Today. 6:01pm, April 4, is the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis, TN. On that day in 1968, he was in the city to lead a peaceful march of striking city sanitation workers and headed from there to Washington D.C. to launch his “Poor People’s Campaign.”
In 2008, on the 40th anniversary of this event, Time published a special report about that night in Memphis, Dr. King’s interrupted legacy on behalf of the poor in America, and his achievements and struggles as the father of the modern civil right’s movement.
The reason I mention this connection on the eve of our first full dress rehearsal is to remind you how things can change in an instant. And while Dr. King, like Harvey Milk, had to have imagined that he would die suddenly by an assassin’s bullet such anticipation doesn’t lessen the shock and horror of such an event or the hate and fear at its core. I write this post about King’s death while I also fill a large US map with pins marking hate crimes from 1998. We’ve already run out of pins to mark bias crimes based on race and we’ve only dealt with 3 states.
I also wanted to share this clip of the evening news (from CBS) from that night, 43 years ago, and see if you don’t hear rhetoric from President Lyndon Johnson that sounds very much like what we hear from Governor Geringer in Laramie. Note the differences in the way the rather fledgling television press covers a unfolding event. And how incongruous does it sound to hear Walter Cronkite talk about the “Negro” reaction to the news of Dr. King’s death?
In early 2000, former UNC-Chapel Hill faculty member, Rev. Michael Eric Dyson (now of DePaul University) wrote an eye-opening (and eye-brow raising) history of Dr. King’s political philosophy, a philosophy that has been, Dyson argues, obscured and de-radicalized by a generic focus on King’s oratory prowess. Even as I agree with aspects of Dr. Dyson’s argument, I cannot help but feel specifically, politically moved when I hear recordings of Dr. King’s speeches. To that end, I offer the YouTube clip precisely because it gives us a chance to hear a snippet from Dr. King’s last public address:
“Somewhere I read … of the Freedom of Assembly. Somewhere I read … of the Freedom of speech. Somewhere I read … of the Freedom of Press. Somewhere I read … that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.”
Thank you, Dr. King.
This is Don’s post — uploaded by Jules.
For the longest time, I didn’t let myself get personally involved in any of the shows I stage-managed. Laramie changed that.
Let’s back up a little. I’m confident in what I do. I would never describe myself as a “great” stage-manager, or really anything other than a competent stage-manager, but I know how to get done what needs to get done. I’ve worked on a good deal of shows now, and none of them have crashed and burned. (Well, not completely at least.) One part of being a stage manager is being able to remain objective about a show. You have to build up a sort of emotional barrier between yourself and the material, because you’re on-duty from the second you enter the theater until the moment you lock it up for the night, and there really isn’t any time to stop and react to the show that’s going on.
I have never had a problem establishing that barrier. I always managed to distance myself to the point where the show just became a list of cues that needed to be called on time, set pieces that needed to be moved, and props that needed to be tracked down. And then there was Laramie.
I knew Laramie was going to be tough, emotionally speaking, after the very first read-through. Even then, there was so much raw emotion put into the show that it was truly amazing to hear. Still, I was absolutely positive that eventually, I would become numb to the weighty emotional content, and that it would be just another show.
And then I found myself in tech, trying to call cues with tears in my eyes. What? That has never happened to me. Ever. I was totally unprepared. I’d never worked on a show where every night I left the theater completely emotionally drained. It’s been tough, and it’s only going to get harder as the show gets more and more polished.
However, not having that emotional distance has really changed how I feel about calling the show. There are always tricky cues in every show, and with a normal show, you nail the cue, you have a private fist-pump in the booth, and you keep on going. But with Laramie, because I feel such a strong attachment to a show, each nailed cue is an emotional triumph, because I like to think that I’m helping showcase the incredible work that our cast has been doing, and that each perfectly timed cue is one step towards relaying the full weight of the Laramie Project to our audience.
