The Laramie Project

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Dramaturg blog category.

Goodbye and Good Luck

This will be my last post of this production blog. It has been difficult to decide when or how to close the book on the production. I spent the past summer at conferences where we discussed how to sustain the “life” of theater productions, especially those related to ongoing social issues. I still haven’t stumbled upon firm answers, but it is my hope that this blog, even as it closes to regular updates, is one way that our experience with Laramie remains “alive” in the present moment for readers who find us.

I had intended to publish a final post to coincide with the 13th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death, October 12, 2011. Instead, it comes today, October 18, 2011, a day which brought news that the LGBT Center on NC State’s campus was vandalized with homophobic slurs. It comes four days after UNC-Chapel Hill’s Office of Student Affairs cleared a student group, the a capella group Psalm 100, of any possible charge of violating the university’s anti-discrimination policy a month and a half after the group voted to remove a Senior group member who revealed that he was gay. The ouster did not rise to the level of discrimination because, in the words of Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Winston Crisp, there was no evidence that Psalm 100 expelled the student because he was gay; he was removed because he espoused pro-gay beliefs which were incompatible with the group’s “specific [Christian] beliefs.”

There is a wonderful editorial response to this needle-thread reasoning on the part of the university administration in Durham’s The Herald-Sun, especially the way the decision reinforces Psalm 100’s implied assertion that being gay is incompatible with being Christian. I’m happy to say that in this year’s NC Pride parade the number of religious affiliated marchers seemed to have tripled from the year before. Perhaps it is the looming vote on the anti-LGBT constitutional amendment that has rallied communities of faith to speak out against discrimination. I can only hope it also marks a sea-change when religion cannot be easily welded as a weapon for discrimination. I must confess, I’m less optimistic that it marks a permanent change.

Just 2 weeks ago, Governor Beverly Purdue, who is facing a difficult reelection campaign and who has been strong and decisive in many positive ways in the past few years, issued her own tepid response to the proposed amendment, which reads in part:

I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman: That’s why I voted for the law in 1996 that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and that’s why I continue to support that law today. But I’m going to vote against the amendment because I cannot in good conscience look an unemployed man or woman in the eye and tell them that this amendment is more important than finding them a job. In addition, a number of legal experts have argued that this amendment, if passed, could eliminate legal protections for all unmarried couples in our state, regardless of sexual orientation.

There are many reasons why I found this statement disappointing but first and foremost is the way it simultaneously asserts the rightness of LGBT inequality while it also decries the effects of discrimination. I know the Governor is walking a tightrope, and I am not sure what I expected from a politician fighting for her political life in a state that swung hard to the right in the last elections. But I had the same reaction to her statement as I did upon first reading the lines of Laramie characters who casually denigrate gay men and lesbians but see no relationship between their “beliefs” about homosexuality and the actions of Matthew’s attackers: He doesn’t condone that kind of violence. But he doesn’t condone that kind of lifestyle.

So the need for action and dialogue continues but the focus of the department shifts to new projects, new investigations. Perhaps I will break open the blog again in May 2012 to report positive news about the defeat of Amendment 1. I hope so. Until then …

Life after Laramie

While the curtain came down on our production many months ago, and our cast members have moved on to new projects. Recent graduate Summer Puente (Romaine Patterson) has been capturing Occupy Durham events with her camera lens. Recent graduate Ben “Mr. Bergmann” Bergmann (Doc O’Connor) is chronicling the wisdom of school children in Houston, TX where he is currently a fifth-grade teacher. Sophomore Julian Spector (Father Roger) is performing Health & Science editorial & writing duties for Duke’s student newspaper, The Chronicle.  Seniors Afftene Taylor (Marge Murray), Kimi Goffe (Zubaida Ula) and Junior Naomi Reimer (Catherine Connolly) are hard at work collecting material for and casting the 2012 incarnation of The Me Too Monologues. Torry, Jenny & myself see each other regularly at rehearsals for A Doll’s House (and wouldn’t you know, that show has a blog too!) And from December 1-17, Sophmores Andy Chu (Jedidiah Schultz) and Jacob Tobia (Denis Shepard) will be appearing together again, under Jeff’s direction, in Manbites Dog Theater’s regional premiere of A. Rey Pamatmat’s story of three abandoned teenagers making a live together, Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them.

Things in the state move on as well. As I’ve mentioned before, there has been a push for an anti-LGBT amendment to the NC constitution in the guise of “defense of marriage” language.  In September 2011, the North Carolina Assembly, now controlled by Republicans for the first time since Reconstruction, passed the amendment, which moved to a floor vote after 7 years of being stymied in committee by Democratic lawmakers. The legislation flew through the approval process, without public debate, by more than the 2/3rds margin needed in the House but by only 1 vote in the Senate (some Democrats in both bodies did sign on in support). This move means that the amendment’s fate will be decided by voters on the May 8, 2012 primary ballot. For information about the impact of this legislation on same-sex citizens of NC and for ways to get involved in efforts to defeat its passage, visit Equality NC.

Two weeks after the amendment’s passage in the Assembly, Jacob Tobia, Laramie cast member and native North Carolinian, penned an open letter to his legislature, the same body where he served as a Senate page and lobbied vigorously for anti-bullying legislation, which did squeak by for passage (by 1 vote in the House) in 2009. Its passage was so close because it included language of protection for LGBT students. As is his style, Jacob’s letter was both eloquent and passionate, insistent yet respectful. His piece was picked up by LGBT blogger Pam Spaulding, who served as a post-show discussant for one of our productions of Laramie. You can read the letter in its entirety here, but I want to quote just a little snippet,

When you signed into law a referendum putting my minority rights to a majority vote, you erased me from your memory. When you decided that my right to one day marry the love of my life was less important than your own political goals, you showed me that you don’t remember me at all. Two weeks ago, when you decided to denigrate my identity in our state’s founding document, when you decided to slander my pride and self-esteem in the most permanent, public way possible, you denied that we ever met. Last week, while you were on the house and senate floors rejecting my worth as a citizen and trampling on my human dignity, I was crying in the LGBT Center at Duke, lamenting the fact that you can’t even remember my face.

