that is interrupted on-stage by the insertion of another person’s dialogue but when we pick back up with you, you are continuing a thought. Two, as a way to encourage you to consider that you might be asked more than just one question to spur your story. Jeff’s been urging you all to pick the most active, dramatically interesting question that produces your response. You might consider that you are asked more than one question during the course of a monologue. Now this wouldn’t mean you’d mime being asked and then answering, but it might help you craft shifts in tone, tempo, timbre over the course of your mono-dia-logues.

Mabou Mines
An interview with Lee Bruer (and Maude) about his approach to theater, to this current Williams’ project. I wanted to draw your attention to an assertion he made about an “acting dialectic” that I thought might resonate with what we’re doing with Laramie. He was discussing coupling Maude’s Meisner training in naturalistic, method acting with his tendency towards presentational, formalist staging, “Half-Meyerhold, half-Stanislavski,” as he puts it:

I finally found what my statement is, and I call it a kind of acting dialectic: You’re always acting two things at once. You’re acting yourself straight, and you’re acting yourself as a parody of yourself. It’s straight, but it’s a send-up—and yet it’s straight—and yet it’s a send-up.

While we’re not erring on the side of the parodic, I do think the notion of “acting two things at once” is a relevant dialectic to the layering of character (Duke student, Tectonic Company member, Laramie citizen) that you are juggling in Laramie.

A description/review, by Adam Sobsey, of Mabou Mines’ open rehearsal for their Glass Menagerie project and a review/description of the culminating reading/performances of their “de/reconstruction” of Williams.

Many thanks to the faculty and staff of the department of Theater Studies (especially Miriam Sauls), Megan Stein, Aaron Greenwald and Duke Performances for bringing these amazing artists to our campus and our classrooms!


You know …

It’s happened again. I sat in a rehearsal and heard a line … actually a phrase or set of phrases … that set my brain whirling.

Bear with me, because what follows is my attempt to work out the significance of my brain whirl, but it was the appearance of that little verbal toss-off, you know, the one we use in conversation that indicates our awareness of a listening audience.

And quite often it is literally a placeholder, a way we take a verbal breath within a story to reorient ourselves to what we are saying and check in with our listeners.

FRIEND OF AARON MCKINNEY: At the time I knew him, he was just, he was just a young kid trying to, you know, he just wanted to fit in, you know, acting tough, acting cool, but, you know, you could get in his face about it and he would back down, like he was some kinda scared kid. (33)

Sometimes it appears at the beginning of a thought as a way to assert our confidence in the truth or accuracy of the statement that follows.

SGT HING: [...] And us, well, it was a beautiful say, absolutely gorgeous day, real clear and crisp and the sky was that blue that, uh … you know, you’ll never be able to pain, it’s just sky blue–it’s just gorgeous. (8)

REBECCA HILLIKER: You know, I really love my students because they are free thinkers. (11)

ALISON MEARS: Well, there was more land, I mean, you could keep your pet cow. Your horse. Your little chickens. You know, just have your little bit of acreage. (14)

Sometimes it’s interrogatory, asking (demanding?) our listener to take our position or perspective on an issue, implying that if they found themselves in the same situation they would probably do or say (or not do or say) something similar.

SHADOW: And I didn’t think nothin’ of it, you know? I didn’t figure them guys was gonna be like that. (32)

Oftentimes, the interrogatory “you know” is exchanged with “you see,” reinforcing the anatomical character of knowledge. Seeing for one’s self = knowing something for sure. Or, perhaps it’s a basic principle of visualization necessary for verbal communication. “I can imagine what you’re saying, so I can understand what you’re telling me.”

DOC: Matt was a blunt little shit, you know what I’m sayin’? But I like him ’cause he was straightforward, you see what I’m saying? (19)

It can also indicate a desire for confirmation, a signal from our listener that they are with us, that they are listening closely, almost challenging them to take issue with what we have said.

