The following is a list of all entries from the Student Posts category.
This is Don’s last post, uploaded by Jules.
Some time has passed since we closed Laramie, but somehow I still don’t feel like I’ve let it go. I know all of my posts have been about how Laramie went completely against everything that I normally expect from a show, and I’m afraid that this post won’t be any different. Usually, in the weeks that follow a show, it starts to slip away from you. All the lines that you unintentionally memorized fade from consciousness, the number and order of cues becomes hazy, and you start to move on. Somehow that hasn’t happened yet.
Laramie is still very much in my head, and I’m not exactly sure why. I mean, the show had a huge emotional impact on me and was an absolute joy to work on, but that doesn’t really explain why every single technical detail is still sitting in my head, does it? I don’t know. “It’s weird, man.” (That line happens right after LX 164, if you’re curious). I’m ready for all of the Laramie tech to get out of my head.
What I’m not ready to lose, however, is the connection I still feel to the entire cast. Unlike with any other show I’ve done, I still feel hugely excited when I see any member of the cast walking around campus. I’ve always felt close to the casts that I’ve worked with, but never quite like this. It’s one of the many reasons that Laramie is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had with a show.
So, that’s where I am. Laramie is still very much stuck in my head. Part of me wants it to leave, part of me doesn’t. I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with that. But, as always, I know it will be an experience that I will always treasure.
Ah deadlines, deadlines, how many a fair evening hath fled before thee? But if variety is the spice of life, deadlines must be the cookfire, because they sure make everything burn just a little bit quicker. Not only must I share my reflections on an intensely personal and introspective theater experience, but I must do so soon, and online. I’m actually quite excited.
About 20 minutes ago I was stopped by a total stranger on Duke’s Main Quad. I was looking for free pizza. She recognized me as a Laramie cast member and proceeded to tell me how much she liked the show and how she noticed the different physical tics I used to differentiate Sergeant Hing from Father Roger, and so on. I don’t say this to toot my own horn; I can do that on my own time. But Laramie showed me the personal results of impactful theater more so than any other show I have worked on.
The young lady on the quad joined a considerable number of strangers who have walked up to me and told me how much they liked the show in the days since our performance closed. I’ve actually lost count at this point, but the frequency does little to diminish the feeling of the encounters. There’s the initial awkwardness, then the gratitude that the person was so moved by our performance that he or she came to talk to me about it out of the blue, then the scramble for a quick response to the comments: “It was a great ensemble to work with; I think we really came together over the course of the show.” How can you encapsulate the combined experience of this project in a few quick sentences before we shuffle off to our original destinations?
I’ve changed as a result of the Laramie Project. I wouldn’t say my attitude toward LGBTQ issues overall has changed; I am grateful to have grown up in a cosmopolitan environment at home and at school in DC, and in the Unitarian Universalist spirit of active acceptance of the worth of other human beings. But I suppose my level of understanding has deepened. To play a character is to understand someone other than yourself at such a level that you can adopt their motives, habits and mannerisms. Thus, donning the persona of Jonas Slonaker required me to analyze the psychology of a gay rancher living in a generally hostile population, and then become him for certain periods of time. Theater is an act of compassion; if you aren’t interested in exploring another identity, the act becomes little more than recitation. But if you do welcome theatrical compassion, you gain the opportunity to temporarily experience a new perspective on the world (or, in the case of Laramie, six or seven new perspectives).
I certainly grew as an actor. For that I really must thank Jeff, Jules and the rest of our cast. In my individual meetings, Jeff got me thinking about the questions I needed to consider to transform my characters into active, dynamic beings. I am continually stunned at Jeff’s ability to pour his own emotions directly into the theater he creates. His personal anecdotes and life experiences informed my work and many of my colleagues’. Jules provided the rich historical and factual backdrop upon which to create my characters. And my fellow actors never stopped raising the bar on their excellence; I had no choice but to try harder just to keep up with them.
Bart’s chillingly gorgeous piano score helped me get into my Laramie frame of mind every night, after 15 minutes of watching the audience nervously tip-toe across the canvas to get to their seats. I imagined myself as a small bird soaring up from the site of Matthew’s beating, fluttering with Bart’s melody until I soared high above the valley floor. By the time Bart finished, I was ready to act; in addition to setting the tone for the audience, the music became an integral part of my pre-show ritual. And then there were Alex’s photos and videos, which extended the depth and the potency of our evocations. I especially enjoyed the media cacophony sequence, in which a motley crew of leading news personalities weighed in on the Shepard case, but with the video freezing and jerking, turning their impartial deliveries into a journalistic haunted house. And then our crew kept challenging me with their professionalism and precision.
In short, everyone involved with Laramie made my experience with the show so meaningful. I wish there was a more nuanced way to say this, or some way to deliver the sentiment allowing some room for interpretation, but I realize now that sometimes the truth is unambiguous. The collaborative effort defined this show for me and improved me as an actor and a human being. So I guess my instinctive response to the fan on the quad got at the core of the matter instantly in a way that my final blog post could not. But I could never reject an opportunity to reflect on this show, online or in print. Give me a deadline and a place to write and I will ruminate textually until time runs out.
After a long and VERY successful run of the show, I’ve had time to realize what I’ll miss most about running The Laramie Project. This experience for me has been unique. I’ve never had to sit through a full show in the dark, on a headset, listening to actors in one ear and to the stage manager in the other. It’s a strange feeling. In effect, one has to create a funneling system, where the cues come from the actors on stage, but the “GO” comes from the stage manager on the catwalk nearby. On the one hand, you want to listen to the actors and to get engrossed in the story, but on the other is Don telling me to “Stand-by light cues 4 through 15.” There were times when it felt as though Don, Alex, and I had developed a techie hive-mind. Before Don could even fully call “GO,” Alex and I would spring into action, and as soon as the lights came up the actors would activate on stage. One gets a strange feeling of omnipotence in the tech booth above the stage. At times it felt as though my button click was what prompted the actors into action.
The other aspect that’s unique to being in the tech booth is the ability to watch the audience without their knowledge. As the run progressed, Alex and I both stopped focusing on the actors, and turned our attention to the audience instead. Our favorites were moms. Moms, as well as dads, were the ones that really, truly took to heart the responsibility we imparted on them as audience members. They seemed to always be the ones most “actively” witnessing the events of the story. Watching their reactions each night was incredibly inspiring, but also heartbreaking at the same time. Just as the actors on stage were invoking the people that were connected to the crime, the audience members, without knowing it, were invoking all the people affected by the brutal beating. Seeing their reactions immediately brought to mind Judy and Dennis Shepard, Marge Murray, Phil Dubois, Cathy Connolly, Rulon Stacey and all the other parents of Laramie that had to reevaluate their relationships with their children in light of such a heinous crime. For me, the story of Laramie became even more apparent in the faces of the audience members than it did in the hands of the actors. The actors were doing their jobs by including the audience in the witnessing, which made my experience of Laramie that much richer–again, a funneling system.