I wish I could insure, for Jacob, for myself, for all LGBT North Carolinians, that we will buck the national trend and the truth about the discrimination at the heart of this amendment will rally citizens to beat back its passage. Such an outcome will be difficult if not impossible to achieve.

At times like these it is sometimes difficult to see how a theater production that takes place on a set stage for a set time and then closes/disappears can significantly influence larger social/civic actions. However, in an interview with our producer Miriam Sauls, Jacob reminds me to see through my despair and see the things that theater makes possible. Since he says it so well, I’ll leave the last words to him.

We are theatre

Theatre Communication Group launched it’s “I am Theatre” video campaign and YouTube channel. They’re going to feature 50 videos over the next 50 weeks. So we’ve got some time, but I say we get something cooking right after the semester starts! Are you in?

Enjoy video #1 from Rachel Grossman of the acclaimed Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, DC.

2010 Census data and LGBT North Carolinians

As promised, here are the compiled census numbers about the state of North Carolina’s LGBT communities, courtesy of Pam’s House Blend (bolded text are her emphasis):

There are a lot of gay households in places other than the large metropolitan (read solid Blue) areas of the country, and the Williams Institute has sliced and diced census numbers to give a better picture of where we are.

The Williams Institutes will be releasing Census Snapshot: 2010 reports throughout the summer and will provide demographic and geographic information about same-sex couples and same-sex couples raising children for all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. These most recent batch is about Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Nebraska, and North Carolina.

The authors of these reports are Gary J. Gates, PhD, the Williams Distinguished Scholar at the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law and Abigail M. Cooke, a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at UCLA, affiliated with the California Center for Population Research.

In looking at my state – North Carolina, it’s no surprise that we have a lot of same-sex households as a percentage of the population, particularly in Durham, Carrboro and Asheville (notably, not Raleigh, though nearby Garner makes the list).  Total census-declared came-sex couples in NC: 27,250; Same-sex couples per 1,000 households: 7.28.

Those aren’t insignificant numbers, given our state has zero employment discrimination protections, and a hostile judiciary (for second parent adoptions in particular). Individual cities have offered same-sex partner benefits and have anti-discrimination laws in place; and the state has passed a gender identity and presentation-inclusive anti-bullying bill, something several Blue states have yet to get around to passing.

So with all of the talk and push to eliminate DOMA to obtain full marriage rights, LGBTs in states like Alaska, Nebraska, and North Carolina are restless and hopeful that the focus will return to federal ENDA – in order to marshall more LGBTs to political activism, these folks need to know they won’t be fired for being out of the closet.

To put these numbers in perspective and as a reminder for what is at stake this year for equality for LGBT North Carolinians, I refer you to an interview published by the Asheville Citizen-Times with NC State House Speaker Tom Tillis about his plans to bring the anti-LGBT marriage (or anything “resembling” marriage) amendment to a vote in an upcoming special legislative session. The ultimate plan is to have this “red meat” amendment serve as a lure to draw out large number of conservative evangelicals to the voting booth in the 2012 election. Here is how Tillis chose to frame the decision to bring the amendment to a full vote in the legislature (bolded text is my emphasis):

“The defense of marriage is one that a number of folks in our base feel very strongly about,” Tillis said, noting the issue would definitely be brought up in a special fall session. “Generally speaking, it polls fairly high across the voter base. It’s not a particularly partisan thing.”

Asked how he personally feels about gay marriage, Tillis said “data” show that traditional marriages between men and women are more stable and nurturing.

He expects the measure, which can’t be vetoed by the governor, to pass the House with the minimum 72 votes and go to voters in 2012.

As for whether the ballot measure should prohibit same-sex partner benefits given by some businesses and a few local governments such as Asheville, Tillis said he hasn’t taken a formal position.

“We’re doing our homework. We do need to understand that and have that factor in to what will ultimately be put into the language,” he said.

You all know that I am not even-minded about this issue. (Does that make me a less than effective teacher? A recent study suggests some students perceive political bias, whether spoken or not, when an instructor identifies as LGBTQ.) The issue affects me and my very ability to have a legally recognized family.  So it’s not surprising that I find it particularly ironic that while the #s above show LGBT families are on the rise in North Carolina, that while at their recent national conference the American Medical Association firmly affirms the full and equal rights of LGBT patients and their families, and while New York’s state legislators (even three Republicans) sign on to bring full marriage equality to their state (and Rhode Island passes a less than full step towards equality with civil unions), Rep. Tillis espouses unfounded assertions (assertions that have been shown to be patently false) about the relationships of LGBT folks who live, work, pay taxes, and make their homes in this state.

There will be equally nasty sentiments expressed on the legislative floor when this bill is brought for a vote and even more when it makes its way onto the general ballot. It puts me in mind of Jonas Slonaker, “I mean, imagine if more gay people stayed in  But it’s easier said than done, of course.”

Read the Blog!

I had to share the news this week from USA Today (via BestCollegesOnline). Duke received a mention as 1 of 20 American colleges making “good use” of social media. It got me to thinking about all the fun ya’ll had aping Jeff’s cries to “Read the blog!” The article doesn’t reference our little piece of the social media world, but I think we can be justified in claiming the kind of space we made for Laramie absolutely exemplifies “good” use.

20 colleges making good use of social media | USA TODAY College

Theater (as) History

Remember talking about how young (or not) we were when Matthew Shepard died? And Jeff’s telling us about watching the first performances of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart in the mid-1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis? I wish we could all jet up to New York City and catch the revival of Kramer’s play (a 2011 Tony award winner for Best Revival).