ZUBAIDA: And it’s — how am I supposed to go into the whole doctrine of physical modesty and my own spiritual relationship with the Lord, standing there with my pop and chips? You know what I mean? (26)

BAPTIST MINISTER’S WIFE: He has very biblical views about homosexuality–he doesn’t condone that kind of violence. But he doesn’t condone that kind of lifestyle, you know what I mean? (27)

Other times it gives us an opportunity to show what we mean — to follow a description with a clarifying demonstration or analogy. In these moments we  either become or directly invoke the idea or image we are trying to elicit. Our listener now owes us his/her attention because we have put our bodies on the line to make our point explicit.

REGGIE: His head was distorted–you know, it did not look normal–he looked as if he had a real harsh head wound. (36)

ROMAINE: And whenever I think of Matthew, I always thing of his incredible beaming smile. I mean, he’d walk in and he’d be like (demonstrates) you know, and he’d smile at everyone … he’d just make you feel great … (19)

So what, Jules? What do we do with this information? To be honest, I’m not quite sure. I need to reread-rehear the other two acts to see if this invocation of you know appears or strikes me as similarly significant. But, in Act One, in the context of introductions — of the Tectonic company’s “project” to our watching audience, of the Tectonic company to the Laramie citizens, of the Laramie citizens to the company — it seems like a phrase that has a distinct character and a distinct reason for being used by a speaker. Considering its appearance, its purpose might help as you consider what questions your characters are being asked and how comfortable, defiant, uncertain, or awkward they feel their answers might be received by a listener.

You know?


Dramatizing Truth

The first sentence of the Laramie Project is not a description of Matthew Shepard’s beating or of Laramie, Wyoming, rather the play opens by detailing the construction of the play by the Tectonic Theater Company, ending with the statement that the “play you are about to see is edited from those interviews, as well as journal entries from members of the company and other found texts.” Thus, the play opens with something akin to the “Acknowledgments” section at the beginning of a non-fiction book; the project’s methodology is briefly explained and the audience is assured that the material about to be related were rooted in evidence. Creative invention is not admitted, merely construction. Throughout our pre-rehearsal table work we talked a lot about the nature and mission of documentary theater. After working with the text for several weeks I have been struck by the seductive nature of the central claim made by Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Company in the opening lines of the play—this is truth—and I find it interesting, as someone interested in playwriting, that the strength of this claim relies upon assurances of factuality rather than creativity.

Larmaie does not open with a direct-address informing the audience that they are about to see a play about a town dealing with hate. Instead, it opens by telling the audience they are about to see a series of dramatized textual records—a compilation of fact. Reading and watching Angels in America as well as reading Execution of Justice for class was really useful in that the both plays represent an alternative way of dealing with a factual event. Angels is fiction, but it deals with real issues and even some real people. It’s story is invented, but it is not fantastical. Execution of Justice is a piece of documentary theater like Larmaie, except it clearly departs from truth at times. Emily Mann’s opening monologues frame the documentary evidence about to be dramatized, but also places the audience in a theatrical world. They are informed by the play’s opening that what they are about to see does not claim to be truth, but rather a riff on the truth. Angels is a “Gay Fantasia on National Themes” and Execution is essential a critique of an event. They are both more a mediation on the truth than a statement of it. But Laramie is different. Even though Laramie is clearly a constructed text with a clear critique of the truth the play attempts to assuage this belief.

At the same time as I am working on The Laramie Project, I am in the midst of working on my senior distinction project. For my distinction project I am writing an historical drama about politics in the early American republic in general and the divide and eventual duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in particular. In writing the play I have looked at the primary sources I could find (letters, diaries, and speeches) as well as secondary historical sources (biographies and historical accounts of the time) and plays (primarily dramas in which the playwright tackles a concept, character or event in history). Thus, I entered Laramie already thinking a lot about how one presents an account of something or someone real onstage. I have felt the burden that I’m sure the Tectonic Theater Company members felt to “say it correct.” Even though my characters are long dead, I tread carefully around them. My greatest concern was not with taking liberties, but in taking accidental liberties. For me, it was important that I learn as much as possible so that omissions could be a more deliberate exercise. I also felt that even if the audience did not know something, the fact I knew it would ensure that the “truth” was respected. The Tectonic Theater Company’s omission of certain layers of truth does not offend me because I understand the demands of the dramatizing history more so than I did several months ago.