The strongest reaction came from our friend Jackrabbit, who took the time to drive all the way to Durham to see our production. From her previous posts, it seems that the media cacophony scene usually strikes her the hardest, but during our show she seemed to handle it ok. The really intense moment for her came during the Fred Phelps scene. As the protestors filed in with their “God hates fags” signs, Jackrabbit looked like she had a physical gag reflex and had to turn away for the rest of the scene until the angels walked in. She tried to look, but every time she peeked, I could see her recoil in disgust with a gasp of nausea. It was at this moment, that I realized how incredibly complacent I had gotten about the scene. Having seen it 7 or so times in a row, it lost its power for me. But seeing Jackrabbit’s reaction immediately brought back to mind all the video clips we watched of Fred Phelps and the fact that I had the exact same reaction seeing it for the first time. Thanks to Jackrabbit, I got to experience that piece of theater in its full effect once again, reminding me that the rest of the play was just as new and shocking to most audience members. I am very thankful to Jackrabbit for reminding me that we, at all costs, cannot get complacent about the story this play represents. Even though having heard it again and again it might get trite to us, it really isn’t something that we can drop just yet. It’s something that effects us today and it’s something that we HAVE to keep telling and retelling to people that haven’t heard it. We have to funnel it out.
I tried to starting gathering my thoughts about a week ago. Yet somehow I still find myself unable to verbalize everything I want to say about what these last few months have meant to me. For a while that bugged me and I kept putting it off in the hope that I would somehow discover the right words to say that would inevitably move you, my dear reader, to what I would like to think would be tears of the genuine sort, that stemmed from my well-fashioned realizations. But that’s not what I’ve come here to say.
In all seriousness, I am someone who is terrible with goodbyes. Absolutely dreaded military life but when the day came to turn in my uniform, I found myself scheming about how I could keep them and somehow deceive the armed forces bureau into believing that the articles of clothing had somehow become victim to unprovoked theft. Playing Aaron Kreifels to becoming Aaron Kreifels. Watching an event to discovering every unfolding instance of it. Words cannot do justice to the maturation of this play and to my maturation as a person – and to some extent, as an actor.
This was the first real production I had ever been in and my god if this is what every theater production is like – then god have mercy because I know the stage won’t. Coming to college this was never a class or an activity that I would have ever have imagined involving myself in. This was a complete matter of chance and I don’t think I have been more fortunate in a long time.
You know, when the final performance ended and we walked on stage and there was a standing ovation, I remember thinking, Wow. Not because I was in awe of our success or the response we got but instead, I felt an incredible feeling of ecstatic relief. We had a story to tell. This was a story that had to be told. And it was. Wow. Now what?
Laramie was a noun, a definition a sign. As we were taking down the set (the first time I had ever done that), I remember thinking, man, this is just heartless. I was clinging onto something that was, in a matter of minutes, going to be no more. That was when it hit me – what we had done was not in the stage or in the costumes or even in the performance. It was in us. It is now in the people who came to watch. Ephemeral as the stage was, it served its purpose. Like all things in life, this too came to pass. I had to suck it up and realize that it was what it was. An incredible experience that I appreciated and will always carry with me.
So with the final props taken down and the set completely undone, we proceeded to take our leave. I knew that I would be seeing everyone again that Wednesday. Still, once I made sure no one was looking, I turned around surreptitiously, and in the distance I could see the sparkling lights of Laramie, Wyoming.
Thank you for everything.
I’m honestly not sure what to say in this final post before I bid farewell to Laramie. In a practical sense, my part of Laramie was over and done a while ago, and became final once I had packed everything back into the prop cabinet. The curtain closed. The set was struck. The end.
I suppose I could write a sappy entry about how meaningful the show was to me and how much I’ll miss everybody. And it’s true – I’m gonna miss you guys. I reappeared in kind of late in the game. By virtue of my role, I had something of a disconnect from the performance – working with props, especially building props, causes you to think of things in very utilitarian terms, like how can I make this cost-effectively and what should the size specifications be. I, let’s be honest, didn’t do much during the actual performances. Backstage crew wasn’t too busy a job for this show. And through it all, the cast still treated me like I was a member of the family. I hope you guys realize how much it means to crew to be included like that, and I hope you keep that in mind every time you perform. But I digress. I suppose I could write a tearjerker like that.
But no, you guys deserve better than that from me. You already know that the show was meaningful; it speaks for itself, you don’t need me to tell you that. You already know you touched people on a very deep level. You already know that some of you made me cry every night, even when I was tired and cranky. It speaks for itself, whether I speak for it or not.
So instead, I’m going to talk about funny things that happened during strike that you may or may not have witnessed, because most of them illustrate why you guys are awesome, on and off the stage. I love set strikes, because they bring the entire company together for one last hurrah, and I think they’re an integral part of owning the show. Sometimes they can be a drag, but there are always good memories that come with them. So, here goes:
- Afftene went to war with the canvas. I think we all had a good, hard catharsis when we pulled it up, but listening to Afftene yank on it was priceless.
- Cameron and Jenny broke apart the platform legs to the beat of “Sweet Caroline.” ”Sweeeet Caroliiiiine…” *BANG BANG BANG*
- Summer carried about 20 two-by-fours at once on her right shoulder.
- Ben and Dave’s back-and-forth banter
- Ashley and I tore up the WBC signs UNTIL THEY WERE DEAD, IT WAS GREAT.
- Don scared the daylights out of a few people when he knocked out the front wall of one of the platforms. Fortunately, there was no imminent collapse.
- Some folks had fun with the table saw. Lots of fun.
- Manny and Ritza developed a tradition of singing everything they said after a certain point.
- We defeated the snow drum. SO MUCH SNOW.
So that was strike. And that was it. I’m sorry I missed the last class, and I hope that in spite of that I’ll be seeing all of you again. This has been my best experience working tech at Duke thus far, and I owe it to the rest of you. I can complain about or praise the play all I want, but in the end, the play doesn’t matter, it’s the players. And I know you all did your best.
And it has finally come down to this. The shows are all over. The set was destroyed. We cried our last tears and laughed our final laughs. We have said our goodbyes. The Laramie Project Spring 2011 is over for all intents and purposes. But the moments and experiences I shared will all of you is something that I hold very dearly in my heart. I honestly haven’t felt so deeply about a theatrical experience since last summer when I went overseas for the Duke in London Drama Program. Then, I felt overwhelmed, challenged, and incredibly privileged. I feel the same way about Laramie.
