The Laramie Challenge

Afftene Taylor

Warning: This blog is going to seem a little all over the place, but that is because it is coming from a real place. My heart does not express itself linearly. It skips around, trying to find where my mind is. For those of you who are confused after reading this, I apologize in advance.

Moment: Insecurity

The Laramie Project has challenged my acting in so many ways – the complex blocking, the active stillness, and the multiple characters – especially the multiple characters. Did I mention the multiple characters? It seems everyone else have gotten a grasp on exhibiting distinct personalities for each character. Some have even managed to get the Laramie twang down. While it should be encouraging for me, I can’t help but feel intimidated and unsettled. But like a freshman running from a dorm to the bus stop to grab a passing C-1, I feel left behind. My “southerness” is so much of who I am, and it is hard to get rid of it.  It is not intentionally like that, but when people continuously call me out for my regionalism, I can’t help but be hyper aware.  And for a perfectionist/control freak like me, being hyper aware becomes addictive and unavoidable. It turns into self-afflicted pressure. I feed off of it as much as it feeds off of me. However, when it feeds off of me, it takes much bigger chunks. Where I nibble, it devours. Where I chew, it gnaws.

In terms of The Laramie Project, I feel if I don’t master overcoming my natural accent, I do a disservice to all the characters that Jeff has bestowed upon me. However, in terms of life, I will feel like that I will be unable to call myself an actress. Or at least I will fall into the “one-note” category. I don’t want to be that kind of an actress. I want to be chameleonic in the most artistic way possible.  I keep telling myself that I am not a one-trick pony, but come April, we will indeed see if I am.

One of the things about my performance that has plagued me from Area Boy is how I did not adopt a Nigerian accent. As good as my performance may have been, I still feel like it wasn’t enough.  So not only am I carrying the insecurity of now, but also the diffidence of last semester. It’s frustrating for me because I enjoy The Laramie Project so much (especially in comparison to Area Boy). I want to make the audience feel the same way I felt when I read this for the first time back in September. When I was notified that I had landed a spot in both projects, I felt that I would struggle more in Area Boy than in Laramie. However, now that Area Boy is over and I am in the middle of Laramie, I am noticing that the element of playing multiple characters in short bits of time is not allowing me to deliver the way I would desire.

I don’t want to be good. I want to be great. Every time I grace a stage, I want to be better than the previous time. If I am not giving 100% every single time, then I will feel like I am damaging the text of the Laramie Project and to my cast mates who are working their asses off right now.  I know everyone is going to give a remarkable performance in April, and I just want to rise to the occasion that the entire Laramie cast has set.   I have never had to juggle so many characters in one piece, and it is getting to me. As we go through the blocking, I feel like that I am no longer an actress anymore. I am simply a factory of characters, spitting out the same product only to just move through the plot. I can’t get into my groove.

For someone who has only recently kinda-sorta-yet-wholeheartedly-but-not-really embraced my talent as an actress, sometimes I feel like I cannot/will not measure up – that this task is too big for what I am capable right now. I don’t want to be the weak link of the group. I don’t want to be the actress who gives the same damn performance each and every time for each and every character. I hate those actresses.  They are one-trick ponies. They are boring and predictable. If those adjectives don’t describe me as a person, then why do I feel like they could potentially describe me as an actress? Damn you Laramie for making me think introspectively about my life!

Now I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve heard it before.

(This is not to sound cocky)

Afftene, get over yourself. You’re great! You’re fantastic.

Jeff loves you. Everyone loves you.

Don’t worry about it.

But the compliments of others cannot drown out the insecurities in my mind.  My mind always wins. Always. And that bothers me, and it scares me.

Moment: Play The Function

My favorite performance from last night’s Angels in America (which I was not enthralled by, BTW, but that’s another blog) was from Julie Fishell. The way she embodied each character so easily was magnificent. I did not even realize it was the same performer until it was pointed out in the talkback during lunch. I watched her more closely in Perestroika and was honestly mesmerized. Since then, I’ve been thinking how I can incorporate the same levels of dynamics into my own performance.

During the talkback, she mentioned that the way she was able to do it was to just “play the function” of the character in that moment. Those three words have reverberated in my mind since they were spoken.

Play the function.

It seems easy, but like other affirming three-word-phrases like “just do it”, “believe in yourself”, “try something new”, and “I love you”, it’s really not all that easy.

It usually takes me about five minutes of playing a character onstage before I feel settled into that person. However, none of the scenes I am in last longer than three or four minutes maximum, hence, my problem.

So where does that leave me? I guess I’m going to have to quit whining, adopt a Wyoming accent, and find a quicker warm-up time.  I’m gonna do all of what I know how to do: the best that I can in the moments that I do have and tell the voices in my head to shut up and shove it.

