Kimi and Laramie: A blog post in two acts

Kimi Goffe

Act One: Rehearsal

Uncomfortable. That’s the best word to describe my individual rehearsal. I had done my homework. I had looked up info on my characters and studied their words and I felt ready. Then, I went into the room.

It probably was a perfectly normal rehearsal. I performed my monologue; Jeff gave me tips. Simple, right?

It wasn’t. It was incredibly and surprisingly vulnerable. I had forgotten how hard it can be to have people I don’t know very well watch and critique me.

“Don’t memorize and give the result,” Jeff said. “That’s not interesting.”

The process is interesting. Discovering what the words mean, how to perform them. The play is a moving, breathing, living thing. The process is open and expansive. It is also vulnerable, difficult and uncomfortable.

I haven’t acted that much in the past. Most of my creative work has been writing. Writing is great because it offers multiple opportunities to hide the process. I can write rubbish, delete it, replace it with brilliance and no-one knows that rubbish ever preceded the brilliance.

The process is interesting but it’s messy. I don’t like people watching me in the midst of my messiness. I like to be able to clean it all up before anyone sees it. This will not be possible while preparing for Laramie.

Hemingway said that the first draft of everything is shit. He was right. It’s just nice that in writing, I can delete my first, second and third draft. In acting, I’m performing them for my director and my cast to see. I predict many more uncomfortable moments in the future and I hope that I will grow to appreciate them and the messy process as sites of learning.

Act Two: Explosion

The Laramie Project is a play, a book, a rectangular object stuffed with 112 pages, 60+ characters and a pretty picture of a blue sky on the cover. That’s all it is. We have to make it more than that. We have to, as one of Laramie’s original dramaturges, Maude Mitchell, told us: “explode it!”

Explode Laramie out of its pages and onto the stage – that is our task. Explode it for an audience that will probably only know Laramie as a town defined by Matthew Shepard’s murder. Jedadiah Schultz says in the play, “Laramie is a town defined by an accident, a crime…We’re a noun, a definition, a sign” (Laramie 9). And now, Laramie is a town defined by a play.  How do we work against that definition to produce something nuanced and real? How do we do that, when, as Maude helped us see,  the play doesn’t always explode Laramie, but sometimes limits it? Maude made me think about that – how the issue of class is hardly discussed, how the culture of violence (especially towards women) contributed to the event, how much of what Laramie tells us is smaller than the actual place.

I think about this a lot when I write – how to put a place or a person on a page. Maude’s comment about feeling as though, after interviewing all these people, she “didn’t really return them their stories” really resonated with me. She “felt like some weird, voyeur spy” while interviewing people. I’ve felt this often: can I really claim ownership over this story?

The new challenge that Laramie brings to me is how to claim ownership over my characters onstage, when I only know them through their limited representations on a page.

Can we attempt to return to Laramie some of the “personality” Jedadiah says has been lost in the aftermath of Matthew Shepard’s murder? Can we explode the play?

Epilogue:

Moises Kaufman (who, thanks to Maude, we now know has a cool Venezuelan accent) used a Walt Whitman quote from Leaves of Grass in the Introduction to Laramie, so I thought it’d be fitting to add another from Whitman that also feels relevant to the play.

The quote Moises used:

“After all, not to create only, or found only,

But to bring, perhaps from afar, what is already founded,

To give it our own identity, average, limitless, free.”

My own:

“You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, not look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books;

You shall not look through my eyes either, not take things from me:

You shall listen to all sides, and filter them from yourself.”

2 thoughts on “Kimi and Laramie: A blog post in two acts

  1. Kimi–

    Wow. I love that you’ve written this as two acts and an epilogue! I’m intrigued to see what form your second post takes. : )

    I’m also intrigued by the different feelings you articulate about the rather solitary practice of writing and the very communal practice of rehearsal. You mention being able to keep the “messiness” of drafting and revision private when you write. In rehearsal that messiness is on display in a way that, if I read you right, seems disconcerting or maybe risky is a better word.

    You’ll forgive me if the past five years of teaching first-year writing here at Duke is on my mind as I think about the messy processes of revision and rehearsal. I would say the majority of my students over the years (and Ashley can jump in here since she had me for W20 a few years back!) resist the process of revision. And I mean true revision, starting over entirely, writing long sections that you don’t use in the final version, changing one element of an argument that then requires you change three other parts as well. It seems much easier to edit, to make small corrections (a word here, a sentence structure there) and stick, firmly, to what you were able to get down in the first moment.

    As a Virgo, I completely understand (and suffer myself) this impulse of immediate perfection. As a theater artist, it seems totally counterintuitive to the discovery process that rehearsal/revision offers. The freedom to play, to make outrageous choices that may not be the ultimate solution but having the safe space to try things … it’s terrifying but also exhilarating. Of course there is always the ultimate irony that all the play has to *lead* somewhere. It’s rare that you’re going to be allowed to go into opening night without at least some solid decisions made about your performance. That said, messy experimentation is necessary to make such solid decisions manifest. You can’t know the end before the journey.

    But, as in most (all?) scripted theater, you actually *do* know the end at the beginning. And I’m thinking here specifically about Act Two of your post. I think we are on our way to doing just that by virtue of what we have discovered about the piece (certainly in large part thanks to Maude) and the particular composition and approach we are taking to staging it. I’ll also ask you what I think I mentioned in my response to Spencer’s post, I’m still taking all suggestions for how we might “explode” the issues raised in (and erased from) the script to our audience. Do we take vignettes and perform them in various classes across campus, groups in Durham? Do we offer interactive pre- and post-show sessions or feedback opportunities? Do we make known the details that didn’t make it into the show? Would such an approach undermine the intent of the text and its creator(s)? What are (or should be) the limits of activist intervention in relationship to the script and its performance? Since you are a writer, I’d be particularly interested in your thoughts on that last question. How much do we re-write Laramie as we “explode” it?

    –Jules

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