I have been wondering what my final thoughts should be to this overwhelming experience. To briefly sum it up: beautifully humbled and fantastically enlightened.
To Jeff: Thank you so much for casting me. You have no idea how much being in this play means to me. As an African American Christian woman raised in the South, it is really hard trying to fight for LGBT rights back at home. Being in Laramie has given me an opportunity to do that through what I love most: Acting.
To Jules: JULES RULES! JULES RULES! I know you are sick of me saying that by now, but I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true. You do rule! I feel so blessed that you a) worked with me on Me Too Monologues and b) worked with me on TLP. Your skill as a dramaturg is unparallel. Now that may not mean so much coming from me (considering I have never worked with a dramaturg before), but trust and believe that I really do mean it. I also deeply appreciate how you opened up to all of us personally about your life and struggles as a lesbian in North Carolina. I feel like I found a new friend in you, and I look forward to future conversations with you.
To the cast: I just want to thank everyone for allowing me to share the stage with them. I remember during the first few rehearsals in the classrooms and how intimidated I was. It seemed everyone else was really stepping up to the plate and embodying their multiple characters. There was many times where I felt like I was the 13th most talented person in the room. If I was ever any good, it was because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be half as phenomenal as my cast mates were.
Ultimately, I appreciate this play for how it made me expand my realm of possibilities as an actress. It exposed to me my strengths and my opportunities for growth. Now, if and when I decide to pursue an acting career, I have more insight on what specific things I need to go from being a “good” actress to a “great” actress. I wouldn’t have that insight if it wasn’t for Jeff and Jules challenging me or for the entire cast raising the bar so high.
Be fierce and prosper,
As I was closing down Brody late Saturday night after the final reading of Dead White Men, Jacob’s words from the end of our final class happened to slip into my head: “There’s always a home in theater”. I looked around at the now bare stage and was inundated with memories from my experiences in Brody alone. I remembered the kitchen of a clerk’s house in turn-of-the-century Germany (The Underpants), I remembered the streets of a contested New York in 1800 (Dead White Men), and I remembered a bleak, downtrodden circus in Victorian London (Nevermore). The shows will change. The stage will take new forms. The people will change. But the magic of theater will never die.
And that is why I refuse to say goodbye to this show.
I will hold in my heart exactly how it felt to be on that stage. To own that story. To be a part of an experience far greater than myself. To transport every soul in that theater to Laramie, Wyoming. There’s always some intangible feeling that I keep with me from every show I’ve ever been in – each one unique, each one magical. I see an animated Galloway, I hear Marge and Reggie joyous laughter, I feel the Judy and Dennis’ pain through Rulon’s words, and I remember the feeling at the end of every show- The feeling of taking an audience through such a remarkable and emotional journey, perfectly punctuated by Bart’s crescendo over Andy Paris’ final view of the sparkling lights in the distance.
The show may be over, but the feelings and memories will always remain.
As an epilogue (of sorts) to this blog post, I am proud to say that this play has effectively rekindled my interest in theater in a dramatic (pun!) way. At the start of the semester, I had just given up interest on a senior distinction project and was telling myself that Laramie might be the end of the road for my theatrical endeavors, as I was going to focus more of my time on software development. And then came an angel in the form of Mr. Ben Bergmann and his play, which in combination with the incredible Laramie family and experience had me as excited about theater as I was when I went to London. I now see a future full of theater, and I owe each and every one of you my thanks for making that possible. No matter the show, the place, or the cast, there will always be a home on the stage.
Those last few runs of the show were completely surreal. Sitting there while watching a scene, my mind would often wonder back to the classroom where we first blocked that moment. A time when I couldn’t fathom what the space would look like or how it would all come together. Then, there I sat under blue lights watching the action on a beautiful landscape-painted canvas with incredible costumes, music, and light shifts that made these characters come to life. Jules mentioned in the final rehearsals that these individuals on stage were no longer characters, but people; and I agree with that wholeheartedly. Each character—and there are over 60—has unique gestures, tones, and ideas that make them real. This is the result of impressive research and time, but ultimately of an extraordinary cast and crew. It is rare that you find so many people as dedicated and phenomenal at what they do as I have in this production—all simply to tell a story, to spread a message. I really have learned a lot during this production. I’ve seen what a dramaturge does and how her work can be incorporated into a production. She has shown that I can employ these same techniques and conduct the same research she has done for the show and characters in future productions I’m involved with. I’ve gained so much from Jeff and all the actors in the show. Watching them and listening to Jeff’s coaching has really renewed my interest in acting and has rekindled my passion for the art. I’ve picked up so many great techniques and have made some incredible observations that I can incorporate into my own work. Watching Jeff and Jules has also encouraged me to take a directing course in hopes of directing a show before I graduate. I think it would be such a fulfilling experience! Watching the show numerous times, listening to Julian and Manny talk about their experiences as Unitarians, and hearing Aftene’s struggles reconciling the views of the Baptist minister with those of herself, has challenged me to revisit the concepts and notions of my religion and has encouraged me to actively determine where I stand. This show has had such a profound impact on me, but the most fulfilling component of the show has been the effect we’ve had on others. This show has sparked so much conversation and debate. It really has challenged those in our community to dig deeper and think about their actions and thoughts within the context of the big picture. This show has proven to be so much more than the gay play that people originally expected. As Naomi said, many had the intent of coming to illustrate how aware they were of “the gay issue.” From what I’ve observed, they’ve left empowered. This is probably the greatest act of activism I’ve done—empowering people to reconsider their ideas and think deeply about this topic. We’ve touched so many people, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
So Jedadiah’s back.
A couple weeks ago, Jeff approached me about doing a show at Manbites next fall. Last weekend, we had a read-through at Manbites so Jeff and Ed could hear it aloud and decide whether or not they wanted to include it in the upcoming season. And yesterday, Jeff offered me the role of Kenny in the play ”Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them.” It’s not 100% certain yet–still waiting on other actors to agree to it and for the rights and so forth–but it looks like it’ll be a go. Which is really really really really great.
Thing is, though, Kenny is gay.
So Jedadiah’s back, full-throttle: a young straight college student who has recently undergone a change of heart about matters of this nature and will need to explain to his Protestant parents that he will be in a play with gay people in it, and that he will be in a play about gay issues, and that he will be playing a person who is gay.
The parallels are staggering. I almost feel that it’s worth trying to get in touch with Jedadiah himself just to let him know that I’ve been over here on the East Coast living his life.
When my parents came to see Laramie, I was nervous. I’m at a point now where I don’t really get nervous on stage, but with them in the audience–and dammit, Jeff, I could see them–I was scared to be Jedadiah. I dreaded putting that oversized flannel shirt on every time that evening. And after the performance, I made sure we kept around other people, talked about other aspects of the show, tried to keep the subject ever from turning to the fact that I may or may not have slightly disowned them on stage, even if it wasn’t really me and even if it wasn’t really them.