Revival cast production photo by Joan Marcus.

Such a viewing experience would give us a chance to continue our discussions about how theater makes, shapes, and reflects history just as we did after watching the full staging of Angels. An article in today’s New York Times features interviews with various audience members immediately after they’ve seen Heart. One quote from a spectator lept out at me:

“And you see this play and you’re like, ‘The ’80s seem a long time ago, and yet we’re making the same dumb mistakes.’ ”

I think such an idea is at the heart of arguments about continued relevance for/of political theater. There are ways in which the genre (under which I’d include most documentary performance) can be mistaken for history — so tied to the particular time and place from which it draws its material that it seems staid, archival without activism — but its best examples find ways to keep audiences very aware of their present circumstances while also realizing their present is inextricably linked to the past. Now, what we do with that realization … that’s another story.

2010 Census data and LGBT Wyomingites

This news comes courtesy of friend-of-production, blogger Pam Spaulding, who will be shifting her blog over the next few weeks to a new home at Firedoglake.

Today, the Williams Institute released new Census Snapshot: 2010 Reports: 125,516 same-sex couples were counted in California, 33,602 in Pennsylvania, 3,352 in Delaware, 6,176 in Kansas, and 1,147 in Wyoming.

Of the seven states released so far:

  • California has the highest proportion of same-sex couples at nearly 10 per 1,000 households
  • Palm Springs, California has the highest proportion of same-sex couples among cities (115 per 1,000 households), followed closely by Rehoboth Beach, Delaware at 107 per 1,000 households
  • Same-sex couples in Wyoming are the most likely to be raising children (28%)
  • In all states, child-rearing tends to be much higher in more rural areas
  • Same-sex couples are present in 100% of the counties tabulated so far

Data from North Carolina’s census will be released June 30.

Deadly dramaturgs

Hello all! I hope you are enjoying summertime in ways that are relaxing, intellectually stimulating, and cooooool! For those of you in or around NC, I’ll let you in on our weather so far. It’s been 90+ degrees for 12 days or more since May began. I’m beginning to think that all the recent budget cuts have finally been absorbed into the atmosphere and Nature just decided to eliminate Spring entirely this year.

I write today because I couldn’t resist sharing that this week’s episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent centered its storyline on a death at an over-budget, over-hyped, and over-wrought Broadway production. I haven’t seen the episode in its entirety; however, the national dramaturgy listserv was all abuzz because the cast of characters included … wait for it … a DRAMATURG! Perhaps the first mention of that position on primetime television!

My quick quip to a colleague was that knowing Law & Order‘s own dramaturgy as a series I suspected this character was going to be an over-educated, under-appreciated male who commits the murder either as revenge for lack of attention or as a way to advance into a new, more prominent career. I won’t give away the ending, but I’m proud to say that my dramaturgical insights were pretty spot on.

It’s worth noting that three contemporary female playwrights

  • Theresa Rebeck (Spike Heels, The Understudy),
  • Diana Son (Stop Kiss, Satellites),
  • Marlane Meyer (Etta Jenks, Why Things Burn),

along with

  • playwright Eric Overmeyer (whose long collaboration with David Simon of The Wire fame began when they worked on Homicide: Life on the Streets; Overmeyer is now a producer on Simon’s new HBO series Treme)

were all formative in the early years of this particular Law & Order franchise.  From what I can tell none of these folks are involved in the most recent season, but the intimate relationship between Law & Order: Criminal Intent and the New York theater community is well established. In fact, after the tentpole series Law & Order was canceled there were articles bemoaning the loss of well-paying NYC-based production work. Criminal Intent had been shut down too; however, appeared on this summer’s NBC/USA schedule for an 8-episode “send-off,” which, if ratings remain strong, might be extended further. CBS’ The Good Wife films in New York and has filled some of the void, but with the cancellation of long-running daytime soap operas there is trouble ahead for NYC based actors and crew who look to television gigs to gain AFTRA credits, supplement low/no-paying theater gigs with more steady, if small-scale, paying work.

The aforementioned Law & Order episode certainly benefits from all the public attention focused on the Spiderman musical reboot and the removal/exit of Julie Taymor from the project, and I wonder if there might not be a little bit of playwright wish-fulfillment going on by making the dramaturg a running joke however true it may be that when people hear that term they have to blink and ask again, “What did you say?” and “What is that?” Below, courtesy of YouTube, you can find the episode’s first introduction of the dramaturg character. Notice that the scene designer calls him the “director’s assistant.”

The full episode, “Icarus,” will be rebroadcast on USA Network tonight (Tuesday, June 21) and you might be able to find it on Hulu or at USA’s homepage for a time thereafter.

Taking action post-Laramie

Folks —

For those undergraduate students who might be interested in taking a more direct role in securing and supporting LGBTQ rights here in North Carolina, Equality NC is looking for Fall 2011 interns for a whole host of jobs. It’s an absolutely critical time for Equality NC due in no small part to the threat posed by bills circulating in the NC legislature that are geared toward outlawing any recognition of gay and lesbian relationships (including protections and insurance coverage offered by private industries and various municipalities across the state).

These descriptions below are from their website:

Internships – Seeking Fall 2011 Interns

General Information

Equality NC is looking for outstanding students (and graduates who have a comparable amount of hours to devote to an internship) who are committed to winning equal rights and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender North Carolinians to serve as part-time interns for the upcoming semester. Specific intern positions are listed below.

Interns will gain valuable experience working for a nonprofit advocacy organization.  Internship duties will depend on the skills, background, and interests of the intern. Many of our former interns have gone on to secure jobs in LGBT organizations and other political and non-profit groups.

While we don’t offer stipends at this time, we are glad to work with you to secure course credit.

How to Apply

Submit resume and cover letter via email to Rebecca Mann, Director of Community Organizing and Outreach, at Please submit applications for Fall internships by May 13th.

