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!]
I’m not sure how many of you attended the amazing events that were part of the two Duke Performances theater residencies that happened over the past couple of weeks. We had the private audience (amazing!) with Maude Mitchell from Mabou Mines and some of you participated in the master classes offered by Mabou’s Lee Breur and the actors from Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. But in case you missed some things, writers for Duke Performances’ blog The Thread have captured some of the sights and sounds. Such as ….
A review of Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus at the Carolina Theater. There is also another review of the piece by our local Classical Voice of North Carolina reviewer Kate Dobbs Arial. And a summary/description of the Abbey Theatre actors’ Master Class.
I thought it might be particularly interesting to hear their take on acting practice since Terminus is comprised of three interlocking monologues in rhyming but non-metered verse. There are key differences between the monologues in Terminus and those in Laramie. Not just the verse but the fact that the actors rehearsed separately with only the director for three weeks to get the continuity of their own individual stories and then they worked on how the dynamic changed (or didn’t) when the stories were broken up into three different segments with the other actor’s stories providing an ever-evolving counterpoint.
I’m always struck by how and when I feel like a character’s “dialogue” (and in the common case in Laramie, dialogue means having lines broken up by other lines by other characters not necessarily talking to another character) is actually one large monologue. For example, Romaine and Jon Peacock’s lines on pages 19-20 of Act 1. And, conversely, I’m interested in when material presented as a monologue, might actually be a # of smaller thoughts merged into one speech. I think these moments might be given away by the paragraph breaks in a monologue. So Doc O’Connor’s speech on pg. 18-19 is actually three paragraphs which could mean these are three different assertions he spoke at different times to different people merged into one.
I mention these distinctions for two reasons. One, it might be helpful to know when/where you have a through-line of argument or point (across one scene or across acts), an interaction that is interrupted on-stage by the insertion of another person’s dialogue but when we pick back up with you, you are continuing a thought. Two, as a way to encourage you to consider that you might be asked more than just one question to spur your story. Jeff’s been urging you all to pick the most active, dramatically interesting question that produces your response. You might consider that you are asked more than one question during the course of a monologue. Now this wouldn’t mean you’d mime being asked and then answering, but it might help you craft shifts in tone, tempo, timbre over the course of your mono-dia-logues.
An interview with Lee Bruer (and Maude) about his approach to theater, to this current Williams’ project. I wanted to draw your attention to an assertion he made about an “acting dialectic” that I thought might resonate with what we’re doing with Laramie. He was discussing coupling Maude’s Meisner training in naturalistic, method acting with his tendency towards presentational, formalist staging, “Half-Meyerhold, half-Stanislavski,” as he puts it:
I finally found what my statement is, and I call it a kind of acting dialectic: You’re always acting two things at once. You’re acting yourself straight, and you’re acting yourself as a parody of yourself. It’s straight, but it’s a send-up—and yet it’s straight—and yet it’s a send-up.
While we’re not erring on the side of the parodic, I do think the notion of “acting two things at once” is a relevant dialectic to the layering of character (Duke student, Tectonic Company member, Laramie citizen) that you are juggling in Laramie.
A description/review, by Adam Sobsey, of Mabou Mines’ open rehearsal for their Glass Menagerie project and a review/description of the culminating reading/performances of their “de/reconstruction” of Williams.
Many thanks to the faculty and staff of the department of Theater Studies (especially Miriam Sauls), Megan Stein, Aaron Greenwald and Duke Performances for bringing these amazing artists to our campus and our classrooms!
In the wake of what I think was an eye-opening session with Maude Mitchell this week, I wanted to start this post with a quote that seemed to sum-up my feelings about our conversation and what to do with this immense bank of knowledge about the events chronicled in Laramie, the text’s creation process, and its legacy that we’ve built over the past five weeks.
If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.
–Francis Bacon from The Advancement of Learning (1605) Book 1, Chapter 5.
Bacon might seem an obscure choice, but I think his quote resonates with the question that Jacob posed and Maude so expertly rephrased — How do you play a character you doubt?
This is a question that has hung heavy in the air in the rehearsal room this week. I think many of you heard Jeff encourage you to make doubt an active force, a provocation for you to make choices/have opinions about your characters. It will be those choices, those opinions that will move (emotionally and rhythmically) the play forward. It may not be the final certainty about Laramie that we offer our audience, but it will be our certainty.
As a way to honor the generosity of her time with us, it seemed appropriate to cast some of the information Maude gave as questions we might consider as we move forward with the production. If you all recall other ideas that might provoke productive questions, please send them along in the comments sections.
- What kind of useful connections might be made between other acts of deadly violence (and their tacit approval or facilitation) that happened in Wyoming during the months/year before Matthew’s death and the specific attitudes about gay men and lesbians held by the Laramie citizens?
- Does a widening of the lens to include knowledge of other deaths, other crimes motivated by misogyny and racism, dilute the specificity of how homophobia circulates through the community?
- Is there a way to acknowledge the class and drug culture details without reinforcing the 20/20 narrative that uses those features to excuse or mitigate violence rather than contextualize it?
- What kind of “moment work” — described by Maude as pulling out of research and into rehearsal those details about characters, circumstances, history to unlock options for staging — might be useful for a 2011 Duke Laramie?
- How can we make sure that the reading/testimony quality of the piece doesn’t bog down the performer or performance?
- We’re already tackling this question by considering that the monologues are answers to questions that we don’t hear asked (at least not on stage).
- There’s also been Jeff’s insistence during this week’s individual meetings that you use your “doubt” about what’s on the page, what’s being presented to you as the testimony/interview of your character as a way to inspire active choices for speaking, for telling your story even as it may be a story that is tempered with half-truths, agendas, and missing details.
- Are there ways to make the interview process (and all its attendant ethical concerns and features) more transparent?
- With the givens of the script, this question might be moot; however, it is an issue that those of you drawn to documentary form want to consider for future projects.
- With the idea of future documentary projects in mind, what kind of training might interested actors need as they solicit, record, and ethically construct documentary material?
- How do we deal with what is not said … by Tectonic participants, interviewees, the public record?
- In what ways can we continue to advocate for these characters and honor (even as we may doubt) their stories?