But now I can’t ignore it. I’m gonna have to have this conversation with them–terrifying as it still seems–if I want to do this show. I certainly won’t ask their permission; I’ll say, Look, I’m in a professional show, deal with it–but that kind of bravado only works so much. In the end, they’ll know I’m playing gay (which includes lots of kissing, pants-rubbing, and talking about fellatio, anal sex, &c.), and they’ll have to deal with it. And I’ll have to deal with them dealing with it.
But I’m ready. In one corner of my being, I’m still scared as shit, but I’m ready. And I could not have been ready without Laramie.
And if they decide they won’t come see their son do probably one of the most important things he’d done in his life, I’ll deal with that too.
Laramie speaks, OR The conversation I wish we’d had
I wish my roommate came to see Laramie. She’s a wonderful person, funny and sweet; we’ve been friends since freshman year. She’s also a Christian and I am not, which has led to many fascinating conversations this past year, usually with both of us on our respective beds on opposite sides of the room (a lovely theatrical staging device). All the usual assumptions can be made: I am more liberal, am cool with pre-marital sex, think gender roles can be very restrictive. She won’t have sex before marriage, believes we are all naturally sinful, takes the Bible as her moral code. And yet, we get along swimmingly.
Yesterday, however, one of our fascinating conversations quickly turned to frustrating. We discussed paedophilia and bestiality – moral codes, absolute truth, right vs. wrong. Unspoken throughout was the question of homosexuality, something we’ve discussed often in the past. Her thoughts quickly turned to the ‘slippery slope’ argument, in different words but with the same basic idea – if homosexuality is cool, then why not paedophilia? If you have a natural (biological) desire to have sex with animals, isn’t that just as valid as sex with men? Where do we draw the line?
Just typing those sentences out makes me so frustrated and tense. I obviously disagreed with her, but my thoughts got all muddled and my usually articulate voice chose that moment to take a nap. I pulled in consent and Foucault and sexualities as both biological and social, but nothing came out right. I failed.
The reason I’m telling this story as my last blog post is because I wish my roommate had come to see Laramie (the same way she probably wishes I came to her Christian group’s worship sessions) because Laramie says these things so much better than I can. Because watching gay friends and couples cry and hold each other to get through this play is vastly more powerful than any jumble of words I could string together. Because art can say things that regular conversation can’t.
My roommate isn’t crazy, or stupid, or mean. She wakes me up for class in the mornings, picked my parents up from the airport when they visited and doesn’t get mad at me for the dirty dishes and clothes that decorate our room. I like her a lot. She’s a good friend and a good person. We just disagree on many fundamental issues. I think Laramie would have been an excellent conversation for her to witness, one that better addressed my views, and she deserves that kind of conversation.
Three other things Laramie taught me, Or Laramie lessons
1. To resist the “impulse of immediate perfection” (as Jules wrote in her comments on my first blog post) and enjoy the messy process of creating, knowing that it probably will never be perfect and certainly won’t be right away.
2. Theatre is a space in which I feel valued. I cried twice during the Laramie experience. Once, during our first talkback, when someone mentioned what a community we had become. The second time, during Jeff’s comment at our last class meeting. He mentioned seeing me freshman year every Friday afternoon at the Theatre Studies Lunchbox event, afternoons well spent but forgotten by me. He remembered me.
3. How lucky and blessed I am to have the parents I have, not just because they flew to Duke to watch me perform, but also because every night when Jedadiah/Andy (Jandy?) said that his parents didn’t watch him because their belief that homosexuality was wrong overpowered their love and support for him, I could not relate. No matter how hard I tried. Because I know that my parents would never do that to me. And I felt for Jedadiah, but I couldn’t fully understand, emotionally, what that was like.
4. The limits of my empathy. As I watched every night, consistently, Spencer, Jacob and Summer would cry on stage. LGBT audience members cried. I did not cry. The emotional resonance the play had for the LGBT/queer actors and audience members was something I could not replicate. It’s not in me because that’s not my experience. I can understand it but I cannot feel it in the same way. Which is good to learn.
Bye bye Laramie!
For my last blog post, I want to share three poems that I wrote during the dress rehearsals of the show—and I don’t mean, “during the general time period in which we had dress rehearsals,”—I mean DURING the dress rehearsals themselves. While many of you were busy going through scenes in act one, I was scribbling away in my little moleskine like a good hipster, because I couldn’t let the thoughts that I had while watching the play escape completely into the air without some sort of mechanism with which to capture them (and I asked Jeff before I did it). So I wrote some poems—although in a way, they’re more abstract journal entries than anything else, which is all that the poetry I write ever is. Also, they’re probably bad from a poetic viewpoint, but having been in the show, it is my hope that you all will be able to appreciate them nonetheless. Here goes nothing:
There’s a light in the corner
And it’s got warmth, but it’s bare,
The square above looms large,
it is the primary source,
dull and efficient
I connect the corners in my mind’s eye
tracing the rays along their journey
a geometric construction
from a point to a square,
from sharp yellow to pervasive white
But their relationship confounds me,
mythical and pure necessity
folklore, enspiriting, and canonical
at odds with economy, twisted prioritization.
A pyramidal slant,
barring in the weak tussle
between dynamism and ability.
I’ve been told to swallow my laugh.
it is simply too
yes, much too
je ne sais quoi
but, yes, too.
and so I must swallow it,
and I am not good at dampening things.
It is not a practice in which I often engage,
because it is not often that I find an altar on which
to place myself.
But this is my altar.
An altar on which I gladly place sacrifice,
I place my laughter
to be molded and forged into the proper shape.
I fade into I, I, I, I, I
and I, I, I, I, I, love my, my, my, my, myself.
Plenty of room,
lots of space,
time for reflection,
it’s a good place to live.
small enough for your own identity.
But where’s my room?
my room, a room of my own,
The quadrangle is only so wide,
and the boundaries
by steeples and spires,
and rush and Rush,
and a starving cat on a crazed rummage.
a fishbone among pizza boxes
Yet somehow, a fifty-foot canvas,
blue to brown to black to gray
manages to break beyond the towers and clocks,
time for reflection
amid fibers and paint
and tables that are varnished, even underneath
amidst 45 pegs draped with identity.
and stairs through earth and air.
With overwhelming gratitude,
I’ve been keeping myself from writing this blog entry because it’s my last Laramie assignment and it puts a level of finality that I’m only just letting myself feel. I cried every night of this show, and in most rehearsals. Instead of boring y’all with my emotions (they are many) about this show, I thought I’d give a short list of things I’ve learned.