-Ben Bergmann

The first sentence of the Laramie Project is not a description of Matthew Shepard’s beating or of Laramie, Wyoming, rather the play opens by detailing the construction of the play by the Tectonic Theater Company, ending with the statement that the “play you are about to see is edited from those interviews, as well as journal entries from members of the company and other found texts.” Thus, the play opens with something akin to the “Acknowledgments” section at the beginning of a non-fiction book; the project’s methodology is briefly explained and the audience is assured that the material about to be related were rooted in evidence. Creative invention is not admitted, merely construction. Throughout our pre-rehearsal table work we talked a lot about the nature and mission of documentary theater. After working with the text for several weeks I have been struck by the seductive nature of the central claim made by Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Company in the opening lines of the play—this is truth—and I find it interesting, as someone interested in playwriting, that the strength of this claim relies upon assurances of factuality rather than creativity.

Larmaie does not open with a direct-address informing the audience that they are about to see a play about a town dealing with hate. Instead, it opens by telling the audience they are about to see a series of dramatized textual records—a compilation of fact. Reading and watching Angels in America as well as reading Execution of Justice for class was really useful in that the both plays represent an alternative way of dealing with a factual event. Angels is fiction, but it deals with real issues and even some real people. It’s story is invented, but it is not fantastical. Execution of Justice is a piece of documentary theater like Larmaie, except it clearly departs from truth at times. Emily Mann’s opening monologues frame the documentary evidence about to be dramatized, but also places the audience in a theatrical world. They are informed by the play’s opening that what they are about to see does not claim to be truth, but rather a riff on the truth. Angels is a “Gay Fantasia on National Themes” and Execution is essential a critique of an event. They are both more a mediation on the truth than a statement of it. But Laramie is different. Even though Laramie is clearly a constructed text with a clear critique of the truth the play attempts to assuage this belief.

At the same time as I am working on The Laramie Project, I am in the midst of working on my senior distinction project. For my distinction project I am writing an historical drama about politics in the early American republic in general and the divide and eventual duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in particular. In writing the play I have looked at the primary sources I could find (letters, diaries, and speeches) as well as secondary historical sources (biographies and historical accounts of the time) and plays (primarily dramas in which the playwright tackles a concept, character or event in history). Thus, I entered Laramie already thin
/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-qformat:yes;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin-top:0in;
mso-para-margin-right:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt;
mso-para-margin-left:0in;
line-height:200%;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:11.0pt;
font-family:”Calibri”,”sans-serif”;
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

The first sentence of the Laramie Project is not a description of Matthew Shepard’s beating or of Laramie, Wyoming, rather the play opens by detailing the construction of the play by the Tectonic Theater Company, ending with the statement that the “play you are about to see is edited from those interviews, as well as journal entries from members of the company and other found texts.” Thus, the play opens with something akin to the “Acknowledgments” section at the beginning of a non-fiction book; the project’s methodology is briefly explained and the audience is assured that the material about to be related were rooted in evidence. Creative invention is not admitted, merely construction. Throughout our pre-rehearsal table work we talked a lot about the nature and mission of documentary theater. After working with the text for several weeks I have been struck by the seductive nature of the central claim made by Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Company in the opening lines of the play—this is truth—and I find it interesting, as someone interested in playwriting, that the strength of this claim relies upon assurances of factuality rather than creativity.

Larmaie does not open with a direct-address informing the audience that they are about to see a play about a town dealing with hate. Instead, it opens by telling the audience they are about to see a series of dramatized textual records—a compilation of fact. Reading and watching Angels in America as well as reading Execution of Justice for class was really useful in that the both plays represent an alternative way of dealing with a factual event. Angels is fiction, but it deals with real issues and even some real people. It’s story is invented, but it is not fantastical. Execution of Justice is a piece of documentary theater like Larmaie, except it clearly departs from truth at times. Emily Mann’s opening monologues frame the documentary evidence about to be dramatized, but also places the audience in a theatrical world. They are informed by the play’s opening that what they are about to see does not claim to be truth, but rather a riff on the truth. Angels is a “Gay Fantasia on National Themes” and Execution is essential a critique of an event. They are both more a mediation on the truth than a statement of it. But Laramie is different. Even though Laramie is clearly a constructed text with a clear critique of the truth the play attempts to assuage this belief.

