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.
We moved into the theater this week and spent rehearsals getting a feel for our stage space and adding the 100+ costume pieces and small props that will allow a cast of 13 to transform into and out of 60+ characters. Needless to say, much of our time has been consumed with what piece of costume goes where, how an actor moves from one point on or off stage to another, what tweaks and changes are required in established blocking.
However, as we near the end of this chaos, we approach a time when moving in gives way to settling in. Taking time to give voice and body to these characters and their stories will become our priority enhanced ten-fold by the well-selected and engaged costume, props, and scenery. In the spirit of making that shift from learning a theater space to transforming that space and ourselves into the mise-en-scene of Laramie, I thought it might be useful to have a post that reminds us of the Laramie landscape, the landmarks that ground and sustain the characters we meet.
These images below come courtesy of the “Laramie & Surrounding” Flickr feed (photos taken over 2009-2010) maintained by our friend at Jackrabbit Goes Down the Rabbit Hole: Fear, Loathing, and “The Laramie Project.” FYI, Jackrabbit had some nice things to say when he/she gave our blog a shout out last week. Considering the extensive effort she/he has taken to explore her own complicated relationship with the play, it’s a real honor that he/she thinks we’re being particularly thoughtful in our approach and conversation surrounding the production.
SGT. HING: And I’m thinking, “Lady, you’re just missing the point.” You know, all you got to do is turn around, see the mountains, smell the air, listen to the birds, just take in what’s around you (9).
REBECCA HILLIKER: I found that people here were nicer than in the Midwest, where I used to teach, because they were happy. They were glad the sun was shining. And it shines a lot here (6).
JEDADIAH: Now, after Matthew, I would say that Laramie is a town defined by an accident, a crime. We’ve become Waco, we’ve become Jasper. We’re a noun, a definition, a sign.(9).
BARBARA PITTS: But as we drove into the down town area by the railroad tracks, the buildings still look like a turn-of-the-century western town. Oh, and as we passed the University Inn, on the sign where amenities such as heated pool or cable TV are usually touted, it said: HATE IS NOT A LARAMIE VALUE (14).
ALISON MEARS: Oh, not just ranching, this was a big railroad town at one time. Before they moved everything to Cheyenne and Green River and Omaha. So now, well, it’s just a drive-through spot for the railroad–[...] (15).
DOC: I like the trains, too. They don’t bother me. Well, some of the times they bother me, but most times they don’t. Even though one goes by every thirteen minutes out where I live … [...] They used to carry cattle … them trains. Now all they carry is diapers and cars (8).
NARRATOR: Doc actually lives up in Bosler. But everybody in Laramie knows him. He’s also not really a doctor (8).
EILEEN ENGEN: If you don’t take care of the land, then you ruin it and you lose your living. So you first of all have to take care of your land and do everything you can to improve it (7).
DOC: The fact is … Laramie doesn’t have any gay bars … and for that matter neither does Wyoming … so he was hiring me to take him to Fort Collins, Colorado, about an hour away.
MATT MICKELSON: We had karaoke that night, twenty or thirty people here–Matthew Shepard came in, sitting right–right where you’re sitting, just handing out …
SHADOW: So when they took off, I seen it, when they took off it was in a black truck, it was a small truck, and the three of them sat in the front seat and Matt sat in the middle. And I didn’t think nothin’ of it, you know. I didn’t figure them guys was gonna be like that.
STEPHEN MEAD JOHNSON: Clearly that’s a powerful personal experience to go out there. It is so stark and so empty and you can’t help but think of Matthew out there for eighteen hours in nearly freezing temperatures, with that view up there isolated, and, the “God, my God, why have your forsaken me” comes to mind (34).
ALISON MEARS: Wyoming is bad in terms of jobs. I mean, the university has the big high whoop-de-do jobs. But Wyoming, unless you’re a professional, well, the bulk of the people are working minimum-wage jobs (16).
REBECCA HILLIKER: I think that’s the focus the university has taken–is that we have a lot of work to do. That we have an obligation to find ways to reach our students. …
FATHER ROGER SCHMIT: Matthew Shepard has served us well. You realize that? He has served us well. And I do not mean to condemn Matthew to perfection, but I cannot mention anyone who has done more for this community than Matthew Shepard (65).