What Laramie Taught Me
1) How to be in my own skin. Also aided by the yoga classes I began taking and my study of Spencer, I became hyper aware of my body in ways I had never been before.
2) How to breathe. Whether it is to support (read: scream) over 12 people or not mumble (I’m a mumbler), my lungs were so full!
3) I love working in the shop. I spent full days during Spring Break working on the set, and it’s certainly something I could do everyday for a long time.
4) Life is about rediscovery. I think this lesson can only come through something like the rehearsal of a long play. It surprised me every time I heard something new or different, because most times, it wasn’t new or different, just the way I was hearing it.
5) I will never be able to pronounce the word “theater.” Although Andy tried to help me, many times, it was pretty impossible. That word was consistently a huge problem. I think that’s an omen.
6) Blogs can be a living document of theater. Also, Ben is hysterical.
7) Smoke breaks with a buddy are way better than smoke breaks alone. Also, never smoke in costume.
8 ) Impromptu Disney Sing-A-Longs are common in theater. I’m actually surprised it didn’t happen sooner or more often. Our set was also perfect for pretending you were underwater.
9) I need to see more theater. The one person in my life who likes theater is my dad. And he can always count on me to go with him when I’m in San Diego. But I realized that he’s the only one I ever go to theater with. I’m certainly going to fix that this summer.
10) I’m terribly jealous of those with family nearby. No really, it’s a problem. I think I’m going to adopt myself all of your families.
11) I’m never going to get these lines out of my head.
Okay, so these are clearly only a few, mostly silly things. But as I said in our final cast meeting, I am filled with more gratitude than I can quantify. Clearly, I was terribly spoiled with this being my first show, with the relationships formed and the amazing direction from all the “real adults” involved, and the plays and talks we all went to together, and the interest from the larger campus community. Maybe it’s a good thing that it’s my first and last because I don’t quite know how to follow something like Laramie. Except puppets with Torry, of course. And a Duke-Durham theater collaboration. Laramie didn’t just open one door for me, but it offered an array of folks and projects that are just, well, perfectly me.
When I signed up for Laramie, I had no idea just how much thought would be put into this play. I mean, I imagined there would be all of the usual things, but I was very overwhelmed by the amount of research that went into this. To me, Laramie was just a play. Yes, as I said, it was an important one to me, personally. But I never thought to go behind the scenes, to study its form, its genre. To go back, and study things referenced to in Laramie. What was at first overwhelm, soon became the greatest gift I could ever have received.
Soon, I would encounter, once more, Our Town, a play that similarly examines life in a small town. Next, I would read Execution of Justice, whose topic is referenced in Moment: Gay Panic (Harvey Milk and George Moscone’s murders). Lastly, I would read and see performed in full the play that inspired Jedidiah Schultz throughout Laramie, Angels in America.
But it didn’t stop there. We actually got to meet one of the original dramaturgs, Maude Mitchell, when she was here as a part of the Mabou Mines residency. And blogger, and Laramie resident at the time of Matt Shepard’s murder, “Jackrabbit” drove upwards of four or five hours just to see our production. Hell, Moisés Kaufman even complimented our trailer video online, which Jules so thoughtfully made available on a Laramie forum.
Working on Laramie brought me so much new perspective, especially as I studied it for another Theater Studies class as well. I want to share a piece (after the break) that I wrote for that class that sort of follows the expansion of my perspective on Laramie. I thank everyone involved for aiding me in this journey.
And of course, I’ll be cliché and end with Marge Murray’s quote. “Now you take care. I love you, honey.”
I am about to graduate. Wow.
It’s been a little over a week since The Laramie Project closed. I had the staged reading of Dead White Men, my senior distinction project, the weekend after Laramie closed so now I am done with theater at Duke. It’s been a wonderful ride and now it’s over. It feels a lot like the last moment (“Moment: Departure”) of Laramie. Saying “Goodbye” after you’ve been at a place for a long time is hard, really hard. But Laramie was a nice show to end things with. It reaffirmed for me why I love theater—because it is important as well as powerful—and served to further confuse me about what I want to do with my life…because I love the stage, I really do. I have two majors at Duke: theater studies and political science. I always felt like the later was my “primary” major, the one that was more serious and “academic.” Theater was something that rejuvenated me, but it wasn’t something one could do after college…or is it? For a long time, it was clear to me what direction I would be heading in. I wanted to do something “important” and it was clear to me what major was the right one for that goal. But I’m not sure anymore. Maybe if I want to do something “important,” theater is the perfect medium for me to do it in. Maybe, I don’t know. It’s weird man, it’s so weird.
Our production of The Laramie Project was powerful and I am proud to have been a part of it. We moved people and each other in ways I did not anticipate. We created a community for ourselves as well as one on stage that has had deeper ramifications than I could have initially imagined. I must confess that for many months I found the text to be tiresome. I still do to an extent. I think Kaufman crafted a safe text. One that avoided important issues like love and sex. Rather than rejecting the “live and let live” mantra, Kaufman merely polishes it and give it a more sophisticated coat of paint. Matthew Shepard is just a name in the script. He is an abstraction, he does not seem real. This I think makes the play a weaker piece, but one that is easier in some ways to digest and perform. That said, the run of the show gave me a new perspective on the play that has allowed me to appreciate it much more than I had prior to the arrival of the audience. The inclusion of the audience in our production transformed what I think is a deeply-flawed script into a rich conversation that enveloped the spectator completely. Being able to see the audience react to moments in the play reminded me of the emotional power those moments had on me when I first heard them and renewed a sense of urgency for me in my performance.
It has been a great honor to be part of The Laramie Project with this incredible cast and crew. Jeff and Jules, you are both so amazing. I am so grateful to have gotten a chance to work with you both before I leave Duke. I am going to stop before I get emotional (I have been told that that would be out of character by some) and simply say “Now, you take care. I love you honey.”
It’s now the aftermath of the show, and I don’t know where I stand. I got caught up in this huge whirlwind of a show that grew into more than myself or any of the actors. We carried the burden/honor of Matthew Shepard’s story, sharing it with around eighty people a night for two weeks. Our hearts broke and we cried and hugged each other. We acted silly to shake of the heaviness of a story we have retold a dozen times. We simultaneously wanted it to be over and yearned for it never to end. But it has ended, and where are we now?
The cast has this incredible bond now. It’s almost alive between us, and when we pass each other on the quad or somehow meet up in groups, it reignites and my heart swells a little. But I, at least, am graduating soon. I will always care for the people here, the people I have come to love, but I have to leave them. I know I have to go off into the world, and that I can carry my little Laramie spark into new situations and share it with new people, but I fear I am not ready. Not in the way that I am scared of getting a job or filing taxes. Just that I am not ready to leave the people behind. I shared this sentiment on the night of our last class: I am ready to let The Laramie Project take off on its own like a firefly into the night, but the people I want to keep in a tight hold on. It’s silly to think that we could ever stay exactly the same as when we were spending many hours a night together performing and acting silly, but I will hold on to this nostalgia for a while. I guess I am changed. I am a little more open-minded and a lot closer with people I didn’t know well a few months ago.
