Creativity at its Best

Naomi Riemer

Laramie makes me think.  The process, the script, the individuals I am privileged to be working with.  It all makes me think.  I left our session with Maude Mitchell last week and couldn’t get over how much my mind was blown.  My brain was moving so fast, interpreting our questions, her answers, doubting her, and doubting myself for doubting her.  I simply couldn’t keep up with all of my thoughts.

The more time I spend on this piece and the more time I spend with my cast mates and design team, the more I come to appreciate this fast paced artistic brain movement.  I haven’t been in a play in two and a half years, haven’t been truly artistic and theatrical and expressive at all in my time at Duke and it is so exciting to add this kind of intellectual stimulation to my Duke experience.  Jeff’s emphasis on making this production of Laramie inherently “ours” has caused the process to be about more than an incident or a play.  It has also become an opportunity for me to challenge what I think about this school, its culture, and my growth and learning at this institution.

There are a couple of stand out experiences and interactions that I want to highlight and reflect on because I think they are testaments to the high level of creative thinking and discovery that is going on during this process.  The first is an “aha” moment that I was unfortunately not witness to but have heard quite a lot about.  Julian, in his individual rehearsal with Jeff and Jules, made a tremendous breakthrough with the first character he plays in the show, Sergeant Hing.  Instead of allowing Sergeant Hing to be a passive character, reflecting on his town, Jeff encouraged Julian to up the stakes and choose to answer the heated question “How could you possibly live in a place like this?” instead of a passive question “What’s it like living in Laramie?”  This breakthrough has become the prototype that we are all striving for with each and every one of our characters.  Asking the right question seems to be the key to unlocking these people that we so desperately want to get to know and represent and eventually share with an audience.

The second is Spencer’s question from our session with Maude.  He asked her if she would mind taking the copy of the script and looking through it, reacting honestly to the experience of holding it in her hands and reading the words after so many years away from the project.  His question, or request rather, was different and imaginative and added a wonderful sense of theatricality to our session.  Maude had said that she hated “table work” and much preferred to figure out her characters by actively doing.  Spencer’s question allowed her to share with us in that active avenue that she artistically prefers, by showing us instead of just telling us how she feels about her involvement with Moises and The Laramie Project.

Our trip to Angels in America yesterday was particularly exciting to me because it provided the cast with an opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level.  Since one of the characters that we take on in this play is going to be a version of ourselves, a Duke student of some sort, I took the marathon show, car-rides, intermissions, and dinner breaks as opportunities for a special kind of character work and cast bonding.  I discussed Duke-Durham relations with Summer and talked about learning Chinese with Andy.  Jacob and I whispered throughout Perestroika about how much we wanted to own each and every piece of Belize’s wardrobe.  And Kimi, Spencer, Jeremy and I rocked out to top 40 songs on the ride back to campus, critiquing the use of auto-tune and the need for more uplifting songs like “Just the Way You Are” on the radio.  I appreciate each and every one of these interactions and growing friendships and am looking forward to getting to know The Laramie Project characters and team members further as the process continues.

One thought on “Creativity at its Best

  1. Naomi–

    I’m glad our fieldtrip to PlayMakers offered you another opportunity to get to know and enjoy the company of your fellow cast members. That was certainly part of our plan in arranging it and having it fall at a particular time in our course/rehearsal work. I had no idea how wonderfully serendipitous it would be, especially with the entire Angels cast coming in to chat with us during the dinner break. I had asked but was told that since the run was so grueling they may or may not feel up to doing it; what a treat that they felt able to make it happen. It seemed particularly profound coming on the heels of our really revelatory session with Maude. And, I agree that Spencer’s boldness really transformed that discussion from an insightful, intellectual exercise to something immediate and raw. I felt, for just a moment, as if we were transported somewhere with her. Like looking over someone’s shoulder as they flip through a family picture album. It brought home to me, yet again, the intimate process of making documentary performance, especially, if you are a part of the collection process. As much as we learned that what we see/hear of the TTP characters may or may not be “the truth,” Maude’s own reaction demonstrated the visceral impact the project made on its participants. It’s no wonder that some of that power is transferred to those of us who take up the project second-hand.

    I’m curious how you (and others) are formulating your interviewer questions. Since the last couple of weeks have been spend doing what Jeff calls “marching band blocking,” we’ve not had much time to stop and consider individual moments as they unfold in dialogue either literal on-stage scenes or in response to these imagined proffered questions by an interviewer. I’m hoping we get some more time to explore these in the coming weeks.

    You and Afftene actually get to have an on-stage “scene,” with people talking around a table! That’s gotta feel like a relief/release. You two also come back “together” but as two different folks: Amanda Gronich and the Baptist Minister. And it’s a conversation but over the telephone, so ostensibly you cannot *see* each other and can only react to tone of voice when in actuality you are right across the stage space, facing each other, and not (?) using telephone receivers.

    Speaking of the play “making you think,” I’ve been thinking about Amanda’s approach to the phone etiquette with the minister and his wife. When “The Word” moment is introduced it is prefaced by Amanda saying “This is what I remember of his sermon that morning.” So she was witness to the service and it is through her that we learn not only the sermon content but also the follow-up with this character. It’s interesting that in terms of the chronological timeline, this exchange with the minister must have happened early in the company’s first visit to Laramie but the two phone calls are separated by the break between acts 1 and 2, and right before the medical update that announces Matthew has died. I wonder the balance she/you strike between polite coaxing of an interview and possible sadness, even horror, she might feel at the minister’s ultimate repudiation of Matt, even in death if he did not repent his “lifestyle.” I think predetermining that as someone from an urban setting, probably not an evangelical Christian herself, Amanda is poised to dislike or dismiss the minister is too easy, too stereotypical (and certainly, that’s not anything that you’re doing). I’m struck by her exchange with him about how he “welcomed” her “at the beginning” of the service. Is this done as a reminder that by virtue of his sermon he is already “involved” in the emerging narrative about the case? A way to show her willingness to listen? And, depending on that exchange, how surprised, saddened, angered is she to hear his assessment of Matthew’s death? Just some more questions to toss around the ole noggin’! : )

    — Jules

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