MATT GALLOWAY: The day of the funeral, it was snowing so bad, big huge wet snowflakes. And when I got there, there were thousands of people in just black, with umbrellas everywhere. And there were two churches–one for immediate family, uh, invited guests, people of that nature, and then one church for everybody else who wanted to be there. And then, still, hundreds of people outside that couldn’t fit into either of the churches (75).
DOUG LAWS: There is a proclamation that come out on the family. A family is defined as one woman and one man and children. That’s a family. That’s about as clear as you can state it. There’s no sexual deviation in the Mormon Church. No–no leniancy. We just think it’s out of bounds (25).
APRIL SILVA: I grew up in Cody, Wyoming. Laramie is better than where I grew up. I’ll give it that.
DENNIS SHEPARD: [Matt] actually died on the outskirts of Laramie, tied to a fence. You, Mr. McKinney, with your friend Mr. Henderson left him out there by himself but he wasn’t alone. There were his lifelong friends with him. [...] First he had the beautiful night sky and the same stars and moon that we used to see through a telescope. Then he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him. And through it all he was breathing in the scent of pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind, the ever-present Wyoming wind, for the last time (95).
FATHER ROGER: Just deal with what is true. You know what is true. You need to do your best to say it correct (66).
Last week, Kimi sent an link to the International Dialects of English Archive site, which has a sound file of a Laramie native telling a story to give a sense of tone, timbre, and general accent colors of a Wyoming speaker. I thought I’d do a little more digging to see what else might be helpful to developing your characters’ voices.
To be frank, I didn’t find a great deal. Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Idaho get lumped together in a general “Western” region without a lot of distinctions. In one way, such a lack of detail proves what we’d already suspected, that the Wyoming “accent” is pretty close to “Standard American” than anything with a lot of regional color or variation. Such an assertion seems to be supported by this 2005 article from the online magazine New West. The article references the work of linguist William Labov, particularly his 2005 publication The Atlas of North American English, which Duke library has in electronic and hard copy form if you are terribly interested in how pronunciation patterns across the US have shifted since the mid-1990s.
I found this story from a 2006 SMITH magazine interview with Joy Ellison, the dialect coach on Brokeback Mountain, which starred the late Australian actor Heath Ledger and Jack Gyllenhal both playing love-struck ranchers. Here’s a page from Ellison’s notes about vowel sounds/construction:
Speaking of Brokeback Mountain, the short stories from which the movie is derived were written by Annie Proulx, a Connecticut native who has lived in Wyoming since 1994. I found an interview with her on The Sycamore Review from 2001 which is composed of audio clips to give you another idea of a Wyoming transplant voice. Remember folks like Phil DuBois, Stephen Mead Johnson, Rebecca Hilliker are transplants to Laramie.
A linguistic hobbyist (I think I just coined a new word!) named Rick Aschmann has this wonderfully detailed site called American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns. This site looks like it might be a gold mine considering it is something he’s collected out of personal (vs. scholarly) interest. He has only three examples of Wyoming speech, but two are from speakers native to two cities relevant to the play (Cody–where April Silva is from and Rawlins–where the Wyoming State Penitentiary is located, it will be Russell and Aarons eventual home):
- US Representative Cynthia Lummis (R) (native of Cheyenne) YouTube video (2009)
- Former US Senator Alan Simpson (R) (native of Cody) YouTube video (1997)
- Actor Jesse Garcia (native of Rawlins) YouTube video (2007?)
Harvard Professor of Linguistics Bert Vaux founded DARE (Dictionary of American Regional English) and constructed the English Dialect Survey in the early 2000s to “explore words and sounds in the English language” and get a sense, via statistical analysis, of what kinds of sounds are made by individuals in various areas of the US. He is interested in how we “really” speak versus how we think we are supposed to speak. Click here to read his results for Wyoming speakers. PBS used Vaux’s work as part of its 2005 program Do You Speak American?
And since Laramie is so close to Colorado, I thought this article by Carlyn Ray Mitchell from the June 21, 2009 edition of The Gazette [Colorado Spring, CO] gave some insight into possible variance of pronunciation south of the (Wyoming) border:
DO COLORADANS – HAVE AN ACCENT?
In the time he’s spent outside of the mountains west of Colorado Springs, Robert Denison’s cowboy drawl has marked him as an outsider in his own state.
