Laramie Love

It’s now the aftermath of the show, and I don’t know where I stand. I got caught up in this huge whirlwind of a show that grew into more than myself or any of the actors. We carried the burden/honor of Matthew Shepard’s story, sharing it with around eighty people a night for two weeks. Our hearts broke and we cried and hugged each other. We acted silly to shake of the heaviness of a story we have retold a dozen times. We simultaneously wanted it to be over and yearned for it never to end. But it has ended, and where are we now?

The cast has this incredible bond now. It’s almost alive between us, and when we pass each other on the quad or somehow meet up in groups, it reignites and my heart swells a little. But I, at least, am graduating soon. I will always care for the people here, the people I have come to love, but I have to leave them. I know I have to go off into the world, and that I can carry my little Laramie spark into new situations and share it with new people, but I fear I am not ready. Not in the way that I am scared of getting a job or filing taxes. Just that I am not ready to leave the people behind. I shared this sentiment on the night of our last class: I am ready to let The Laramie Project take off on its own like a firefly into the night, but the people I want to keep in a tight hold on. It’s silly to think that we could ever stay exactly the same as when we were spending many hours a night together performing and acting silly, but I will hold on to this nostalgia for a while. I guess I am changed. I am a little more open-minded and a lot closer with people I didn’t know well a few months ago.

I hope the audience is changed too, even if we were only able to plant the seeds of it. I think an audience member got it right when he told me, “We didn’t just see a show… that was an experience.” He puts words to something I had been thinking about for a while. ‘Show’ for me has certain connotations. It is entertainment at its core. An experience, however… now that can change people. I think we did. I just hope the effects are long lasting. But that is out of our hands now.

2 thoughts on “Laramie Love

  1. If you had the strength to share this experience, you will have the strength to share life. Every moment of it precious and every moment filled with possibility. What you discovered about yourself during this process will always be a part of you now. And whether you make theater or appreciate it and support it, you will come closer to knowing truth and beauty when you see it. You will recognize strength and courage when it appears. You will know more clearly when it is your responsibility to right a wrong. Thanks for being there from the beginning. Xo J

  2. I love your shift from “show,” which implies product-driven to “experience,” which under the best circumstances implies process-driven for artists and the audiences as they meet over a piece of work. Hmm. Now that phrasing, inspired by your writing, has me thinking about performance as a kind of sacrament. And I don’t mean to be blasphemous or just borrowing willy-nilly from religious traditions (in part of my defense I’ll fall back on the assertion that Greek plays were born out of religious festival practices!), but I do mean the idea of performance as a shared rite. One that comes with a similar desire for repetition or a way to hang on to the feeling of transformation that comes in the enactment. With religious practices it is easier to maintain (if one is regular and/or devout) because you return Sunday after Sunday (forgive me for falling back on my Catholic upbringing) to the same place and observe the practices which can refill/refuel you until the next time you are there to be sanctified.

    Theatre (at least in how it is practiced and circulated here and now) is more difficult to return to in the same way because, in a very real sense, the ritual is ever changing. We don’t do the same piece over and over again, we often don’t work with the same people, or establish the same kind of community except maybe in the moment of meeting the audience. And, even then, if you’re only doing a “show” is it right (or possible) to feel the same sense of communion or sacredness?

    In a post comment to another cast member, I mentioned the scholar Peggy Phelan who writes about the ephemeral character of performance. In recent work, however, she’s started to re-think her previous characterization of performance as loss in light of how an experience of performance is exchanged (like a small spark or flame as your writing seems to indicate) between those who create and those who witness it, AND, in the case of Laramie, the actors and crew were members of both, creators and witnesses. I have to believe that such a choice sutured your experience to the audiences’ in a distinct way.

    I love this line of Phelan’s from a 2009 article: “Voice leaves the body so that it might arrive in us.” I’m borrowing that a little bit out of context because it helps me notice how much more than “loss” can be said about the experience of performance. Instead of concentrating on the temporal moment that has (and will, for all plays) passed, we can think about who we have met in the process of performing (cast, crew, audiences, communities) and how we (specifically you performers) are now a part of them and of each other. How long they will keep us? How long will we remember this experience in this way? Who knows? As you say, it’s out of our hands. But we are forever changed. And without you in that mix (having known you from “way back”!), I can say that it would not have been nearly the same kind of rich journey as it was.

    Much success and full-throttle happiness to you in the near and far future.


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