It’s been weird. Weird but good. I was unprepared to become so emotionally attached to the piece, but, having experienced it, I can only hope that I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work on more projects that I can become so invested in.
And now, the part two of Dan’s post about The Laramie Project and censorship.
Isn’t it amazing and wonderful that a play (or any work of art, for that matter) can create controversy and public debate. It is proof that art is powerful! Words matter. Art matters. Theater matters! The Laramie Project is a powerful play. In numerous examples around the country, high schools have stopped or prohibited productions of the show. What is equally as distressing (or maybe even more distressing) are all the schools where the drama teacher is too fearful, too afraid of the potential for controversy that he or she never even tries to produce the play. (In legal parlance, we call that the “chilling effect.”) The school principals and the school boards are not always the ones trying to censor; sometimes it is the parents making the protests.
Here are a few recent examples of Laramie Project controversies:
In the spirit of free speech and debate on issues, here is a website that takes the opposite view on whether The Laramie Project should be taught in schools.
How can schools censor a school play? As a starting point, remember that a private school (i.e. a non-governmental agency) has pretty much free reign over censoring school activities. A public school, however is subject to the First Amendment. A school is not typically considered a “public forum.” (A public forum is a place that is either specifically designated as a forum for expressive purposes or a location that has traditionally been such a public forum. Think, for example, of a town square that has traditionally been the place where political speeches occur and protests happen.) Government restrictions of speech in a public forum are subject to strict scrutiny–the highest level of judicial review. As a non-public forum, the government restrictions need only meet a reasonableness standard–the restrictions must be reasonable and viewpoint neutral.
From a constitutional perspective, the speech in question in most of the school censorship scenarios, is not the play itself, it it the teacher’s expressive speech, embodied in his or her choice of play. That act of choosing a play is the constitutional speech at issue. The selection of a play is not, according to the courts, a matter of public concern, it is a part of the curriculum decision-making process. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 1989 decision stated that “public school teachers are not free, under the first amendment, to arrogate control of curricula.” That statement was cited in a North Carolina case – the 1998 Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, Boring v. Buncombe County Board of Education, 136 F.3d 365 (1998). Boring concerned a Buncombe County, NC high school teacher that chose the play, Independence by Lee Blessing, for four of her advanced students to perform in an annual statewide competition. Margaret Boring was ultimately transferred in retaliation for the play’s production. The court found that the retaliation did not violate her Constitutional rights. [You can read the entire decision here.]
INSERT FROM JULES — Boring’s dismissal happened in Charlotte, NC in the wake of local controversy about Charlotte Repertory Theatre’s decision to stage Kushner’s Angels in America and the subsequent county defunding of all arts (and the disintegration, in the wake of those cuts, of the Charlotte Rep) particularly any/all artwork deemed to have controversial (i.e. mentions of homosexuality) content. In 2007, Eric Coble was commissioned by Actor’s Theater of Charlotte (which was built out of the ruins of Charlotte Rep.) to write a play, Southern Rapture, about how the culture wars were fought in Charlotte in 1996.
Of course, it isn’t only plays with gay themes that get censored. In just the past year, a Connecticut school superintendent sought to stop a production of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone because it used the word “nigger.” [Query, should I have self-censored and referred to “the n-word?”] Ultimately the play was performed.
In some instances, where schools have stopped the production of a play, the students have found non-school venues to perform. That was the case with a production of “La Cage aux Folles,” that was to be performed by the Trinity Preparatory School in Orlando, Florida.
The show must go on.
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Moment: An Introduction
From April 1, 2011 to April 3, 2011, the Laramie Project Company at Duke University ran tech for its upcoming production. The following comes from interviews with Manny Hidalgo, an assistant stage manager for the show.
Well, what Laramie was like during tech…. well, I’d never seen anything like it. With over 200 light cues for a play set in stadium seating, it was sure to be a nightmare.
Now, tech weekend for me started off with learning how to operate the snow for Moment: Snow.