Intern Positions

Communities of Color Outreach Internship – Equality NC seeks a talented, motivated intern to help us strengthen our outreach and organizing in communities of color. Tasks include attending meetings and providing support to our People of Color Task Force, promoting Equality NC at events, working with staff to identify LGBT and allies of color to engage in our work, assessing the policy needs of LGBT people of color, and other outreach duties. Experience working in communities of color a plus. Updated 1/3/11

Story-Gathering Internship – Friendly, outgoing, compassionate “people-person” sought to lead story collection project for multiple issue campaigns. The ideal candidate will be a great listener with top-notch communication skills, flexible hours, basic film editing skills (YouTube-style), and a passion for helping people turn their negative experiences into positive legislative change. Updated 1/3/11

Community Organizing Internship – Energetic, organized, confident, hardworking, can-do students and community members with time to dedicate sought to rally North Carolinians in support of LGBT rights. As a Community Organizing Intern, you will work with individuals and organizations in your area to raise awareness of LGBT issues and empower community members to become activists through formation of local advocacy groups. Some understanding of the legislative process is a plus, and a passion for equal rights is a must. Fans of racism, sexism, classism, and the like need not apply. We are in need of Community Organizing Interns in areas across the state. Previous organizing experience a plus. Updated 1/3/11

Development/Fundraising Internship – The number one need within the state LGBT equality movement is for solid fundraising skills. Equality North Carolina’s director of development seeks a development intern to provide assistance with grant applications, leadership gifts, and special events including the annual Equality Conference & Gala.

You will need to have unbridled enthusiasm for our work, strong intuition, great people skills, and excellent writing and communication skills. You will also need to love working in a fast-paced environment with dedicated staff and other talented interns.

In return, we will teach you great skills that will help you move into a career in nonprofit fundraising/management, and we will make every effort to make your internship stimulating and rewarding. (Questions? Call Kay at 919.829.0343 x 112 or email her at Updated 10/7/09

Communications Internship – This intern will assist with the organizations communications efforts, including development of online content and press releases, and managing an effort to collect personal stories of how laws and policies affect LGBT North Carolinians. Rising college senior, recent graduate, or graduate student with background in journalism, communications or public relations preferred. Please submit three writing samples with your cover letter. Updated 2/25/10

Volunteer Management/Outreach Internship – Equality NC seeks a qualified, highly motivated intern to perform volunteer management and outreach duties. Specific tasks include drafting and sending information about ENC’s events to community organizations and our list of supporters, coordinating volunteer events for ongoing projects, and new volunteer recruitment, amongst other duties. Good communication skills and a flexible schedule are imperative. Updated 2/25/10

Transgender Issues Internship – Equality North Carolina is looking for an intern with interest working on issues related to transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. This person would support our Transgender Policy Task Force and help us engage transgender people in our organization’s work. Updated 10/7/09

Documentary opera

Most Laramie participants were in performance during this event, so I wanted to share a clip from George Lam‘s documentary opera, The Persistence of Smoke, which ran April 15-16 in Durham, directed by Theater Studies’ own Jay O’Berski. George conducted the interviews from which John Justice wrote the libretto for this piece. George also composed and conducted the music as part of his dissertation in composition at Duke. George is the former director of the Duke New Music Ensemble. He served as musical director for Duke’s 2008 production of Sweeney Todd and is an all-around swell guy. He is now co-artistic director of his own company, Rhymes with Opera, currently headquartered in Boston, MA. I look forward to hearing (literally) more from him in the years to come. Enjoy …

Duke event: Oral History of Community Organizers

Since a number of you pursue coursework and projects focused on documentary, oral history, and/or social justice, I wanted to pass along this notice of public presentations happening this Friday @ Duke (notice courtesy of “CDS Porch” newsletter). Note the email RSVP if you want a free dinner in addition to the presentations!

Community Organizers in Their Own Words: Presentation of Three Oral History Projects

Students in the Introduction to Oral History class taught at the Center for Documentary Studies have spent the semester hitting the pavement to learn about community organizing—by going out and talking to the activists themselves.

Three small groups will present websites with their findings, including audio and video clips from their interviews as well as photographs and documents from their research. The activists who they interviewed will respond and offer their own comments.

  • Feminisms in the 1970s Triangle
  • Environmental Injustice in North Carolina
  • Attica Brother, Activist, and Educator: The Life of Jomo Davis

Friday, April 29, 6–8 p.m.
Center for Documentary Studies Auditorium

To be included in the free dinner that evening, RSVP to

New stories of Matthew

Thanks to Summer for finding this project on Kickstarter. Apparently, the filmmaker met Matthew when they were both in high school in Switzerland.

It’s got about one more month to reach its goal for funding. Here’s an introductory clip from Kickstarter:

Amazing Laramie photostream

Checking out Jackrabbit’s newest post about her visit to Durham (see my post about her post) I ran across this astonishing Flickr photo stream (sample image below):

There is not a lot of information given about the photographer on her Flickr profile. I believe she might be a first-year student at Illinois Wesleyan University who is the events commissioner for IWU’s Student Senate. But from what I can tell IWU is not producing The Laramie Project this spring. So I’m not sure under what context she’s made these images sub-titled “Photographic response to The Laramie Project.” They were just uploaded in the last couple of days, so maybe more detail is forthcoming. But I thought they were worth calling to your attention.

Laramie sparkles, doesn’t it?

