Jeff tells us so often that we must own this story. I typically took this to mean that we should be confident in our knowledge of the play and our ability to perform it. It was encouragement.
I took new meaning from it when I had the pleasure of meeting a former student of the University of Wyoming. She came to see our production and even made herself available to talk and answer questions beforehand. Naomi and I bombarded her with our inquiries and curiosities for hours, asking about her experience in Laramie, her connection to the incident, her closeness to the play and her life in general. She was very open to our naïve invasion, even after what must have been years of allowing other people into what must have been painful memories. We learned so much from her, and I really just enjoyed the conversation.
After speaking about her acquaintance with many people featured in The Laramie Project, I realized that I was responsible for the portrayal of part of her life. I became a bit worried about the prospect of telling someone else what their life was on an open stage. I made sure to apologize in advance if I misrepresented or failed someone or something in my acting choices, as someone unfamiliar with the real subjects. She gently refused my apology and told me that this was my story too, that I had become a part of Laramie and it had become a part of me through my dedication to it. She said that this was the point of theater – to interpret life as I will and share that interpretation with others – and that I should never apologize for it. In that Moment, the encouragement to “own a story” became more of a license. The material and the questions and the images of this play (better understood as a story, with a human rather than a literary legacy) were mine.
Later in the evening she presented a group of us with a box of vials to be distributed to all involved in the production. She had put in each of them pieces of granite from the land just outside of Laramie. Apparently, at certain times of day it makes the interstate going into Laramie from Cheyenne…sparkle. By the end of the evening, I realized that she had provided me with knowledge, context, photographs and earth of Laramie. She had given me Laramie. Tectonic had given me Laramie. The citizens and our production and this process had given me Laramie. In my own way, in an open and welcoming way, I own this story. I’ll be carrying it with me always.