Moment: The Higher Spirit
I remember, being kinda excited for this part. Of all of my duties for the show, this was certainly one of the more exciting ones. I would be, as the character Tiffany Edwards said, the “higher spirit… that blows storms.” In fact, I even jokingly demanded that the cast refer to me as such for the rest of the show, to which Director Jeff Storer said, “Let it be so.”
But, yeah, I followed Stage Manager Don Tucker up to the catwalks where we were met by Dave Berberian of the Scene Shop. I looked down at the stage below and became a little nauseous.
Now, I do not have a fear of height – I really don’t – but, still, something about peering over the rail – realizing how easy it’d be for me to slip under it and splat on the ground below – well, it was a little nauseating.
Anyway, Dave went through the operating of the snow. It was really amazing, actually. Six barrels in a line, flaps to fill each with snow, and holes for the snow to trickle out of. To cap it off, there was a pulley system both to shake out snow and to lower to entire apparatus to the ground below to be filled.
After Dave’s tutorial, I experimented with it myself, overlooking Jeff as he walk through the veil of snow I was creating.
Moment: That Day
Later that that day was a tech without actors. Manny told us that he actually was not required to be there for the rest of the day. He was to be on-call, but as he had already finished his hours in the scene shop, the rest of the day was to be an almost break for him. Nevertheless, Manny came back at 3 to walk with the other volunteers until tech ended around 10, unable to escape to pull of Laramie.
The next two days encompassed a full tech with the actors and the actual costumes they’ll be using. Here’s Manny Hidalgo:
At first I was optimistic that we’d meet Jeff’s ambitious goal of getting a complete run-through in each day. But as we got into it, it became clear that this was certainly… ambitious. Yeah, that the word I’d use to describe it.
One of our actresses was sick on Saturday, so her parts were being read by Naomi. She did her best, and, bless her, did not equivocate at all. She scurried from her normal place to Emma’s place with due diligence. But it certainly presented a challenge for anyone who play a role in setting up Emma’s characters.
Some things that did not get ironed out on Friday were left to Saturday, and by the time it was all said and done, we’d only got to the moment before the end of Act II.
Sunday was the second day of tech.
Maybe it was my imagination, but everyone seemed kind of demoralized on Sunday. I don’t know if people had personal issue going on, or if the monotony of tech was getting to them. Then again, it could have just been my imagination. Again, our objective was to finish through the first run of tech, and squeeze in another full run. I sighed to myself, as my own optimism had completely eroded.
Nevertheless, the Company went straight to work. Emma’s return to our mist certainly aided, and we managed to finish the first run just before 3. Expressions of relief were on everyone face as we adjourned for a break.
It seemed that moral was up again after having done a full run. With our remaining three hours, we would return to the stage to attempt a second. With everyone’s hopes up, we plowed right through the whole play! We even manage to come damn close to our intended two hours and forty minutes goal for the show.
Moment: Gettin’ Moved On
Today we begin our dress rehearsals. Considering how well things went this weekend, I’m sure everything will go off without a hitch. It’s time for us to get moved on – on with the show that is. Opening’s on Thursday, and we have three days of dress to work out the remain kinks.
But for me, I’ll be at Shaefer at 6pm, getting ready to make it snow in Duke’s Laramie.
So, I know, I’ve been crying a lot during rehearsal. Like, a whole lot. As in at least two times a day, which is starting to feel a bit ridiculous by now, but I think that’s because I’m doing this whole acting thing the right way. You know how directors say that you’re supposed to make new discoveries every night? How you’re supposed to come to new realizations about the play, or the incident, or the character each time you perform the show?
Well, I feel like I’m having new realizations every night, although it might be most fair to call them extrapolations really, because they’re just sort of my mind spinning away from the text.
Sometimes they’re really nice, but sometimes they’re pretty awful. So without further ado, here is what runs through my mind when I’m sitting up there on stage and sobbing my eyes out.