My little vial of Laramie earth sits on a bookshelf in my bedroom near family photographs and the place where we recharge our cell and smartphones. I put it there to guarantee I would look at it morning and night. I’m still so touched by Jackrabbit’s gesture to give us all “pieces” of Laramie. Spencer has blogged about how interactions with Jackrabbit allowed him to take Jeff’s admonishment to “own the play” as a license to really consider himself a part of the place of Laramie not just the Tectonic “piece” about/of that place. On her blog, Jackrabbit went into detail about the origins of the matter she/he brought us. I’ll just quote a snippet or two here:

I never got a chance to explain to everybody about the little pieces of Laramie’s collective memory I gave you after the performance.  As you know, Matt passed away in the Sherman Hills subdivision** in a barely developed area that, back then, was still full of prairie smells and and wind, the marks of its still-lingering isolation from the community.  That area of Laramie’s eastern edge is named for the Sherman Range, a geologic upthrust which pushes out coral-colored mountains out of the living earth.  Sherman Hills sits right at the base of their western edge, and the Sherman Granite peeks out of the earth not too far after.

Sherman granite has a remarkable story.  This rose-colored stone was first created deep in the geologic furnace 1.4 billion years ago, but about 70 million years ago, the upthrust which created the Laramie range forced the granite back into the sunlight.  It is a brilliant pink from its high iron and feldspar content, highly crystalline, full of quartz, and it sparkles.  The crushed granite on the shoulders of I-80 glitter in the early morning sunlight.

One would think that an igneous rock made by fire and cooled in the living earth would be impervious, but Sherman granite is more vulnerable than one would think.  Over those millions of years, that granite has weathered under the winter’s freezing melt, cracking it into blocks and eating its surface.  The oldest and smallest boulders, isolated from the living rock, crack easily; sometimes their surface comes apart under the push of a strong finger.

** In my research about Sherman Hills I found that the development was under construction when Matt was left there for dead. In a 1998 article for The Village Voice, reporter Guy Trebay describes the Sherman Hills and the surrounding area like this:

And, while it is true that the “remote” buck fence where he was strung up stands back from a dirt road, the route itself runs through the enclave of Sherman Hills Estates, whose stone gates give on to some of the costliest real estate (houses from $145,000 to $415,000) in a small city where the median household income is $26,559. Set just a mile from the local Wal Mart are fake adobes and neo-Tudors and outsized bastard ranches clustered on streets with names commemorating the landscape they’ve supplanted. This being snow country, the houses are situated close to each other and also to all kinds of vehicular access. There is, in other words, no part of Snowy Mountain Range Road where one loses sight of pseudo-mansions elevated to capitalize on the high-plains panoramas. There is no pseudo-mansion without its commanding view. Yet it is here that Shepard’s body somehow hung in the cold unnoticed for fully 18 hours until two bicyclists “happened” along. He kept disappearing.

Perhaps it is only fitting that, like Matthew’s body, the fence itself has disappeared. In an op-ed for the San Francisco Gate in 2007, Moises Kaufman claims that mere months after Matthew’s death the property owners “dismantled” the fence dismayed by the amount of reporters and others interested in making pilgrimages to the site. In his words, “This action didn’t make the papers; no television network broadcast it. Just like that, the fence was dismantled, the site was erased.” The upshot of Kaufman’s writing is first to subtly imply that since 2000 The Laramie Project has served as a kind of traveling memorial and secondly to press the Bush administration to make a “lasting” monument to Matthew’s death (one that presumably would survive even if the play fell out of favor) by signing the Hate Crimes Protection Act (something that wasn’t done until 2009 under Obama’s administration).

Jackrabbit has blogged about visiting Sherman Hills in 2009, obeying the “No Trespassing” sign that now hangs on the property where Matthew’s body was found. Considering her description of the granite in the area as vulnerable, seemingly solid (it’s a rock, after all!) but worn down by environmental factors and considering the recent news of Marge Murray’s passing, I’m thinking about the fragility of documentary, bodies, memories, and memorials. Much has been made about the ephemeral nature of performance. Once the production is over, the show is gone. Even if preserved in a recording, the embodied exchanges among performers and between performers and audience is only ever retained second-hand. And yet, this is a second-hand relation that we’ve been confronting ever since the beginning of our rehearsal process. We have always ever been trying to connect to people we have never met, places we have never been. And yet, each time I touch my vial of earth I am, for just a moment, transported back to Sheafer and now connected to the Laramie in ways only possible through the vehicle of theater. The granite is a material metonym for our DukeinLaramie project: firm yet fragile, secure yet vulnerable, an indication of survival while simultaneously carrying the marks of erosion, of fading away.

In documentary solidarity

Due to scheduling that was either serendipitous or counter-productive (depending on your perspective), the second week of our production of The Laramie Project ran concurrently with Durham’s acclaimed Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. Since many folks in the cast have curricular and personal ties to Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies and other documentary mediums of storytelling and all of them missed most if not all of this year’s festival, I thought I’d upload an episode of Duke’s Office Hours, which features Tom Rankin, the head of CDS, discussing the philosophy and programming that goes into making Full Frame a destination for documentary artists.

RIP Marge Murray. We love ya honey.

Upon a much belated visit to The Laramie Project Online Community I found this piece of sad news posted by company member Tiffany Redmon on April 19, 2011:

Marjorie Murray – 9/2/1935- 3/12/2011

Marge Murray passed away around 11:30pm on Saturday, March 12th 2011 in Laramie, Wyoming. Marge was surrounded by children Reggie, Robin, Mike, and other family members and loved ones. Tectonic Theater Project company member, Greg Pierotti, was also with Marge and her family at the time of her passing. Greg immediately informed the rest of the members of Tectonic Theater Project and I would like to share the end of his email:

“I guess rather than go on trying to do justice to the events of this evening, it would be more fitting to close with a spiritual thought from Marge herself, which I think really says it all:”

“Uhh, (long pause), we’re all God’s children, and He don’t care what we’re doin’. Uh, you know I have had three husbands and a couple of ‘fairs for Chris’sake. And they’ve had to accept me.”

I would like to encourage any of you who have been touched by Marge, at some point in your life, to share your stories or thoughts here on The Laramie Online Community.

We love you, Marge! May you live on in the hearts and memories of those you’ve touched.

