Conjouring Laramie

We moved into the theater this week and spent rehearsals getting a feel for our stage space and adding the 100+ costume pieces and small props that will allow a cast of 13 to transform into and out of 60+ characters. Needless to say, much of our time has been consumed with what piece of costume goes where, how an actor moves from one point on or off stage to another, what tweaks and changes are required in established blocking.

However, as we near the end of this chaos, we approach a time when moving in gives way to settling in. Taking time to give voice and body to these characters and their stories will become our priority enhanced ten-fold by the well-selected and engaged costume, props, and scenery. In the spirit of making that shift from learning a theater space to transforming that space and ourselves into the mise-en-scene of Laramie, I thought it might be useful to have a post that reminds us of the Laramie landscape, the landmarks that ground and sustain the characters we meet.

These images below come courtesy of the “Laramie & Surrounding” Flickr feed (photos taken over 2009-2010) maintained by our friend at Jackrabbit Goes Down the Rabbit Hole: Fear, Loathing, and “The Laramie Project.” FYI, Jackrabbit had some nice things to say when he/she gave our blog a shout out last week. Considering the extensive effort she/he has taken to explore her own complicated relationship with the play, it’s a real honor that he/she thinks we’re being particularly thoughtful in our approach and conversation surrounding the production.

SGT. HING: And I’m thinking, “Lady, you’re just missing the point.” You know, all you got to do is turn around, see the mountains, smell the air, listen to the birds, just take in what’s around you (9).

REBECCA HILLIKER: I found that people here were nicer than in the Midwest, where I used to teach, because they were happy. They were glad the sun was shining. And it shines a lot here (6).

JEDADIAH: Now, after Matthew, I would say that Laramie is a town defined by an accident, a crime. We’ve become Waco, we’ve become Jasper. We’re a noun, a definition, a sign.(9).

Jackrabbit's version of Laramie's cover.

BARBARA PITTS: But as we drove into the down town area by the railroad tracks, the buildings still look like a turn-of-the-century western town. Oh, and as we passed the University Inn, on the sign where amenities such as heated pool or cable TV are usually touted, it said: HATE IS NOT A LARAMIE VALUE (14).

Downtown Laramie

ALISON MEARS: Oh, not just ranching, this was a big railroad town at one time. Before they moved everything to Cheyenne and Green River and Omaha. So now, well, it’s just a drive-through spot for the railroad–[…] (15).

DOC: I like the trains, too. They don’t bother me. Well, some of the times they bother me, but most times they don’t. Even though one goes by every thirteen minutes out where I live … […] They used to carry cattle … them trains. Now all they carry is diapers and cars (8).

Train headed from Bossler, WY to Laramie.

NARRATOR: Doc actually lives up in Bosler. But everybody in Laramie knows him. He’s also not really a doctor (8).

EILEEN ENGEN: If you don’t take care of the land, then you ruin it and you lose your living. So you first of all have to take care of your land and do everything you can to improve it (7).

Bossler, WY wintertime.

DOC: The fact is … Laramie doesn’t have any gay bars … and for that matter neither does Wyoming … so he was hiring me to take him to Fort Collins, Colorado, about an hour away.

Roadside sign on the road from Laramie to Fort Collins.

MATT MICKELSON: We had karaoke that night, twenty or thirty people here–Matthew Shepard came in, sitting right–right where you’re sitting, just handing out …

Downtown Laramie at night. Note the now-closed Fireside sign near the far right side of the picture.

SHADOW: So when they took off, I seen it, when they took off it was in a black truck, it was a small truck, and the three of them sat in the front seat and Matt sat in the middle. And I didn’t think nothin’ of it, you know. I didn’t figure them guys was gonna be like that.

STEPHEN MEAD JOHNSON: Clearly that’s a powerful personal experience to go out there. It is so stark and so empty and you can’t help but think of Matthew out there for eighteen hours in nearly freezing temperatures, with that view up there isolated, and, the “God, my God, why have your forsaken me” comes to mind (34).

ALISON MEARS: Wyoming is bad in terms of jobs. I mean, the university has the big high whoop-de-do jobs. But Wyoming, unless you’re a professional, well, the bulk of the people are working minimum-wage jobs (16).

University of Wyoming, School of Architecture

U of WY "Old Main" student building.

U of WY Dick Cheney Plaza. Yes, that Dick Cheney.

U of WY Alumni House.

U of WY Simpson Plaza

REBECCA HILLIKER: I think that’s the focus the university has taken–is that we have a lot of work to do. That we have an obligation to find ways to reach our students. …

Foyer of U of WY Fine Arts Building.

FATHER ROGER SCHMIT: Matthew Shepard has served us well. You realize that? He has served us well. And I do not mean to condemn Matthew to perfection, but I cannot mention anyone who has done more for this community than Matthew Shepard (65).

U of WY's Newman Center (Father Roger's parish).

U of WY campus -- Matthew Shepard Memorial Bench.

MATT GALLOWAY: The day of the funeral, it was snowing so bad, big huge wet snowflakes. And when I got there, there were thousands of people in just black, with umbrellas everywhere. And there were two churches–one for immediate family, uh, invited guests, people of that nature, and then one church for everybody else who wanted to be there. And then, still, hundreds of people outside that couldn’t fit into either of the churches (75).

St. Mark's Episcopal Church.

DOUG LAWS: There is a proclamation that come out on the family. A family is defined as one woman and one man and children. That’s a family. That’s about as clear as you can state it. There’s no sexual deviation in the Mormon Church. No–no leniancy. We just think it’s out of bounds (25).

LDS church in upscale Laramie neighborhood.

APRIL SILVA: I grew up in Cody, Wyoming. Laramie is better than where I grew up. I’ll give it that.

Outside Cody, WY.

DENNIS SHEPARD: [Matt] actually died on the outskirts of Laramie, tied to a fence. You, Mr. McKinney, with your friend Mr. Henderson left him out there by himself but he wasn’t alone. There were his lifelong friends with him. […] First he had the beautiful night sky and the same stars and moon that we used to see through a telescope. Then he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him. And through it all he was breathing in the scent of pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind, the ever-present Wyoming wind, for the last time (95).

FATHER ROGER: Just deal with what is true. You know what is true. You need to do your best to say it correct (66).

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