One thing that occurred to me last night, as I was watching Reggie Fluty describe Matthew’s condition when she found him, was that Matthew had braces. I know that I say it in Dennis Shepard’s speech, but I never really applied that to the moment he was murdered until last night. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had braces, but when you have braces, if you get hit in the mouth, even lightly, it can be extremely painful, because your braces dig into your gums. So last night, I began to think about Matthew’s mouth, and how the inside of it was probably ripped to shreds because of his braces, each blow of Aaron’s pistol embedding his braces more deeply into the soft tissue on the inside of his mouth. And then I realized that maybe that’s why Reggie couldn’t open up his mouth, because of all of the blood that would have accumulated in that process.
Not a particularly happy thought, eh?
Another thing I thought about for the first time a few weeks ago was just how terrifying that car ride must have been for Matthew. While the details will never be fully known, if the account that is given in the play is correct, when Matthew got in the car, he was probably convinced that he was going to get lucky that night, and potentially even have a threesome with Aaron and Russell. While I don’t have proof that that is for certain what happened, I sincerely doubt that Matthew would have gotten into the car with them just to get a ride home. He clearly was rich enough to call a cab if he needed one. So he gets in the car thinking that he’s going to have a proverbial “good night.” And I can’t help thinking about the few moments after they first got in the car, when Matthew, according to Aaron himself, began reaching for Aaron’s leg and working his way up his thigh, when Aaron first punched him and told him that if he tried it again he was going to get it, when Matthew recoiled from Aaron’s blow, his head swirling with disorientation and pain, when Matthew realized that he was trapped between two people in a small truck and he had no way of escaping Aaron’s forthcoming blows, when Aaron beat him with his pistol while Russell continued driving, when Matthew screamed in a small enclosed space, realizing that he had absolutely no option for escape, and it goes on and on and on in my mind.
Then I think about the fence; the fence after Aaron and Russ decided that they had beaten him enough. I think about when Russ initially got back in the car, the image of Matthew bleeding and crying out framed in the intense glare of his headlights, Russell turns the ignition, the car roars to life, he puts it in reverse, and pulls away, the image of Matthew leaving his headlights as he drives away. And I wonder; what did he do after that. Did he put the radio on? Did he talk with Aaron? Did they sit there in silence? Did they roll down the windows? Did they have the heat on? Suddenly, all of these mundane details of basic human functioning seem so vitally important, because after such a fundamental betrayal of humanity, after such an inhumane and cruel expression of violence, I’m not sure if either of those men are entirely human, so how could they function as such? How could they perform even the most menial of tasks, like turning the key in the ignition of a car?
But not everything I think about during rehearsal is quite so gruesome; as a matter of fact, it is oftentimes beautiful. Four nights ago, I had a beautiful thought while watching Rulon Stacey announce Matthew’s death on national television. I thought about the thousands of mothers and fathers all over the world who had gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender children that they had cut off, that they had separated themselves from, or that they had disowned, and I saw them watching Rulon’s speech, hearing the part where Judy says that you should “Go home, hug your kids, and don’t let a day go by without telling them that you love them.” And I see that message start to really sink in. And I imagine those parents sitting there for an hour or two, questioning whether or not they should do it, and in my mind’s eye I see those parents walk over to the phone, hold it for five or ten minutes, and finally work up the courage to call their children; they dial the seven or ten digits that they have scrawled on a piece of paper that has been tucked away for a very long time, they hold the phone to their ear, their hand potentially shaking, and on the other end the phone rings and their kid who they haven’t spoken to ever since they came out picks up the phone:
“Yes, hello son.”
It takes a moment for their kid to recognize the voice on the other end.
“Yes, um, I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been hearing a lot with the news and all, and I just thought I should call and say hello.”
And at some point in the conversation the words become less and less important as someone’s gay son or lesbian daughter receives the affirmation that they’ve waited for their entire life, and hears their parent say those four words that they haven’t heard since the day, years ago, that they first said, “Dad, I’m gay.”
“I love you son.”