I was able to find this obituary in The Laramie Boomerang (thanks to the database America’s Newspapers) for March 16, 2011.

Marjorie L. (Coulthard) Murray

Marjorie L. (Coulthard) Murray, our loving mother, went to be with our Lord on Saturday, March 12, 2011, at Ivinson Memorial Hospital after a long battle with COPD. She was 75 years old and was surrounded by her devoted children and grandchildren.

She was born Sept. 2, 1935, and lived much of her life in Laramie. She was able to travel in her earlier years to Japan and developed a love for the orient. She also spent time in Mexico, Nebraska, Chicago and California before moving back to Laramie and settling for the remainder of her life. She was well known for being outspoken, for her kindness and her love of family. She had the ability to make even a stranger feel like family. She was also known for her quick wit and being right to the point. She worked in the service industry her entire life until she retired at age 66.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Harry and Minnie Moneypenny; a son, George Coulthard; a daughter, Debbie Bunn; and two grandsons, Jason and Jacob Prahl.

She is survived by two sisters, Alice Erickson, of Arizona City, Ariz., and Vicky Harriman, of Ocala, Fla.; her children, Becky Bunn, of Wasilla, Marjorie L. (Coulthard) Murray Alaska, Robin Coulthard, Reggie Fluty (Mike), Max Coulthard (Lori), all of Laramie, Joe Buescher (Lisa), of Littleton, Colo., Rex Coulthard (Noelle) of Decano, Colo.; several grandchildren, Tashina Lemons, Cassidy Prahl, Danielle Prahl, Dillon, Travis, Sierra and Tiana Gilster, Hannah, Jacob, Benjamin and Joey Buescher, Kara, Kristi, Katie and David Coulthard; and several greatgrandchildren and nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be at 1 p.m. on Thursday at Montgomery-Stryker Funeral Home with inurnment following in Green Hill Cemetery. A reception will follow at 3 p.m. at the American Legion. Services are under the direction of Montgomery-Stryker Funeral Home.

To send condolences or sign the online guest book, go to www.montgomery

DukeinLaramie students if you want to compose a “memory” or message about Marge I’m happy to post it on your behalf on The Laramie Online Community.

Laramie. Ten Years Later. An Epilogue. A Trailer.

For those of you curious about The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. An Epilogue there is a trailer from a performance of that show at Lincoln Center in New York City on October 14, 2010.

Our Laramie trailer

Thanks to the spectacular work of Gary Hawkins (Duke, CDS) and his crew, we have a lovely 4 minute “trailer” of our production of Laramie to share. The music you hear is the score, played live, composed and performed by Duke alum, Bart Matthews.

You gotta leave them with hope.

After yet another wonderful Friday night talk-back (and thanks for sticking with us after we held the opening curtain for 15 minutes which put our final curtain time at 10:30pm), I came home and checked Jackrabbit’s blog to see that she got home safely after her whirlwind trip to see us. She did. She also seemed profoundly moved by the production and the conversations she had with actors and crew both before and after Thursday’s show. The same goes for our two guests last night and, as always, for me too.

As I tried to wind down from Friday’s long day and great night, I happened to catch the last seven minutes of Milk, Gus Van Sant’s 2008 docudrama (and I use that term in the porous sense that Derek Paget referenced during his lecture on Friday afternoon) about the life and death of Harvey Milk.

As “luck” would have it, I arrived during the scene where Dan White (Josh Brolin) asks Harvey (Sean Penn) into his office. White has already shot Mayor Moscone. After he closes his office door, he proceeds to shoot Harvey three times at close range. As the last bullet spins him around and his last gaze catches the San Fransisco skyline, the scene shifts back in time to an activity that has framed the entire film: Harvey dictating his apocryphal “last” words into a tape recorder. As we flip back from that retrospective event of him describing the very real potential of his assassination, we are also flung into footage (some historical, some re-created for the film) of the 30,000 mourners who converged on City Hall upon hearing of the deaths of Milk and Moscone. No surprise that the scene brought tears to my eyes and also put me in mind of our show. As the lights of that massive vigil fill the screen, we see and hear Harvey/Penn speak lines into that recorder drawn from Milk’s “Hope Speech” delivered March 10, 1978, 8 months before his murder, and from the “in the event of my death” tape itself.

We hear echoes of Milk’s rhetoric in Doc’s “H-O-P-E” moment, which makes me a bit skeptical that the “real” Doc O’Connor’s words might have been massaged a bit by Moises (or perhaps Doc’s admission of bisexual trysts to 20/20 are true, and he shares some core beliefs about sexuality with Milk?). For whatever reason, there are linkages between these deaths and the responses they engendered that the universe seemed to be reminding me about after last night’s show. Perhaps I was in particular need of feeling hope, considering I almost burst into tears during the talk-back when Pam Spaulding recalled a recent meeting with the NC legislator/pastor who couldn’t be moved beyond her religious beliefs to represent all of her constituents, especially the lesbian second parent (like me) whose family is under direct and immediate threat by NC House Bill 777 and Senate Bill 106. Not to mention the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as she discussed the hate mail she received for promoting John Amaechi’s New York Times op-ed about Kobe Bryant’s use of the f-word in a confrontation with a referee, a piece which calls out Bryant’s assertion of a kind of “live and let live” privilege (if not in those exact words), a privilege that allows him to cast his apology for the slur as being sorry for his critics’ thin-skin at homophobic language rather than being sorry for his quick and easy use of that language.

Each night I see the show I am grateful for so many things. Particularly for the hope that you all give me that someday, as Derek alluded to in his lecture, there might be less need for stories like Laramie because the systems that divide and oppress will be dismantled and reshaped. In the meantime, you give me hope that through these stories and this documentary form, we will find ways to illuminate the path to that someday for ourselves and our audiences. I’ll leave you with the words (and some images) of Harvey.