At the same time as I am working on The Laramie Project, I am in the midst of working on my senior distinction project. For my distinction project I am writing an historical drama about politics in the early American republic in general and the divide and eventual duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in particular. In writing the play I have looked at the primary sources I could find (letters, diaries, and speeches) as well as secondary historical sources (biographies and historical accounts of the time) and plays (primarily dramas in which the playwright tackles a concept, character or event in history). Thus, I entered Laramie already thinking a lot about how one presents an account of something or someone real onstage. I have felt the burden that I’m sure the Tectonic Theater Company members felt to “say it correct.” Even though my characters are long dead, I tread carefully around them. My greatest concern was not with taking liberties, but in taking accidental liberties. For me, it was important that I learn as much as possible so that omissions could be a more deliberate exercise. I also felt that even if the audience did not know something, the fact I knew it would ensure that the “truth” was respected. The Tectonic Theater Company’s omission of certain layers of truth does not offend me because I understand the demands of the dramatizing history more so than I did several months ago.

king a lot about how one presents an account of something or someone real onstage. I have felt the burden that I’m sure the Tectonic Theater Company members felt to “say it correct.” Even though my characters are long dead, I tread carefully around them. My greatest concern was not with taking liberties, but in taking accidental liberties. For me, it was important that I learn as much as possible so that omissions could be a more deliberate exercise. I also felt that even if the audience did not know something, the fact I knew it would ensure that the “truth” was respected. The Tectonic Theater Company’s omission of certain layers of truth does not offend me because I understand the demands of the dramatizing history more so than I did several months ago.


Fact, Truth, and Reality

Andy Chu

Working on The Laramie Project has (among many other things) raised some significant aesthetic questions for me as an actor and an artist. What is this piece? Surely a work of fiction would not draw its text from real interviews and journal entries, and surely a work of nonfiction would not incorporate lighting design, sound design, costumes, blocking, and certainly not actors. What I have come to realize is the important distinction between fact and truth. As a culture we seem to conceive of fact as being the touchstone for fiction and nonfiction. If it’s fact, it’s not fiction; if it’s not fact, it must be fiction. And if it’s fiction, then it must be true.

This is misleading.

What The Laramie Project proves is that something need not be factual in order to be true. By and large, the play is a fabrication (to borrow a word from Julian’s post, despite my knowing he doesn’t really agree with my new aesthetic theory): the actors are not the original people, the theatre is not the town of Laramie, it is not 1998, these aren’t the clothes they wore, this isn’t the order they spoke in. Indeed, the only element of the play that is at all factual is the text (which is merely one dimension of such a highly complex aesthetic object as a piece of theatre), and even then, it is a highly edited transcript of recordings to which, if we are to believe Maude Mitchell, less than perfect assiduity was given in moments of weakness, exhaustion, or boredom. Really, despite being a piece of documentary theatre, very little of The Laramie Project is fact, and even then it is not above suspicion (e.g., the journal entries kept by the company, which according to Maude were a very quaint bit of bullshit).

But the facts are not what matters. Facts are for science; art has something different in mind. The Laramie Project may not be fact, but it can be wonderfully, terribly true–and that truth is up to the actors, the director, the dramaturg, and how they approach the documents given to them. When our angels raise their wings in one beautiful, synchronized move, no one will care that technically, the angel outfits that Romaine and her friends designed had wings permanently extended from the shoulders. We shall have created a moment that is true–a moment to silence hate with a swift, united sweep of a feather–even though it never happened. In this way, the characters that we create (for indeed, as actors, we always create the characters, never the other way around) have great potential for truth whether or not they correspond to the factual people–sometimes even greater potential than the real-life characters might. Last week, Spencer and I sat down and sorted out Russell’s and Aaron’s lives–their history, their motives, their beliefs–so as to give the characters greater depth when we played them. The decisions we made were not just in keeping with the facts; they were in line with how we thought the characters functioned in the play and its themes. In this vein, we made decisions whose likelihood I’m sure could be disputed–but such a disagreement would not matter at all to us. The point is that Aaron and Russell be true, not factual, that what they represent in the play be heard loud and clear through our performances. They might not be authentic, but you’d better believe they’re real.


css.php