Moment: Aftermath

People keep asking me how I’m feeling now that Laramie is over. I was expecting to feel somewhat liberated, what with several hours of each day suddenly cleared and available. I had been excited to get back to “real life,” nebulously defined as a life in which I could sit down to eat dinner and hang out with friends in the evening and start homework before 11. But since the show closed (and I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that it hasn’t even been a week since it closed — it feels like an eternity), I’ve felt…lost. I miss seeing the cast and crew everyday. I miss that sense of pre-performance anticipation. I miss feeling like I’m working towards something concrete and important. I miss feeling like I’m helping to tell a meaningful story, a story that needs to be told, a story that will lead audiences to engage in a process of critical reflection.

I mentioned during our last class, when we all went around and talked about what we’ve gotten out of this experience, that this semester has easily been my happiest at Duke. There are a number of factors that have contributed to this, but a large part is due to the thoroughness of our process of creative collaboration. The show bled over into my academic, extracurricular, and personal life over the past few months, and the merging of all three realms is such an incredibly rare thing to find on this campus, or in any creative forum. I think we all felt like we were doing something important here. We were all so invested in the success of the final production that each and every person involved was intensely motivated and excited about the prospect of what this show could be like and what it could do. We enjoyed being with each other. We came to love this community and this process and these stories. Rehearsal was something I looked forward to every day — coming together, watching my performance grow stronger, watching my fellow actors improve and grow more confident, watching the people of the town and the Tectonic members begin to interact and react and engage in a moving dialogue.

I’ve had people come up to me on campus and tell me repeatedly that they so enjoyed the show and they so enjoyed my work. I’ve done a number of plays here before, and having students I don’t know approach me to comment on my performance is something that has rarely happened. I’m not saying that recognition is the ultimate marker of success, because I think I would have been proud of the work we did as a company and a class even if no one had come to the see show. But the fact that we generated such buzz, the fact that we were having to turn people away from performances at a school known at times for its subjugation of the arts, the fact that people who saw our work were moved by it and touched by it and thought about it and wanted to comment on it, the fact that the whole department had our backs behind this production — all of these things bolster my faith in the future of the arts programs at this university. I want to repeat this experience again in some way. Like Ben, I’m coming away from this experience resigned to the fact that I want to continue performing in some capacity. My passion is telling stories, the stories based in reality that need to be told, those that speak to a larger truth about humanity. And I don’t think theater needs to be “activist” in form — and I would hesitate to even call this work an activist play — but I think good theater should aspire to lead to a process of reflection. It should start a conversation. I think our production did that, more than any other work I’ve been a part of before. I want to do that kind of work again. This process has inspired me. I’m so grateful for that.

-emma miller

2 thoughts on “Moment: Aftermath

  1. Not sure who this is. But I am so happy it’s been a good experience for you. The art form has power. It’s all in what you do with it. Next season at Manbites we are considering Middletown by Will Eno. It is a very “Our Town” for the 21st century. Actors play multiple roles. And Edith can shoot and hit things. Focused on children left to grow up as latch key kids. Both are stories I’d like to tell. So may be directing them both. Whoever you are, thanks for making Laramie an unforgettable experience for me. Each and everyone of you have done something great. J

  2. I too find myself a bit bereft with what to do with myself now that rehearsals and performance are over and I had less night-to-night work to do than all of you! I find the blog (not surprisingly perhaps!) gives me a way to continue to mine the experience, still think of the production as “in process” even though we aren’t in the active process of staging/performance.

    There’s a Performance Studies scholar, brilliant, named Peggy Phelan who wrote a famous book detailing how performance is ephemeral. Without getting into too much detail (her book is called *Unmarked*) though she spoke a lot about death and performance as a kind of memorializing gesture, she didn’t talk with many practitioners (not surprisingly since her interest was more in the theoretical conceptions of performance) about the process of loss experienced at the end of a run. Not to make this a morbid exercise but I think there is a real emotional reason behind calling the meetings after a show “post-mortems”. That term can smack of a kind of CSI dissection, looking for ’causes of death’, presuming the making the show was a kind of violent act. Now certainly there’s the inference that we want to be circumspect about what we did–why it worked or why it didn’t, how to do our craft better, how to capitalize on positive elements for future work–but I think there’s a need to mark or, as Zubaida says, “to mourn this.” That said, I want to know how to mourn without being melancholy?

    I’m so glad you felt that the campus community tapped into the energy we were generating in making and performing the show in a way that was new. That certainly was one of my goals as the dramaturg — how to turn the campus conversation to/on Laramie — and I want that same attention, that same feeling of community building and ownership whether we do a documentary play or not. How do we continue to push the arts, particularly theatre, to the center of what’s happening at Duke? And I’m really asking because I think I happened on some good strategies for Laramie but they aren’t necessarily going to be right or good for work in the future. So I’d love to hear from you all about what you think might work (or not).

    I’m intrigued by your phrasing, “I’m coming away from this experience *resigned* (my emphasis) to the fact that I want to continue performing in some capacity.” Had you made up your mind that a life as an actor was not for you? I’ll be interested to hear how your internship this summer dovetails with your current feelings about documentary, Laramie and how you see yourself closing out your time at Duke next year in terms of your majors and interests. I’d like to think you can find a fulfilling way to balance your tremendous skills as a performer with your equally tremendous skills as a maker-or and thinker-about performance.


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