I know you cannot live on hope alone, but without it life is not worth living. And you. And you. And you … gotta give ’em hope.

UPDATED–Local reviewers weigh in

UPDATE April 14, 2011. Classical Voice of North Carolina just posted its online review this morning. Again, you can read it in its entirety here and I’ll quote a short section:

Thirteen young performers essay some sixty roles, differentiated by the slightest of costume alterations — hats, scarves, jackets — and their collective brilliance as an ensemble. Playing Laramie residents and the Tectonic troupe as well as occasional interlopers such as national reporters, politicians, and the likes of the odious Fred Phelps, they carry out the kind of fundamental, ecclesiastic ceremony in which theatre itself is rooted, complete with catharsis: while some of the participants of these interviews remain strikingly unmoved in their hostile complacency, yet there are also those for whom these painful events are transformative — even, in a way, sanctified.

I’ve been so attentive to drawing the connection between documentary forms (theater and film) that will converge this weekend with the advent of our show while Full Frame happens in downtown Durham that it took these reviews to remind me the show’s proximity to Passover and Easter and the idea of sharing communion in remembrance. We hope to see you at our “table” this weekend.

Continue reading this entry »

“Why Do We Need Laramie?” Talk-Back

After the performance on Sunday, April 10, I moderated a panel discussion with Brian Ammons (Duke, Education), Sean Metzger (Duke, English, Theater Studies, AMES) and Jeff Storer (Duke, Theater Studies and Durham’s Manbites Dog Theater). Our discussion (which lasted 55 minutes! we had great questions and great sharing from those who stayed to talk and our cast and our panelists) was filmed by Miriam Sauls for those of you who missed it … enjoy!

I gotta give a shout out to Jacob for his explanation of “Brechtian techniques” which comes at about minute 40.50. Nice! You all have been terrific about jumping in and sharing in these panels. We’ve got another this Friday with visiting scholar Derek Paget and our missing fifth panelist from Sunday, Pam Spaulding. Hope you can stay again and chat with them and our audience.

More documentary theater if you’re around in May

I just found out that Burning Coal Theatre (Raleigh, NC) is producing the acclaimed but controversial documentary play, My Name Is Rachel Corrie, for one weekend only, May 19-22, as part of their “Wait until you see this” second-stage series. Click here to order tickets.

Our guest last week, Professor Carol Martin, has an essay about Corrie in the anthology Get Real: Documentary Theater Past and Present anthology (Palgrave MacMillan 2009). The piece is titled “Living Simulations: The Use of Media in Documentary in the UK, Lebanon and Israel.” Those of you interested in the play between documentary film and theater forms should check out her article and, if you’re around, Burning Coal’s production in May. I’ll be there. I’m excited to see what a local company does with this script.

Maude in her own words

Those of you who have read through this blog and/or stayed for one of our talkback sessions may recognize the name of Maude Mitchell. Maude visited our Laramie class back in February when Mabou Mines was in residence at Duke working on a new re-deconstruction of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.

Maude was attached to The Laramie Project at its inception, as a member of Tectonic Theater Project, taking interviews and workshopping the text into its current form. She left the project for reasons you can read about here and throughout the blog you can read our responses to what she told us. But now, thanks to the filming and editing efforts of Miriam Sauls, we offer Maude, in her own words, with our prompts and questions. [Sidenote: Goodness it’s been a long time since I’ve seen myself on film!]

Distinguished Guest 1 — Professor Carol Martin

For our first week of performances, we enjoyed the company of our first distinguished scholar: Professor Carol Martin (NYU). I heard Professor Martin deliver the final keynote at the Acting with Facts: Performing the Real on Stage and Screen 1990-2010 at the University of Reading (UK) this past September. When I got back to the states I immediately approached our chair, Sarah Beckwith, about the possibility of supporting her visit to Duke. We are also lucky to have another friend of Dr. Martin’s in the department–Dr. Claire Conceison–who concurred that she was one of the best scholars working in the field of documentary theater and threw her support behind making the visit happen.

Some of you in the cast/crew of Laramie were able to make Dr. Martin’s talk. For those of you who didn’t, Miriam did record it and, with Carol’s permission, once that file is digitized, we’ll put it up on the blog and Theater Studies YouTube channel. The talk was terrific and while we wait for video, I’ll do my best to give you a sense of some of the artists/texts at the center of her discussion.

Carol’s essay, “Bodies of Evidence,” from the 2006 issue of TDR dedicated to Documentary Theater was one of the first pieces the Laramie class read and discussed when we began class meetings in January. As I mentioned in my introduction to her talk on Friday, that piece was a much needed addition to a field of study that had largely focused on the genre conventions of documentary theater, on what was or was not a “documentary play” based on a text’s structure and source materials. Carol’s editorial theorizes how documentary texts function, what they do in the world, and how those functions articulate and interrogate claims of truth through varying engagements of “the real.”

On Friday, Carol’s lecture illustrated the evolution in her thinking from that 2006 piece. She spoke in terms evident in her most recent collection, Dramaturgy of the Real on the World Stage (Palgrave MacMillan 2010). That anthology combines scholarly articles (some from that 2006 issue of TDR) with a host of international scripts that fall under Carol’s expanded term of “theatre of the real.” She includes texts and artists that interrogate the “document” or “archive” as a privileged space of presumed stability and insist that “truth” is contextual, multiple, subject to manipulation in both the dramas of everyday life (politics, culture, interpersonal space) and dramas performed on a designated theater “stage”.

As examples of this “theater of the real,” Carol discussed four companies/texts in detail. Below is just a taste/summary of this work based on my own research and notes from her lecture. I encourage those of you who have interest in the documentary form (either expanded as Carol suggests or more “classic” in terms of its boundaries) to investigate the work of these artists yourselves and see the possibilities, tensions, provocations they offer.