–          Afftene Taylor

P.S.: If I seemed overdramatic at times, it can partly be blamed on the fact that I am listening to old-school slow R &B love songs right now, and it is making me feel really sentimental at the moment.

4 thoughts on “The Laramie Challenge

  1. Afftene! This is so so so real! I literally agree with every single thing you wrote – the insecurity, the difficulty of the multiple characters, THE ACCENT, the only recently thinking of myself as an actor, THE ACCENT, lol. And I also LOVED what Julie had to say on Saturday – the ‘play the function, find the motive’ has really stuck with me as well. I literally didn’t know she was a woman in the first scene of Millennium Approaches until Jeremy told me. She was that good.
    So, yeh basically I love this and you and am so excited a) that I’m not alone in feeling this way and b) that I’m working with you again!

  2. Afftene–

    This line in your post was SO evocative — “I am simply a factory of characters, spitting out the same product only to just move through the plot.” — I wonder if we might turn around the context from negative, perfunctory to positive, exciting. The idea that you are a whole machine of performance techniques. It’s been hard up to this point since a lot of the process has been walk here, walk there, say line, go to new spot. But you are a force with which to be reckoned and that’s got to be at the core of how you tackle the roles in this play. It seems as if Marge is the most comfortable for you. The person whose motivations and expressions seem easier for you to slip on. I wonder if you can look at her as the center ‘star’ in the constellation of other Laramie folks you embody. Is there a portfolio of behavior that is uniquely hers that you can use as a kind of check-list to see that your other characters do things that are different from her (in terms of body, voice, pace, etc.)?

    Maybe trying working from physicality to voice instead of center your first attentions on accent? So, consider the button-up coat, (3-piece suit?), perfect tie and shined shoes of the Baptist minister (now you might not wear all of these pieces in the show but what if you imagined having them on?). How does that dress constrain your body, make you hold your hands, set your stance? And from that posture, what is the sound that comes out? What is the pace at which you speak? How then do those choices help you change, modulate your accent?

    The more difficult characters are those “snapshot” characters, like Jeffrey Lockwood, who drop in and then disappear. So you have a variety of choices available to you. Lockwood, in real life, is an environmentalist, an etymologist, a creative writer. His lines, though brief, offer some important words in relationship to the rest of the play: “from somewhere else,” “distance,” “don’t grow children like that here.” So, for this character, do you build your “difference” in body and voice from the words? Can you play with some vocal exercises that try to make these very specific words as accent-neutral as possible and then work from there to the other words in the lines? And then from that kind of distinction that you’ve found in your voice think about what it might do to your physical stance. This kind of building process is related to, I think, what Julie suggested as “playing the function.” Identify the key words, ideas, objectives that your character wants and let those give you a plan of attack for the body and voice.

    These are just suggestions off the top of my head, knowing that post-break we’re going to be in the space and learning our way around the set. So it might be at least mid-week before we start tending to specific acting choices. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t start making your own choices, trying things out, seeing what works/feels right. Let Jeff know, let me know if there are specific questions you have or things you want to try that we can facilitate. Personally I can’t wait to see where your journey with this show takes you and take us as we watch you on stage.


  3. Hello Afftene,

    Thanks for sharing this post. Can I share a short story with you?

    I was in Laramie, Wyoming when Matthew Shepard died, and at the time I was a freshman in college. That was THE experience which first made me introspective, extremely self-aware and uncomfortable of who I was as a Westerner. I had always been proud of my regionalism, but hearing what the rest of the world thought of me through their preconceived notions of my region was extremely uncomfortable. Suddenly, I wasn’t just different– I was Other. It was a hard burden to carry at eighteen years of age.

    Then I moved to the South and I had another moment of being extremely self-aware and insecure of who I was as a Westerner. That thing was The Laramie Project. When people would, in your words, “call me out” for being from Laramie and make their understanding of the play the touch-point for how they related to me, “I can’t help but be hyper aware,” either. My frustration with that eventually spilled over to “The Laramie Project” itself. I’ve often shook my fist at this play and yelled, “Damn you Laramie for making me think introspectively about my life!”

    I can’t help but wonder, then, when I read your words, if maybe you’re selling yourself short when you approach TLP. Perhaps your regionalism– your common sense of self-awareness through a regionally-specific and sometimes-uncomfortable identity– might be your greatest asset. Sure, your experience isn’t the same as mine. That’s not even the point. You can empathize because you have that common point of contact. It all depends on who you play (Marge, for instance) and how you “play the function,” I would suppose, but I am no acting coach.

    All I know is is that, as a witness to the events driving this play, yours were the words that resonated with me in ways I’m not sure I can describe. Thank you for sharing that.


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