Now, you take care. I love you honey.

I am about to graduate. Wow.

It’s been a little over a week since The Laramie Project closed. I had the staged reading of Dead White Men, my senior distinction project, the weekend after Laramie closed so now I am done with theater at Duke. It’s been a wonderful ride and now it’s over. It feels a lot like the last moment (“Moment: Departure”) of Laramie. Saying “Goodbye”  after you’ve been at a place for a long time is hard, really hard. But Laramie was a nice show to end things with. It reaffirmed for me why I love theater—because it is important as well as powerful—and served to further confuse me about what I want to do with my life…because I love the stage, I really do. I have two majors at Duke: theater studies and political science. I always felt like the later was my “primary” major, the one that was more serious and “academic.” Theater was something that rejuvenated me, but it wasn’t something one could do after college…or is it? For a long time, it was clear to me what direction I would be heading in. I wanted to do something “important” and it was clear to me what major was the right one for that goal. But I’m not sure anymore. Maybe if I want to do something  “important,” theater is the perfect medium for me to do it in. Maybe, I don’t know. It’s weird man, it’s so weird.

Our production of The Laramie Project was powerful and I am proud to have been a part of it. We moved people and each other in ways I did not anticipate. We created a community for ourselves as well as one on stage that has had deeper ramifications than I could have initially imagined. I must confess that for many months I found the text to be tiresome. I still do to an extent. I think Kaufman crafted  a safe text. One that avoided important issues like love and sex. Rather than rejecting the “live and let live” mantra, Kaufman merely polishes it and give it a more sophisticated coat of paint. Matthew Shepard is just a name in the script. He is an abstraction, he does not seem real. This I think makes the play a weaker piece, but one that is easier in some ways to digest and perform. That said, the run of the show gave me a new perspective on the play that has allowed me to appreciate it much more than I had prior to the arrival of the audience. The inclusion of the audience in our production transformed what I think is a deeply-flawed script into a rich conversation that enveloped the spectator completely. Being able to see the audience react to moments in the play reminded me of the emotional power those moments had on me when I first heard them and renewed a sense of urgency for me in my performance.

It has been a great honor to be part of The Laramie Project with this incredible cast and crew. Jeff and Jules, you are both so amazing. I am so grateful to have gotten a chance to work with you both before I leave Duke. I am going to stop before I get emotional (I have been told that that would be out of character by some) and simply say “Now, you take care. I love you honey.”

-Ben Bergmann

2 thoughts on “Now, you take care. I love you honey.

  1. This much I know: Whatever you do it will be important and it will make a difference.
    You are talented as an actor and a playwright, but most important you have a talent for people.I am so pleased to get to work with you on this project. The entire time you’ve been at Duke, I’ve know you were a special talent. But I never really got my chance to work with you until now. Thank you for taking this project on. There is nothing “loose” about you buddy and I hope we continue to stay in touch. There are just a few students who you want to continue to be a part of your life somehow, beyond their graduation. You are one of them for me. I guess we’ll always have facebook.
    I wish you all the very best in whatever you choose to do. May you find the happiness and share the love you deserve.

    xo- Jeffrey

  2. Ben —

    There’s a PhD program run out of the University of Texas (my MFA alma mater) called “Performance as Public Practice” (description here: Now it was a new program created when Jill Dolan (now at Princeton) took over the PhD in Theater History from Oscar Brockett. And I cannot say for certain how, in practice (hmm), it holds with the lofty ideals of his mission statement (I know students who have been very happy with their study and outlook for careers after and some who haven’t been so happy). Overall, however, I think it’s a wonderful model that insists that the rigorous practice of performance should be simultaneously creative, intellectual and political. That doesn’t necessarily mean that performance work should all look the same, or should all be “activist” (though I don’t mean that as a bad word) in orientation and construction, or should eschew entertainment, but it argues that performance is a mode of engaging the world around us not just the object produced at the end of a rehearsal period.

    I think your senior thesis is a great example of a performance-approach to political history. What becomes a more difficult balance in such an approach is how to balance the tensions that exists among disciplines. Can you be taken seriously as a historian if you tell the story of politics in a way that invokes theatrical techniques? Can a data-driven social science field like political science consume a play about politics in ways that have similarly tangible outcomes or would a “play” just be seen as a decoration or illustration of a complex problem and not necessarily transformative of political science methodologies themselves? *My* answer would be that these are questions focused on the *outcome* (a play) not necessarily questions that look at HOW one might go about approaching study, data collection, and action *through the lens of performance* from the get-go and, in doing that, would uncover (in the form and content of the final piece) how the performance of politics in the transition times from 17th to 18th century illuminates structures of negotiation, representation, ethics, and statehood that continue (in various forms and strands) today.

    I’m not sure if I lost my train of thought there, but I’m ultimately saying that whether or not you pursue making “theater” in the near or far future, you have gained in your time at Duke, a performance way of looking at the world that WILL influence how you engage any number of discourses and disciplines that your work-life will require. And that’s not just being the quick-witted guy who can do a spot-on imitation of those around him (though your abilities there are undeniable), it will be as someone who understands the vast fields of representation and the risks, rewards, and requirements of engaging those fields for the public good. You’ll also know what kinds of compromises (like Kaufman) of representational work you feel are necessary, acceptable, negotiable, or non-negotiable. As one who has often felt herself as the lone dissenter about aspects of the script, I was very happy to hear you voice your own critiques about the piece’s flaws. In having to make counter-arguments to you (and others) about those flaws, I was able to see and navigate my own troubles in a way that I *think* made all the choices *we* made rooted in intellectually and artistically strong stuff.

    I’m so happy I got a chance to work with you at Duke. I hope to have a chance to engage more of your good work beyond this time and place and not *just* on Facebook (though, like Jeff, I’ll happily take that as an interim step). : )


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