Founded as a student theater group in 1964, by the 1980s, Theater of the Eighth Day had become the most well-known avant-garde theater company in Poland. Find out their history here. During the years of Communist rule, the company was under surveillance by the secret police (as was every citizen and every facet of life). The Files is their reperformance of their participation in surveillance culture, their own “secret” history, as well as the means by which that history was collected (by agents planted, not terribly stealthfully, in their midst). Even with our healthy skepticism about government documents in the US, by and large Americans still give archives and historical materials the benefit of authenticity and inherent objectivity. According to Carol, The Files demonstrates that the archive “itself is the institutionalization of lies,” through the company’s language of physical gesture and its doubling/replaying of “scenes” as recorded by the documents and remembered by the company members themselves. As Poland still grapples with its informant past, Theater of the Eighth Day replays its own complicated history with state power with humor and physical abstraction while confounding any comfortable nostalgic perspective upon the “good old bad days.”

To show how far Theater of the Eight Day has come in the eyes of the Polish government since the collapse of Communism in 1989, here is a film of their work created in support of the country’s pursuit of the title “European Capital of Culture in 2016”.

Rewind: A Cantata for Voice, Tape and Testimony by Peter Miller. In 2006, Miller, a South African composer, created a cantata to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The piece uses shards of recorded testimony from the TRC hearings, integrating the voices of victims and perpetrators into the libretto and score and is generally celebratory of the TRC’s approach to trade justice for “truth.” Carol alluded to Catherine Cole’s extended review of Rewind (available in Theater 38.3 (2008): 85-109), which discusses the performative acts of speaking and collecting testimony that Rewind refashions as well as the performance of reconciliation and national “truth” undertaken by the TRC. [Catherine was a visitor to Duke in the fall in conjunction with our production of The Beatification of Area Boy.]

A preview of Rewind courtesy of the Southbank Centre channel on YouTube:

Next, Carol discussed the work of Dutch playwright (actor, director and filmmaker), Adelheid Roosen, author of The Veiled Monologues (inspired by and following a similar structure as Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues) and Is.Man.

Is.Man might have caught your attention when the New York Times review of the piece opened with a discussion of the unplanned exit of the play’s central actor, Youssef Sjoerd Idilbi, who walked out of a performance because of sound/headset difficulties at the play’s 2007 debut at St Ann’s Warehouse. Of greater interest is the play’s construction — built from interviews Roosen conducted with immigrant men in prison in Holland for “honor killings” — which blends video, monologue that shifts from father to son as it constructs a genealogy of violence, interspersed with moments of Turkish dance and music. The goal is to complicate the perception of “honor killings” as somehow foreign and uncivilized, a taint on Dutch culture, by offering an in-depth look into one family (a family created out of dozens of different interviews with incarcerated men).

Here’s a trailer for the production of Is.Man that ran at St. Ann’s Warehouse in NYC in 2007.

The final piece Carol explored was Rabih Mroué’s Three Posters, a discussion of which is included in her 2006 edition of TDR and in her new book, Dramaturgy of the Real on the World Stage.

The piece was inspired by the story of suicide bomber Jamal Sati who, in 1985, detonated 880 pounds of dynamite (born on his own and the back of a donkey) at the headquarters of the Israeli Military governor in Hasbayya. Sati’s “martyr tape” was broadcast on Tele-Liban, the government owned Lebanese public television station during their eight o’clock evening news hour. In 2000 Mroué and his collaborator, novelist and journalist Elias Khoury, found Sati’s unedited tape, which showed three “takes” before the bomber got the final performance that would be released to the media upon his death. These rehearsals become the framework for Three Posters, and, as an example of “theater of the real,” an occasion for theater to examine the process of documentation, usually a means of recording the past, but which, in relationship to martyr videos, becomes a way to record the future. Sati’s performs his martyr status for the camera but that status is only confirmed and spectacularized upon news of his demise.

Mroué and collaborator Elias Khoury have enacted this performance/video at the Ayloul Festival in Beirut (September 2000), Vienna Festival (2001), Welt in Basel (2001), KunstenFESTIVALdesArts in Brussels (2002), In Transit in Berlin (2002), Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona (2002), Theatre der Welt in Bonn (2002), and Witte de With in Rotterdam (2002). Mroué just opened his first solo show last month in London with a piece titled I, the Undersigned The People are Demanding, whose change in name marks the artist’s attempt to respond to the ever unfolding events in the Middle East. Since he nabbed the 2010 Spaulding Gray Award, which comes with a stipend to develop a new work and a promised production of said work at the American performance spaces which support the award (including PS 122 in NYC and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh) perhaps we will finally get a chance to see him in the states.

A trailer for Three Posters courtesy of YouTube

The talents of our cast continue beyond Laramie

Laramie closes on Sunday and our last class meeting is next Wednesday April 20 BUT there is more theater that involves the creative endeavors of our cast. Specifically, Ben Bergmann’s (Doc, Stephen Belber, Matt Galloway) Senior distinction project, Dead White Men.

Thursday, April 21st and Saturday, April 23rd at 8PM.
Brody Theater, East Campus. Free Admission. (NOTE: There is NO Friday performance!)

Ben has combined his two majors, theater studies and political science and his minor in history and the result is Dead White Men an historical drama that demystifies “great men” like Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. The play tells the story of the dramatic presidential contest of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and depicts the events that prompted the legendary duel between political rivals Burr and Hamilton.

The show is directed by Cameron McCallie (Rulon Stacey, Phil DuBois, Rob DeBree) and features Andy Chu (Jedadiah Schultz, Andy Paris, Doug Laws), Julian Spector (Father Roger, Greg Pierotti, Jonas Slonaker), Jenny Madorsky (Laramie‘s Asst. Set Designer, Light Board Operator) and Don Tucker (our Stage Manager).

You can RSVP to the show’s Facebook page. Be there!!