Funneling System


After a long and VERY successful run of the show, I’ve had time to realize what I’ll miss most about running The Laramie Project. This experience for me has been unique. I’ve never had to sit through a full show in the dark, on a headset, listening to actors in one ear and to the stage manager in the other. It’s a strange feeling. In effect, one has to create a funneling system, where the cues come from the actors on stage, but the “GO” comes from the stage manager on the catwalk nearby. On the one hand, you want to listen to the actors and to get engrossed in the story, but on the other is Don telling me to “Stand-by light cues 4 through 15.” There were times when it felt as though Don, Alex, and I had developed a techie hive-mind. Before Don could even fully call “GO,” Alex and I would spring into action, and as soon as the lights came up the actors would activate on stage. One gets a strange feeling of omnipotence in the tech booth above the stage. At times it felt as though my button click was what prompted the actors into action.

The other aspect that’s unique to being in the tech booth is the ability to watch the audience without their knowledge. As the run progressed, Alex and I both stopped focusing on the actors, and turned our attention to the audience instead. Our favorites were moms. Moms, as well as dads, were the ones that really, truly took to heart the responsibility we imparted on them as audience members. They seemed to always be the ones most “actively” witnessing the events of the story. Watching their reactions each night was incredibly inspiring, but also heartbreaking at the same time. Just as the actors on stage were invoking the people that were connected to the crime, the audience members, without knowing it, were invoking all the people affected by the brutal beating. Seeing their reactions immediately brought to mind Judy and Dennis Shepard, Marge Murray, Phil Dubois, Cathy Connolly, Rulon Stacey and all the other parents of Laramie that had to reevaluate their relationships with their children in light of such a heinous crime. For me, the story of Laramie became even more apparent in the faces of the audience members than it did in the hands of the actors. The actors were doing their jobs by including the audience in the witnessing, which made my experience of Laramie that much richer–again, a funneling system.

The strongest reaction came from our friend Jackrabbit, who took the time to drive all the way to Durham to see our production. From her previous posts, it seems that the media cacophony scene usually strikes her the hardest, but during our show she seemed to handle it ok. The really intense moment for her came during the Fred Phelps scene. As the protestors filed in with their “God hates fags” signs, Jackrabbit looked like she had a physical gag reflex and had to turn away for the rest of the scene until the angels walked in. She tried to look, but every time she peeked, I could see her recoil in disgust with a gasp of nausea. It was at this moment, that I realized how incredibly complacent I had gotten about the scene. Having seen it 7 or so times in a row, it lost its power for me. But seeing Jackrabbit’s reaction immediately brought back to mind all the video clips we watched of Fred Phelps and the fact that I had the exact same reaction seeing it for the first time. Thanks to Jackrabbit, I got to experience that piece of theater in its full effect once again, reminding me that the rest of the play was just as new and shocking to most audience members. I am very thankful to Jackrabbit for reminding me that we, at all costs, cannot get complacent about the story this play represents. Even though having heard it again and again it might get trite to us, it really isn’t something that we can drop just yet. It’s something that effects us today and it’s something that we HAVE to keep telling and retelling to people that haven’t heard it. We have to funnel it out.

2 thoughts on “Funneling System

  1. Jenny–

    It’s amazing to me that for a three-act play that ran 2hours and 30mins. there’s absolutely no “fat” in this text. I say that because I think that between all the class members and production team there’s not a line that we don’t quote with resonance back to the text as a whole and our experience with it. You’ve so beautifully repurposed Matt G’s line in this post — how it relates to your experience in the booth …

    ::interrupting myself:: and can I just say *again* how f-ing smoothly this thing ran? There were so many things that could have gone south, so many cues that had to sync with actor movement precisely and yet be responsive to small changes in actors’ dynamics night to night and everyone in the booth and backstage was as present and engaged as the actors *and* I think that synergy was palpable to the audience.

    OK. I’m back. And then the funneling that happened between the show as a whole and the audience. Your reading of Jackrabbit’s viewing is so powerful and seen from a perspective no one else had. And you’re spot on about the very immediate response for audience members the show conjures. Every play has that potential to shock, awe, anger, sadden but the documentary detail gives Laramie a particular punch regardless of the fact that the gory specifics of what happened are confined to just a couple of scenes. I agree those details hit parents particularly hard. For me, since Sophie is still fairly young, it’s more likely she’ll encounter violence like what happens in the play via her *parents* being hurt. So when I hear those details my fear for my child is felt in a wholly different way. But I don’t mean to be maudlin. I just wanted to say that it also resonated with me to see so many of your parents feeling the telling of the story so deeply.

    It was also really terrific to see you out of the shop & booth and on the stage in Ben’s play. I hope that turn means that you might be treading the boards again next year?! Not that your design skills and interest aren’t desired as well. It’s hard when you’re accomplished in so many realms! : ) In any event, I really look forward to whatever “role” you might play in productions in the future.


  2. Jenny-

    I am so thankful for your participation in this production. When I saw you in UNDERPANTS, I knew I wanted to work with you. I am so sorry that it was not as an actress. But I will tell you that what you learned by working with Chuck and Torry is invaluable experience for an actor. An actor who understands how much hard work goes into design and tech is an infinitely better actor. They have a sensitivity and magic on stage that comes out in their performances. i started out as an actor, but I was always ready to learn about design and tech. I made a living at times as a costume designer and puppet maker. I think that is why I ended up directing. I loved all the pieces of the collaborative process and in the end I could not chose just one. Directing allowed me to keep my fingers in all of the areas.

    I hope that background makes me a more sensitive director in understanding the importance and power of the collaborative process.

    Your entries have been great. I love being able to see through your eyes what the show looks like from the booth. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your hard work and patience. You came in like the deus ex machina and saved us by agreeing to be board op and you did the job with a sensitivity that made everything come together in a way that made us all proud. I look forward to having you in class in the fall and I hope I get another chance to work with you before you move out into the world to seek your success. I have total confidence that whatever you decide to do will be as successful for you as Laramie has been.

    Thanks, xo Jeffrey

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