I hope the audience is changed too, even if we were only able to plant the seeds of it. I think an audience member got it right when he told me, “We didn’t just see a show… that was an experience.” He puts words to something I had been thinking about for a while. ‘Show’ for me has certain connotations. It is entertainment at its core. An experience, however… now that can change people. I think we did. I just hope the effects are long lasting. But that is out of our hands now.
One of the major design elements for our production of The Laramie Project was stadium seating, the audience sat on two sides of the playing space and, never fully in darkness, watched each other as they watched the show. I believe the concept came from an AIDS play that Jeff saw in the 1980’s in New York City in which watching the audience members care for their loved ones was as much a part of the action as the actors were.
The design sounded amazing when presented and explained at our first class. But as I left the rehearsal room and attempted to describe the setup and purpose to my friends I began to develop skepticism with the design. Playing in the round is an incredibly difficult staging (and acting) challenge and I didn’t fully believe that it would be worth it just so that the audience could watch each other as they watched the show. From the beginning it was important to Jeff and Torry that the audience be included in the witnessing of the story, assigning them the role of active listeners and not merely letting them hide behind the comfort of a fourth wall. While I wanted to believe that the audience would accept this active and visible role, I wasn’t confident that that would be the case. I was worried that the vulnerability inherent in feeling light on your face in a theater would distract the audience rather than drawing them in and that seeing others across the way would only make them further self conscious.
It is with great joy that I can now say that I was wrong for doubting the ability and willingness of our audiences to step up to the task our design team laid out for them. While hesitant at first, cautiously tip-toeing over Torry’s masterpiece of a canvas to get to their seats, the audience members were quickly drawn into the story we were telling, putting their personal (and Duke) insecurities aside for the two hours and forty minutes (our code for “three hours but it’s worth it, we hope”) that they spent with us. People came alone and in large groups, with their partner (one of my new favorite words to use to describe those in all types of relationships, thanks to Summer) or their best friend. Audience members laughed and cried, held hands and put their arms around each other. They shook their heads at Eileen Engen and Sherry Johnson, nodded along with Doc O’Connor and Romaine Patterson, and cried with Rulon Stacey and Dennis Shepard. The audience participated.
One specific performance had a particularly active and commendable audience. The Saturday performance our second weekend of shows started a tad behind schedule as the house manager worked tirelessly, filling each of the remaining seats with people eager to get off the waitlist. With each and every seat filled in our quaint little theater, the door closed and we began.
And then something truly beautiful happened in Sheafer Theater. Community happened. A couple held hands in the front row and a group of friends supported each other in the second, their energy fueling the various lines I delivered from the “X2” spot, halfway up the downstage center aisle. I heard the groans and sighs as Afftene delivered her Baptist Minister lines and allowed those reactions to sink in, adding true pain to my line “Thank you reverend, for speaking with me,” that in rehearsal I had delivered nonchalantly as a polite close to the conversation.
As I sat back in my chair on the periphery, finished with my parts for Act 2, I saw one of the most beautiful exhibits of friendship I have seen in my life. Two friends held each other, breathing in sync, completely in tune with each other’s emotions, experiencing the show both individually and as an incredible unit. Watching them, I started to cry, overwhelmed by the effortless support they provided each other.
This play, this experience brought out the best in Duke. It made me believe in the concept of a “Duke community.” The cast – crew and student – staff dynamics taught me the beauty of the collaborative process. But it was the audience participation on that very special night that changed Duke for me, that made the Duke community something I am proud to be a part of.
People keep asking me how I’m feeling now that Laramie is over. I was expecting to feel somewhat liberated, what with several hours of each day suddenly cleared and available. I had been excited to get back to “real life,” nebulously defined as a life in which I could sit down to eat dinner and hang out with friends in the evening and start homework before 11. But since the show closed (and I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that it hasn’t even been a week since it closed — it feels like an eternity), I’ve felt…lost. I miss seeing the cast and crew everyday. I miss that sense of pre-performance anticipation. I miss feeling like I’m working towards something concrete and important. I miss feeling like I’m helping to tell a meaningful story, a story that needs to be told, a story that will lead audiences to engage in a process of critical reflection.
I mentioned during our last class, when we all went around and talked about what we’ve gotten out of this experience, that this semester has easily been my happiest at Duke. There are a number of factors that have contributed to this, but a large part is due to the thoroughness of our process of creative collaboration. The show bled over into my academic, extracurricular, and personal life over the past few months, and the merging of all three realms is such an incredibly rare thing to find on this campus, or in any creative forum. I think we all felt like we were doing something important here. We were all so invested in the success of the final production that each and every person involved was intensely motivated and excited about the prospect of what this show could be like and what it could do. We enjoyed being with each other. We came to love this community and this process and these stories. Rehearsal was something I looked forward to every day — coming together, watching my performance grow stronger, watching my fellow actors improve and grow more confident, watching the people of the town and the Tectonic members begin to interact and react and engage in a moving dialogue.
I’ve had people come up to me on campus and tell me repeatedly that they so enjoyed the show and they so enjoyed my work. I’ve done a number of plays here before, and having students I don’t know approach me to comment on my performance is something that has rarely happened. I’m not saying that recognition is the ultimate marker of success, because I think I would have been proud of the work we did as a company and a class even if no one had come to the see show. But the fact that we generated such buzz, the fact that we were having to turn people away from performances at a school known at times for its subjugation of the arts, the fact that people who saw our work were moved by it and touched by it and thought about it and wanted to comment on it, the fact that the whole department had our backs behind this production — all of these things bolster my faith in the future of the arts programs at this university. I want to repeat this experience again in some way. Like Ben, I’m coming away from this experience resigned to the fact that I want to continue performing in some capacity. My passion is telling stories, the stories based in reality that need to be told, those that speak to a larger truth about humanity. And I don’t think theater needs to be “activist” in form — and I would hesitate to even call this work an activist play — but I think good theater should aspire to lead to a process of reflection. It should start a conversation. I think our production did that, more than any other work I’ve been a part of before. I want to do that kind of work again. This process has inspired me. I’m so grateful for that.
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.
By Julian Spector
Moment: Medical Update
Matthew Shepard was admitted in critical condition approximately nine-fifteen P.M., October seventh…
I watch Cameron’s bespectacled face swim in a sea of darkness, glaring fluorescent lights still leaving his eyes in shadow. The image shines brightly in the dim theater, luring my eyes like one of those deep-sea fish. I see the reality of his presence captured in high definition.