But as a third-generation Colorado native, the 45-year-old and his manner of speaking are more insider than most found in the state’s major cities or along the Front Range.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask me if I’m from the South. I spent a month, month and a half in Texas building fence. But they were making fun of my speech long before I went to Texas,” said Denison, who grew up on a ranch between Fairplay and Jefferson.
By and large, linguists paint Coloradans with the broad brush stroke of speaking with a neutral, or unmarked, accent, widely known as Standard American English. The Front Range, with its mingling of people from across the country, is especially neutral, experts say.
But speak with natives, particularly of older generations, and those on the plains or remote parts of the mountains such as Denison, and a certain something becomes apparent.
And certain words and pronunciations can be linked, if not directly to the state, to the Rocky Mountain Region or parts of Colorado.
Much of Colorado’s speech identity rests on the pronunciation of the state’s name itself.
” Coloradans who strongly identify with the state use the vowel in ‘rat’ for the third syllable, while non- Coloradans or those whose state connection is tepid, such as the millions from California, use the ‘ah’ sound,” said Thomas E. Nunnally, associate professor of English at Auburn University in Alabama.
Though linguists and dialectologists cringe at the request to judge which pronunciation is correct, solutions would be to study the regional pronunciation of “Colorado,” or how natives of Wyoming and New Mexico say the word, and to analyze the Spanish roots of the word, said Lamont Antieau, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“It is hard to argue with whose state it is. They’re from there, so it is kind of like arguing the pronunciation of your last name. You’re the expert on that.” he said.
In a similar vein, Coloradans are known for pronouncing “coyote” with two syllables rather than the three syllables heard in much of the rest of the country, Antieau said.
Other linguists account for Denison’s cowboy drawl in Coloradans ‘ speech. “Northern with a little Southern flavoring,” is how Allan Metcalf, professor of English at MacMurray College in Illinois, characterizes the accent of the Mountain West in his book “How We Talk: American Regional English Today,” published in 2000.
Ask someone out of state to imitate a Colorado accent , and “some people would probably respond with a mild Midlands accent , something like John Denver,” said Jack Chambers, linguistics professor at the University of Toronto. “But other people would say they never heard a Coloradan who sounded like that,” he said.
The Standard American English spoken by many Coloradans resulted from a two-step dialect change in those who won the West.
Places like Boston and New York City have distinct accents in part because of the first settlers from England, which to this day has a wide range of English accents .
“So certain people went to Boston and certain people went to New York, and then certain people went to Charleston and they carried all those differences with them. Then they didn’t really talk to each other that much,” Antieau said.
Then people started moving west, first to places such as Michigan and western Pennsylvania, where dialects were mixed and muted. By the time those people got to Colorado, they had already shed their coastal accents and went through another, less-pronounced dialect mixture, Antieau said.
“When people got to Colorado, even if they did carry with them marked features from Boston or the South, they would tend to lose them over time in the greater speech community,” Antieau said. “Because that is what you do, when you find yourself being different, you just kind of weed that stuff out. Especially if it is stigmatized, as a lot of those features would be.”
Today, any marked speech features in Colorado are likely to be found in rural areas, which Antieau researched for his doctorate degree in the 1990s. He said he would like to further study speakers in the San Luis Valley, with its heavy Spanish influence and isolated Mormon communities.
“The other is Pueblo, or as they say it, “Pea-eb-low,” Antieau said.
One widespread modern syntax phenomenon Coloradans are participating in is what linguists call the “positive anymore,” in which a speaker says things akin to, “Kids all have iPods anymore,” Antieau said.
Western speakers have also weeded out a difference between the words “cot” and “caught,” a merging of vowel sounds linguists call the low-back vowel.
A problem with studying younger speakers is media’s influence on language.
Television has historically been dismissed as having an impact on speech, since viewers don’t interact with it, Antieau said. But with our culture’s media overdrive, “people are exposed to many different variations and can kind of pick and choose,” he said, citing children picking up words and pronunciations associated with rap music to which they wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed.
“We speak how we speak to say who we are, talking like those whose acceptance is important and not talking like those whom we ourselves do not accept,” Nunnally said.
If anyone finds other resources or if we have blog readers out there from Wyoming (or places nearby) who wish to chime in about accent/dialects of the region, please do!
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?