Growing up, I was not exposed to much theater. I saw plays and musicals as merely entertainment, an escapism where an audience could put its own feelings on hold for a few hours and delve into the life of someone they would not normally be exposed to. Chalk it up to present-day Hollywood, perhaps. Theater seemed to be simply a live version of a summer blockbuster I would rent. It was not until I attended the Duke in London summer program that I finally went to a piece of theater that really existed to make its audience think. It tackled euthanasia, death, and rape in a very head on kind of way. It really took me off guard, and at first I was sure that I did not like the play, that the director had created a show purely to be controversial. A few hours later though, I was still thinking about it. A day passed, and I could still not get this play out of my head. Without warning, I realized I enjoyed the experience. It was not the same experience that I was used to and comfortable with, but through the play the director was able to speak to me and raise controversial and thought provoking questions in my mind.
Jump forward several years, and I am in a production of The Laramie Project. During table work, we talked a lot about Brecht. Like Cameron, I have always learned about acting from a more Stanislavsky point of view. I thought I understood the concept of Brechtian theater, but wasn’t really comfortable incorporating it into my own acting. It wasn’t until a visit by Maude Mitchell, who was part of the original group who traveled to Laramie, Wyoming, that “doubting” the piece and acting as a vessel really started to make sense for me.
Maude made me think more about the motivations and opinions of the people in the play. Laramie is an easy piece to think about in this manner, simply because the people are real. They are Tectonic Theatre Project Company members, Laramie residents, and students. They all went into the interviews with not only a story, but a mentality, an approach. Some of them went in with open minds and plenty of stories to tell, sure. But others were more wary of the theater troop, others probably didn’t want to share their stories. Maybe they had things to hide, or they were just unsure of what the Tectonics members wanted to do with the stories. Perhaps they wanted to spin the theater piece to their own ends; make the crime seem based more on hate, class, or drugs than it actually was.
This especially helped me think about the character and person of Rebecca Hilliker, the theater director at the university. Casting doubt on her motivations helped me work through her monologue. I am merely presenting the words of a real person portraying a version of the Matthew Shepard story. But in order to make her character seem real, I had to analyze how she might have felt working with the theater company. Was she happy that they were interested in Laramie? Was she a little wary giving them contacts? I came to realize that she is a very important player in the show. Rebecca is the link to Laramie, she is the one who allows the Tectonic group in and tells them people of interest to interview. It was only through doubting the text, doubting that the words on the page were the whole and exact truth, that I was able to really think about who Rebecca might have been and get more of a grasp on the character that I will portray on stage.