Forgetting Laramie

I think it’s pretty safe to say none of us knew what were getting ourselves into when we first auditioned for the Laramie project. What I find sort of interesting is that, I don’t think I’ve felt as close to the Aaron Kreifels monologue since the first time I read it at the audition, until two days ago.

It’s interesting how the more you work at something and the better you get at knowing the text, the further you can get from actually feeling it. After some point it almost felt like I was just reading lines off the script, except since we were off book, I was just reading lines off my head. I was starting to get somewhat frustrated at my inability to connect with the script but this past weekend something hit me. I have no idea how or why but when I was indulging my pre-sleep routine of putting on a random episode from a not so random show, I looked over and the Angels in America pamphlet caught my eye. I was going to leave this part out but I feel it adds a certain veracity to my recount – before any other thoughts transpired, I found myself mouthing the moment: Aingels in Americaw in the pseudo-British/Jamaican/South African fashion that Kimmi so often does. Anyway, for some reason I was reminded of that day where I spent seven hours at playmakers wondering how on earth they managed something like that and specifically, I remembered Matt Carlson’s (Prior) comment: “try to rediscover the words each and every night”.

Even then it struck me as an interesting point but I never really tried to understand with my heart what I already knew in my mind. So at Sunday’s rehearsal that’s exactly what I set out to do. Instead of listening to a story that I knew like the back of my hand, I listened to a story that I knew nothing about. I tried listening to Doc and Jedadiah and Romaine and even Aaron. At one point Jeff thought I dozed off when actually, I was trying to rediscover (clumsily no doubt) what it was that I did in the play – hence the flub. I heard my cue line but for some reason I raced to keep up with what my mind was processing, primarily because I was trying to un-process those same thoughts. Good thing that was a rehearsal.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think I’ve ever really pushed myself this hard at acting, and maybe at a lot of other things in my life. Acting in high school was always about playing a character; learning to be the character with a touch of the genuine. In trying to play all these characters in the Laramie project I have been forced to look at myself. To figure out the guy I haven’t figured out how to play for the last twenty-one years. I don’t know if that’s done yet but it has definitely come some distance these past few months.

With one day left to opening night this is an odd thing to say, but I’m going to try and fully unlearn The Laramie Project.

My only hope is that I rediscover it each and every night.

– Ashok Palaniappan

2 thoughts on “Forgetting Laramie

  1. Ash —

    What I can tell you is that the choice you made that Sunday — to listen as if everything was brand new — has changed your performance 10fold. You’ve always had a handle on “the lines” but telling the story, listening to others tell their part of the story and figuring out, when you entered the scene, where *your* specific character was in relationship to those other people and their stories, that was something that you’ve done with palpable difference in attention since dress rehearsals began. It has added a level of nuance to all of your characters, but particularly Aaron Kriefels and Steven Mead Johnson, that has been wonderful to see.

    The idea of “unlearning” so that each performance is “new” is the key to believable acting performance (whether that acting exists within a frame of realism or not). We (the audience) wait for you to speak, to reveal the world of Laramie to/for us because we don’t *know* it until you tell it. And so another new “spur” to your unlearning/learning process can be taking the audience in as they surround you (and, as you all surround them). You have a lot of observation time built in to the staging we’ve done. You all are seated and watch us come in. You all are collecting yourselves as performers but it’s also a time to survey your listeners. Do you notice a noisy, rambunctious bunch seated in the back row? Somber faced couples seated in the front? How are you going to create Laramie — a place they don’t know — new for them each night? Perhaps in thinking about that process, you also rediscover the text itself for *your*self.

    I think one of the lures of acting, as a profession, is because it promises (at its best) a process of *self*-discovery as much as it is a process of *character* creation/discovery. The utopian in me says that theater can help us be better people because it forces us to confront the idea that we “play” ourselves in everyday life. That doesn’t mean we aren’t “real” but that we are always under construction. And since we are always under construction it means we are capable of change and growth. In the rehearsal process, that change and growth is made manifest. You all have seen each other “find” your roles as you test/try out different line readings, uncovered research, engaged each other in dialogue. That’s one thing I like about the blog is that *that* part of theater making, the part that usually stays behind the curtain, is now visible to our visitors. Your work as actors and as people is made manifest in ways that circulate beyond the moment of performance in ways I hope continue to surprise and amaze you. The impact of that work on the audience will be evident in the theater each night.


  2. Ash, your attempt at night after night rediscovery is at the heart of what allows a performance like Laramie to continue to grow and reassert it’s immediacy every night it’s performed.

    You are doing a great job with Aaron. The sense that you rediscover the image ogf Matts body each night helps keep that very important trio at the end of act one alive for the audience.

    The play talks around what happened and who Matt was in that first act…but it is the eyewitness accounts by Aaron, Regi and Cantway that really wakes the audience up and sets up their anticipation of coming back for act two. What you in the trio saw makes the horror and violence of the act very real for the audience.

    I also think you are doing a great job with Stephen Mead Johnson. You have actively asserted your role as the moderator of the religious discussion. The punctuation of that scene (why you were brought to Laramie) says so much about his willingness to take on the spiritual crisis orbthe residence if Laramie.

    I am so happy you have risen to the challenge of this class and project. I have always believed in your ability to do that. Your audition surprised me, caught me off guard and my instinct was your voice in this project was unique and would enrich the experience for us all.

    You have ended up making a remarkable contribution.


    The three of you are working together now like a musical trio.

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