And honestly, when I think about that, I don’t mind if I look ridiculous crying on stage.
Moment: A Scarf
In the introduction to her play, Fires in the Mirror, about another community’s unravelling, Anna Deavere Smith says, “everyone, in a given amount of time, will say something that is like poetry.” Zubaida’s monologue at the candle vigil is like poetry. Bart’s music elevates it to an aria. Words, music and candles? It’s like we’ve placed some grand opera in the middle of small town, Wyoming. It’s beautiful. And it makes it easier to act, now that I’ve gotten over worrying about being lost within the music and movement. I hardly even think about the words as I say them – they feel so natural.
When I found out I’d be playing Zubaida, I described her to a friend as “the cool-ass Muslim girl with the wikid monologue.” I love that monologue. Last semester, when President Broadhead sent out an email about the bad press around Duke and the frat emails, I thought of Zubaida’s words. He seemed to be saying “we need to show the world that Duke isn’t like this; that it’s just a tiny minority of students who are making everyone else look bad.” And in my head, Zubaida started talking: “No! We are like this. We ARE like this. WE are LIKE this.” I have a feeling her words will be with me for a long time.
And isn’t that cool? Just like she tells Stephen Belber – it’s so unreal that I, Kimi Goffe, a girl from Jamaica, am in North Carolina playing a Muslim girl with parents from Bangladesh, in a play about Wyoming written by a group from New York. I’m on stage, acting like I’m her, and she’s in my head, helping me articulate my feelings about the world around me. That’s so weird.
Moment: A Definition
Decide: To decide is to make up one’s mind as to what shall be done and the way to do it.
“Two years ago, because I’m Muslim, I decided to start wearing a scarf.”
Zubaida chose to wear a scarf. Contrary to popular images of Muslim women being oppressed and forced to wear the scarf, Zubaida’s scarf was her choice – something she decided. Realizing the importance of this word changed my performance of the monologue.
The beginning of the monologue also changed for me on Thursday night, when I was practicing before rehearsal. I realized that Zubaida is explaining herself. It’s almost as if she’s being asked, “So how come you have such a good Wyoming accent?” Or, “How long have you been in the U.S.”? That’s what it means to be an outsider – constantly having to explain yourself. It’s like Jonas Slonaker having to explain that he’s gay and still voluntarily lives in Laramie. It’s like Matt having to explain to Doc O’Connor that he’s gay and going to a gay bar, is that okay? It’s like me having to explain to Americans why I sound so Jamaican and to Jamaicans why I sound so American. So, it activated the monologue in a whole new way.
Family: any group of persons closely related by blood, as parents, children, uncles, aunts, and cousins.
“As the grandmother and person who raised Russell, along with my family, we have written the following statement.”
The word ‘family’ is a very painful one for Lucy Thompson in this monologue. Her family is disintegrating. Her daughter was murdered in January and now, only three months later, her grandson is going to jail, maybe for the rest of his life. Certainly for the rest of her life. She will never see him outside of prison again. She knows that going into this speech. When I’m Lucy, I think about what she feels when she says ‘family’ or ‘we’ or ‘our.’ Is she reminded every time of her daughter? It makes the monologue hurt that much more.
Mercy: compassionate treatment of or attitude towards an offender, adversary, etc, who is in one’s power or care.
“You have shown such mercy in allowing us to have this plea…” (Lucy Thompson)
“To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy.” (Dennis Shepard)
It’s almost as if they are speaking to each other. One begging for mercy, the other granting it. This struck me as I was listening to Jacob perform tonight. They are on opposite sides of this case, but they are on the same side as well. To borrow from Doc O’Connor, the whole thing you see, the whole thing ropes around mercy.
Mercy mercy me
Things ain’t what they used to be, no no
Where did all the blue skies go?
(“Mercy Mercy Me”, Marvin Gaye)
After Matthew, in Laramie, (after Laramie at Duke?), things ain’t what they used to be, no, no.