Two posts in one OR A farewell

Kimi

Laramie speaks, OR The conversation I wish we’d had

I wish my roommate came to see Laramie. She’s a wonderful person, funny and sweet; we’ve been friends since freshman year. She’s also a Christian and I am not, which has led to many fascinating conversations this past year, usually with both of us on our respective beds on opposite sides of the room (a lovely theatrical staging device). All the usual assumptions can be made: I am more liberal, am cool with pre-marital sex, think gender roles can be very restrictive. She won’t have sex before marriage, believes we are all naturally sinful, takes the Bible as her moral code. And yet, we get along swimmingly.

Yesterday, however, one of our fascinating conversations quickly turned to frustrating. We discussed paedophilia and bestiality – moral codes, absolute truth, right vs. wrong. Unspoken throughout was the question of homosexuality, something we’ve discussed often in the past. Her thoughts quickly turned to the ‘slippery slope’ argument, in different words but with the same basic idea – if homosexuality is cool, then why not paedophilia? If you have a natural (biological) desire to have sex with animals, isn’t that just as valid as sex with men? Where do we draw the line?

Just typing those sentences out makes me so frustrated and tense. I obviously disagreed with her, but my thoughts got all muddled and my usually articulate voice chose that moment to take a nap. I pulled in consent and Foucault and sexualities as both biological and social, but nothing came out right. I failed.

The reason I’m telling this story as my last blog post is because I wish my roommate had come to see Laramie (the same way she probably wishes I came to her Christian group’s worship sessions) because Laramie says these things so much better than I can. Because watching gay friends and couples cry and hold each other to get through this play is vastly more powerful than any jumble of words I could string together. Because art can say things that regular conversation can’t.

My roommate isn’t crazy, or stupid, or mean. She wakes me up for class in the mornings, picked my parents up from the airport when they visited and doesn’t get mad at me for the dirty dishes and clothes that decorate our room. I like her a lot. She’s a good friend and a good person. We just disagree on many fundamental issues. I think Laramie would have been an excellent conversation for her to witness, one that better addressed my views, and she deserves that kind of conversation.

Three other things Laramie taught me, Or Laramie lessons

1. To resist the “impulse of immediate perfection” (as Jules wrote in her comments on my first blog post) and enjoy the messy process of creating, knowing that it probably will never be perfect and certainly won’t be right away.

2. Theatre is a space in which I feel valued. I cried twice during the Laramie experience. Once, during our first talkback, when someone mentioned what a community we had become. The second time, during Jeff’s comment at our last class meeting. He mentioned seeing me freshman year every Friday afternoon at the Theatre Studies Lunchbox event, afternoons well spent but forgotten by me. He remembered me.

3. How lucky and blessed I am to have the parents I have, not just because they flew to Duke to watch me perform, but also because every night when Jedadiah/Andy (Jandy?) said that his parents didn’t watch him because their belief that homosexuality was wrong overpowered their love and support for him, I could not relate. No matter how hard I tried. Because I know that my parents would never do that to me. And I felt for Jedadiah, but I couldn’t fully understand, emotionally, what that was like.

4. The limits of my empathy. As I watched every night, consistently, Spencer, Jacob and Summer would cry on stage. LGBT audience members cried.  I did not cry. The emotional resonance the play had for the LGBT/queer actors and audience members was something I could not replicate. It’s not in me because that’s not my experience. I can understand it but I cannot feel it in the same way.  Which is good to learn.

Bye bye Laramie!

2 thoughts on “Two posts in one OR A farewell

  1. Kimi–

    I love that the two parts of your post illuminate two inherently contradictory impulses in theater.

    1. The idea that audiences can be changed sometimes utterly, sometimes slightly by encountering performance. That your roommate might have heard Laramie’s characters utter words she herself may have used to explain her views on homosexuality and also hear other characters responses to such words and explanations and such an experience might have exposed difficult to see contradictions, subtle and not so subtle violences in ways that might have rattled the things she seems to hold very certain and secure as “right” and “wrong.”

    2. The very real *limits* of theatre/performance to inspire us to feel if we do not already share a character’s position or possess intimate, personal knowledge of how it is to “be” someone else or experience another set of cultural circumstances. In that sense performance/theatre offers us a way to come close to understanding, as you put it, but we may still always stand on the edge of feeling AS another person/character feels.

    It is in the desire for #1 but the realization of #2 that compels me to continue to make theatre/performance. I’m thinking back on Manny’s critique of Jill Dolan’s critique of Laramie (BTW, for your next year’s projects you might check out Chapter 3, “Finding our feet in one another’s shoes,” of Dolan’s book *Utopia in performance: Finding hope at the theater*). The very real limit of transformation in performance should not prevent us from striving for that goal. The negotiations we make with representational forms, the ethics of the original text’s creation (if we are not the creators ourselves), the variable contexts (historical, political, cultural) of our audiences, including whether they are drawn into attending the theater at all, are part and parcel of our work as theatre artists.

    I think the fact that you saw this piece as a missed opportunity for your roommate to hear (and perhaps really listen to) the perspective you might have felt somewhat ill-equipped to articulate in a way that could reach her AND as a moment where you yourselves realized the distance that even your empathetic and socially committed self could not bridge means that our production was an even more rich example of the power and limits of theater than I had thought possible for a script which, as I’ve said before, has always been a difficult but necessary piece of work for me.

    I think this also gives you lots of food for thought as you shift into your own creative/academic projects for next year, especially as you will bear the roles of creator and presenter/performer. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to seeing the path you carve out in that process.

    –Jules

  2. Kimi,

    I knew from those lunchboxes your freshman year, you were someone I wanted to stay in touch with and hopefully work with someday. I am so glad we have had this opportunity.

    You have done such a beautiful job with your writing and your acting and just being a strong positive influence on the entire company. I want to thank you for that.

    You are indeed lucky to have such extraordinary parents. Your Mom was so articulate at the talk-back. They clearly support your passions and have probably been a contributor to your articulate intelligence.

    I can’t wait to see the ME TOO monologues next year under your capable guidance!

    Thank you for all you have contributed to this production.
    Best- Jeffrey

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