My little vial of Laramie earth sits on a bookshelf in my bedroom near family photographs and the place where we recharge our cell and smartphones. I put it there to guarantee I would look at it morning and night. I’m still so touched by Jackrabbit’s gesture to give us all “pieces” of Laramie. Spencer has blogged about how interactions with Jackrabbit allowed him to take Jeff’s admonishment to “own the play” as a license to really consider himself a part of the place of Laramie not just the Tectonic “piece” about/of that place. On her blog, Jackrabbit went into detail about the origins of the matter she/he brought us. I’ll just quote a snippet or two here:
I never got a chance to explain to everybody about the little pieces of Laramie’s collective memory I gave you after the performance. As you know, Matt passed away in the Sherman Hills subdivision** in a barely developed area that, back then, was still full of prairie smells and and wind, the marks of its still-lingering isolation from the community. That area of Laramie’s eastern edge is named for the Sherman Range, a geologic upthrust which pushes out coral-colored mountains out of the living earth. Sherman Hills sits right at the base of their western edge, and the Sherman Granite peeks out of the earth not too far after.
Sherman granite has a remarkable story. This rose-colored stone was first created deep in the geologic furnace 1.4 billion years ago, but about 70 million years ago, the upthrust which created the Laramie range forced the granite back into the sunlight. It is a brilliant pink from its high iron and feldspar content, highly crystalline, full of quartz, and it sparkles. The crushed granite on the shoulders of I-80 glitter in the early morning sunlight.
One would think that an igneous rock made by fire and cooled in the living earth would be impervious, but Sherman granite is more vulnerable than one would think. Over those millions of years, that granite has weathered under the winter’s freezing melt, cracking it into blocks and eating its surface. The oldest and smallest boulders, isolated from the living rock, crack easily; sometimes their surface comes apart under the push of a strong finger.
** In my research about Sherman Hills I found that the development was under construction when Matt was left there for dead. In a 1998 article for The Village Voice, reporter Guy Trebay describes the Sherman Hills and the surrounding area like this:
And, while it is true that the “remote” buck fence where he was strung up stands back from a dirt road, the route itself runs through the enclave of Sherman Hills Estates, whose stone gates give on to some of the costliest real estate (houses from $145,000 to $415,000) in a small city where the median household income is $26,559. Set just a mile from the local Wal Mart are fake adobes and neo-Tudors and outsized bastard ranches clustered on streets with names commemorating the landscape they’ve supplanted. This being snow country, the houses are situated close to each other and also to all kinds of vehicular access. There is, in other words, no part of Snowy Mountain Range Road where one loses sight of pseudo-mansions elevated to capitalize on the high-plains panoramas. There is no pseudo-mansion without its commanding view. Yet it is here that Shepard’s body somehow hung in the cold unnoticed for fully 18 hours until two bicyclists “happened” along. He kept disappearing.
Perhaps it is only fitting that, like Matthew’s body, the fence itself has disappeared. In an op-ed for the San Francisco Gate in 2007, Moises Kaufman claims that mere months after Matthew’s death the property owners “dismantled” the fence dismayed by the amount of reporters and others interested in making pilgrimages to the site. In his words, “This action didn’t make the papers; no television network broadcast it. Just like that, the fence was dismantled, the site was erased.” The upshot of Kaufman’s writing is first to subtly imply that since 2000 The Laramie Project has served as a kind of traveling memorial and secondly to press the Bush administration to make a “lasting” monument to Matthew’s death (one that presumably would survive even if the play fell out of favor) by signing the Hate Crimes Protection Act (something that wasn’t done until 2009 under Obama’s administration).
Jackrabbit has blogged about visiting Sherman Hills in 2009, obeying the “No Trespassing” sign that now hangs on the property where Matthew’s body was found. Considering her description of the granite in the area as vulnerable, seemingly solid (it’s a rock, after all!) but worn down by environmental factors and considering the recent news of Marge Murray’s passing, I’m thinking about the fragility of documentary, bodies, memories, and memorials. Much has been made about the ephemeral nature of performance. Once the production is over, the show is gone. Even if preserved in a recording, the embodied exchanges among performers and between performers and audience is only ever retained second-hand. And yet, this is a second-hand relation that we’ve been confronting ever since the beginning of our rehearsal process. We have always ever been trying to connect to people we have never met, places we have never been. And yet, each time I touch my vial of earth I am, for just a moment, transported back to Sheafer and now connected to the Laramie in ways only possible through the vehicle of theater. The granite is a material metonym for our DukeinLaramie project: firm yet fragile, secure yet vulnerable, an indication of survival while simultaneously carrying the marks of erosion, of fading away.