But this image is false. The actual Cameron stands perhaps ten feet away, diagonally back and down. His head, in fact, is not alone: it connects to a torso that extends down into legs and feet. A tawny wooden podium sits just to his right. His background, I now see, is not black at all, but a curving sweep of intricately layered earth tones, dripped and washed into canvas. The picture I first saw on the television screen offered a distorted view of a small piece of the entire scene.
There we have the essential flaw of journalism. Any attempt to describe a true event correctly commits the same inherent contradiction as Cameron’s disembodied head: the act of telling necessitates a narrowing of focus, a fixation on the one spot-lit point that can most effectively hold the camera man’s attention.
Any given event contains far more information than a reporter could ever put into words. You might give a sentence or two to the weather, just to set the scene, but how could you ever convey the feel of the breeze on the back of your neck, or the gradual warming of the sun on the back of your neck? And what about the sky? And the sky was that blue that, uh…you know, you’ll never be able to paint, it’s just sky blue—it’s just gorgeous. A reporter or witness must therefore reduce the experience in order to convey it in a useful and timely manner.
All journalism is compromise. You choose to report one fact and not another, one storyline and not another, the testimony of one human being and not another, and those choices come to define who you are as a journalist and a human being. Certain stories must be told, others would be very nice to recount if there were a just few more lines left to fill, and still others sounded intriguing at the time of reporting but appear superfluous in the stark light of the editing room.
The Laramie Project represents the polished result of this same process of compromise. The Tectonic Theater Project, as they inform us in Moment: A Definition, conducted around 200 interviews. More than half of those never made it to the stage. There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily—it was up to them to make the artistic choices of what to include or not. However, in the spirit of saying it correct, we must recognize that none of these monologues captures the full truth of the original telling. The editing process took the words of the speakers, leaving behind the situation in time and space in which they originally occurred, and zoomed in on a chosen aspect of that conversation until all that remained was the sparkling high definition close-up of the original interview against a new backdrop. For all the talk about saying it correct, the play itself does little to emphasize that reality had to pass through several filters of editorial choices before arriving in the finished script.
Fiction, on the other hand, requires no such compromise. Fiction writers create their own characters and scenes rather than chasing after real ones with diminishing returns. By putting down one sentence instead of another, they do not deny one aspect of an extant reality, but simply decline to create a different possibility. In this way, every act of fiction forms a positive act of creation, whereas every act of journalism represents a loss, a whittling down of the overwhelming complexities of the world. The success of a journalist lies in his ability to efficiently select the most compelling information from all that he could report and leave the rest behind; the same goes for documentary playwrights. The attempt to record a true story may seem like a doomed endeavor, a lost cause, and in some sense it is: no matter how hard you try, you will never rediscover the Eden of a complete retelling of a true event. But there is beauty in this impossibility: moments are precious because they are fleeting.
Journalism and documentary theater aim to pay homage to bygone moments by reconstituting some elements of those moments in a new time and place. Instead of a lost cause, I see it as more Sisyphean: I may never reach the peak of truth, but I can take pride and satisfaction in doing my job well, rolling my little story as far up that slope as I can before it will go no further. At which point it’s time to find another story.
I don’t know how Sergeant Hing spoke, or exactly what he was thinking when he said the words that I now say as him. But if my Jonas can make someone reconsider their live and let live mentality, or Ben’s Matt Galloway can make somebody laugh, or Jacob’s Dennis Shepard can bring an audience to tears, then perhaps the lens of our documentary theater found the right focus for the close-up, after all.
I think it’s pretty safe to say none of us knew what were getting ourselves into when we first auditioned for the Laramie project. What I find sort of interesting is that, I don’t think I’ve felt as close to the Aaron Kreifels monologue since the first time I read it at the audition, until two days ago.
It’s interesting how the more you work at something and the better you get at knowing the text, the further you can get from actually feeling it. After some point it almost felt like I was just reading lines off the script, except since we were off book, I was just reading lines off my head. I was starting to get somewhat frustrated at my inability to connect with the script but this past weekend something hit me. I have no idea how or why but when I was indulging my pre-sleep routine of putting on a random episode from a not so random show, I looked over and the Angels in America pamphlet caught my eye. I was going to leave this part out but I feel it adds a certain veracity to my recount – before any other thoughts transpired, I found myself mouthing the moment: Aingels in Americaw in the pseudo-British/Jamaican/South African fashion that Kimmi so often does. Anyway, for some reason I was reminded of that day where I spent seven hours at playmakers wondering how on earth they managed something like that and specifically, I remembered Matt Carlson’s (Prior) comment: “try to rediscover the words each and every night”.
Even then it struck me as an interesting point but I never really tried to understand with my heart what I already knew in my mind. So at Sunday’s rehearsal that’s exactly what I set out to do. Instead of listening to a story that I knew like the back of my hand, I listened to a story that I knew nothing about. I tried listening to Doc and Jedadiah and Romaine and even Aaron. At one point Jeff thought I dozed off when actually, I was trying to rediscover (clumsily no doubt) what it was that I did in the play – hence the flub. I heard my cue line but for some reason I raced to keep up with what my mind was processing, primarily because I was trying to un-process those same thoughts. Good thing that was a rehearsal.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think I’ve ever really pushed myself this hard at acting, and maybe at a lot of other things in my life. Acting in high school was always about playing a character; learning to be the character with a touch of the genuine. In trying to play all these characters in the Laramie project I have been forced to look at myself. To figure out the guy I haven’t figured out how to play for the last twenty-one years. I don’t know if that’s done yet but it has definitely come some distance these past few months.
With one day left to opening night this is an odd thing to say, but I’m going to try and fully unlearn The Laramie Project.
My only hope is that I rediscover it each and every night.
- Ashok Palaniappan
I play three main characters in The Laramie Project: Stephen Belber, Doc O’Connor, and Matt Galloway. Differentiating between the three and discovering their separate and unique identities has been the major challenge of the show for me. At first I found the characters to be quite shallow, both in terms of the fact we know little really about them and spend little real time with any one character and because Galloway and O’Connor are the two characters that seem to most easily lend themselves to becoming caricatures of real human beings. The big thing I have struggled with and continue to struggle with is finding the meat in what little text Kaufman threw us for each of my three characters.
