Doubting Moises

Caravaggio's “Doubting Thomas” (1602-1603)

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?

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