Doc jumps out at you. He’s aggressive. He has a disarming charm, but it has a disturbing tinge to it. I think have discovered an arc to his character, at least the arc that Kaufman creates out of the transcripts of the real Doc’s ramblings. To me, Doc’s arc seems a lot like the arc of the town of Laramie itself. In his first monologues he defends the town’s exceptionalism as well as mourns its changing character (“They used to carry cattle…them trains. Now all they carry is diapers and cars.”). He then reveals a sort of ambivalent “live and let live” attitude towards Matthew and gays in general. He also attempts to deflect the idea that the murder was a hate crime in his “Who’s getting what?” monologue by arguing that homosexuality is present and tolerated (in a way) in Wyoming. In Act II, Doc embodies the town’s besiegement at the hands of the media in his “hard copy” line. At the end of the second act he reveals a softened attitude towards Matthew. No doubt he joined the rest of the world in hoping that Matt would survive. At the end of the act Doc tries to find beauty in the awful site of the fence, a beauty he connects back to Laramie—a town that both he and Matt Shepard found beautiful.
For the playwright in me, the Galloway character seems to take on the role of the bystander that failed to act. Galloway reveals himself to be enormously perceptive and yet he fails to “notice” what he remembered in his re-tellings so well, that “these guys shouldn’ta been talking to this guy.” Making Galloway (and Doc) not a two-dimensional character has been a great challenge for me. But I think I have made some progress by focusing on Galloway’s conflicting attitudes towards the situation. He deflects responsibility at times and at other times seems to hold himself overly responsible for the events of that night. One thing that I have done that I think has been helpful as well is that I think that there are two Galloways. The Galloway of the second Act and the Galloway character that Galloway plays in Act I and Act III. As an actor, I find this dual identity fascinating and I think it explains why his monologue in Act III is in the play.
I sit here with a full head and an empty page, unsure of what I want to say here; unsure of how brave and honest I want to be in this posting. The Laramie Project has come so far in the past month that it hardly resembles the play it once was. As Jeff tells us every night, it has taken a life of its own. It is a story that belongs to us, and it really does. While most of our struggles do not replicate those of our characters, I think each person in the cast has had a personal arc that really draw us together in the play. Or maybe I am just projecting. Whatever. All I can really tell you is my story, anyway.
I am very excited to have an audience. We reached the point where everyone knows their lines, where each person really gets a chance to hone his or her acting skills. We reached that, passed it, and I feel that if we were here much longer, we would stagnate. It’s time for us to share the story that we have been working on. We have to give Laramie away to an audience. They must see the Matthew Shepard story from our point of view, from our eyes that have been working with the script and the people for several months now. We will hand it to them and see what happens. I am excited to see the emotion come back to life through them, to see each scene through the eyes of someone to whom this is all new.
This play has forced me to make decisions about things. I had always been content to say “I don’t know” when it comes to the death penalty. But after twenty times watching the scene where Laramie residents discuss their opinions on the matter, I realize I do have an opinion. It started as just a tiny wiggling feeling while I was watching that part of the show, but eventually I found myself nodding along with the residents I agree with. It came as somewhat of a surprise to me; as a moderate American, it is perfectly acceptable for me to have undefined opinions on political matters. But that’s not how I want to be.
I don’t know what it’s like to be gay or lesbian in this world. Mentally, I have always known this that. But there is a whole depth of struggle and pain that I didn’t even realize is present; that who you are as a person may cause others to scorn you. That’s something I can’t grasp, but at least now I know I can’t. During a rehearsal, one of my fellow cast members turned to me and said something along the lines of “the word tolerance is such crap.” I reeled. Tolerance to me was a word that everyone strives for, for everyone to be happy and la de dah. But tolerance is not that. Tolerance means you still dislike someone, but you put up with them because you have to. Tolerance is such crap.
Now to the meat of the issue. This is hard for me to say. I was raised in a religious household, and still have strong ties to the church. If you are not aware, the gay issue is kind of a big deal right now in that sphere, trying to decide who has what rights within the church. It’s easy to shrug your shoulders when people ask what you think, and not have a fully formed opinion. Cuz you know, in a religious light homosexuality is wrong, but how can that be true when I have seen friends struggling for years because they don’t want to admit to themselves or their Catholic family their own feelings? Or when you see more love in a homosexual relationship than you have in many heterosexual relationships? And I was proud of myself, you know, for acting in a play and advocating rights that I was pretty sure I believed in. Then there’s that line at the end of the play. “How did I ever let that stuff make me think that you were different from me?” And I was very… struck. Because I think that at the heart of it, I might have thought that way at points in my life. That it’s only working so closely with this play that I know without a doubt there’s not an ounce of difference between you and me. That maybe I was Jedediah Schultz at the beginning of the play. I’ve always loved my gay friends for who they are. But this play has just sort of cast things in a new light, or at least pointed out inconsistencies in my thought processes. My first thought is thank God that I got to act in this play and learn to love in a new way. And my second thought was thank you Matthew.
It’s incredible how many times you can watch a show and still learn something new each time. We’ve read and rehearsed this show and unbelievable amount of times—and yet, I notice something new almost every run. A couple things I’ve noticed in the past few rehearsals:
Rebecca Hilliker’s line—“You know, I really love my students because they are free thinkers. And you may not like what they have to say, and you may not like their opinions…but they are honest and they’re truthful—so there’s an excitement here…I’d rather have opinions that I don’t like—and have that dynamic in education.”
It’s important that she has this view of her students and appreciates this quality. This is such a crucial part of college—meeting people from different worlds with various lifestyles, customs, and ideas. You encounter some pretty remarkable students in college with pretty remarkable stories and ideas. I love college because I’m surrounded by people who are, typically, just as engaged as I am—engaged in thought and change; engaged in art, or politics, or human rights. I’m surrounded by people who are engaged in life and are “free thinkers.” People here have their own grounded ideas and are willing to challenge your ideas and reconsider theirs. This is monumental in just growing and becoming a better you, defining and redefining your ideas.
I wish more people had Rebecca’s take on education and just…life. She realizes that it’s not necessarily about changing others’ opinions, but creating this active dialogue where we all can share our ideas and thoughts, developing a sort of shared expression and learning. We’ve all met those people or have had those teachers that just want to tell you something instead of having a discussion. A discussion is so much more dynamic, so much more fulfilling. They follow the “my way or the highway” mentality that is so one-dimensional and limiting. There exists a lack of open-mindedness.
She also mentions that her students are honest and truthful, and that’s how we should all strive to be. I often become so wrapped up in what everyone else is doing or what is expected of me that I’m not truthful to what I should be doing or perhaps to myself. My responses in class or my actions in a particular situation may not be honest or genuine because of outside circumstances, how I think I’ll be perceived, or because of the consequences. I really think that this play tries to do just that—be honest and truthful. We’ve seen from a formal Tectonic Theater member how a bias may taint this truth and honestly, but it does strive to be so by providing multiple perspectives and prodding the audience to come to their own conclusion. I think that our production is true and honest. Each of the characters on that stage is honest and true in their gestures, their tone, and their thoughts. That’s what makes this production so amazing—that’s what’s kept me engaged.
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.
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.