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(how people find this journal)...

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*this turns up just about every day and probably comes in, (it or in some other variation, like "urethral play") as the #1 search topic.  I'm going to start listing it each day it shows up to see just exactly how often it, and "7 old ladies" (perhaps #2 on the search engine hit parade) actually do show up.




15 October 2004

This week I've been working on a feature article for an upcoming university production of The Laramie Project.  I really kind of like the article I wrote, so decided to print it here.

On October 6, the sixth anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, a busload of gay couples, en route from California to Washington, D.C., stopped in Laramie, Wyoming for a rally in support of same sex marriage. It was the third stop on their 10-stop tour across the country and they didn’t know how they would be received.

They found a warm reception and had the opportunity to speak with some of the people who were affected by the incidents surrounding Shepard’s death. Most notably, they spoke with Dave O’Malley, the former Chief of Police. O’Malley said, "According to my wife, I lost my innocence at age 16, and I lost my ignorance at 42. Before Matthew Shepard’s death, I had all the traditional, prejudiced views about homosexuals. By the end of that week’s investigations, my prejudices and ignorance were gone."

Peter Lichtenfels, four-time UCD Granada Artist in Residence and newly appointed permanent member of the faculty would be happy if people who see his production of The Laramie Project have their own transformation. "I became aware of the subject matter in England," he explained, speaking of the 1998 brutal murder of a gay man in Laramie, Wyoming. "Then I became aware of the play," he added.

Playwright Moiss Kaufman and fellow members of New York’s Tectonic Theater Project made six trips to Laramie over the course of a year and a half in the aftermath of the beating of Matthew Shepard and conducted more than 200 interviews with people of the town. From these interviews as well as from their own experiences, Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater members constructed a deeply moving theatrical experience, using nine actors to embody more than sixty different people in their own words - from rural ranchers to university professors - as they process their feelings about the incident.

For Lichtenfels, The Laramie Project is not simply the story of the murder of one man, but rather the story of how that brutal murder affected a town which, by all accounts, prided itself on its acceptance of all people.

"At the end of the day, when somebody dies, whether it’s you, me or Matthew Shepard, how do we go on? How do we go on learning whatever it is that we need to learn? I think we need to be in a better place at the end," says Lichtenfels. "If it’s just about coming in and having a good cry or soulful tear over one person’s death, that’s very moving, but it doesn’t leave us richer. It doesn’t move us along."

"It’s an important piece," says Katie Rubin, second year MFA student and member of the cast. "It’s the kind of show that makes me feel like I’m doing something good for the world while I’m doing it. Theatre creates a mirror for life in general and people need to come and see themselves. I think that is powerful. But with The Laramie Project not only is it a mirror of the life, but it’s a mirror to something really serious and dark and real that happens in a twisted way in real life."

"This play I unlike anything I’ve done," says actor Richard Hess, who plays 7 different characters in the show. "I’ve never done this hard core text work before. I think it’s going to be awesome."

"The whole reason I wanted to be in this show was to play Dennis Shepard," said Tom McCauley. The 53 year old actor is playing four roles in The Laramie Project. McCauley took a break from university studies in the 1970s to attend the Royal Academy in London and then worked on Broadway for several years. He recently returned to UCD to finish his undergraduate degree and work toward his MFA in acting.

"I feel very close to this show," said McCauley. "I was a hippie. I attended all the peace marches. I was at Woodstock. I was a gay man living in New York during 1980s. A lot of my friends died. I was with them when they died. I participated in the Matthew Shepard march in New York The whole subject matter is very close to me."

Sam Tanng, a recent UCD graduate and performer in many UCD productions, wanted to do the show after seeing a production by Acme Theatre Company here in Davis last year. "I think it opens dialog. It’s not just these two guys who are being punished because they attacked someone who was gay and that’s it. There is a lot of stuff behind it that I think people haven’t thought about and need to think about."

Dialog is what Lichtenfels wants to stimulate and to that end, each performance will begin with a panel discussion and question-and-answer session to provide a local context for the play’s complex issues. The director feels this will have a number of effects, one of which is to empower the audience. "Lots of times you have discussions after the show, but that doesn’t get the audience’s commitment or critical thinking because they might have watched passively."

Lichtenfels continues, "It’s very important to me that people, when they watch the show and engage with the show, are able to have a look at, or talk about our own region. Not because we’re better or worse than any other region, but just because then it becomes about us. If it’s only about them, whether "them" is called Laramie or Denver or any other town, it’s not as personal."

As The Laramie Project has been presented around the country, in many areas there have been protests, especially when the play is performed by a high school group. Accusations are leveled about "pushing the gay agenda." Nothing could be further from the truth, says Katie Rubin.

"I don’t think the play sets out to ‘teach a specific lesson,’ per se. Rather, I think, it illuminates many different human experiences in relation and reaction to a horrific event: the very brutal slaying of a human being. The play's power, at its core, therefore, comes not from any specific ‘message’ it may or may not be attempting to convey, but from the power it gives its audience to choose between the various perspectives presented."

Sam Tanng adds, "What I think is great about it is that the show is made up of interviews of a lot of different townsfolk from Laramie, so you get both views and even a third side--people that are not for homosexuality, but are against beating people up because of it."

Because the issue of discrimination is a universal one, Lichtenfels has resisted making his production a documentary about the people of Laramie specifically. "I don’t think you can," he says, pointing out that in his extensive readings he has found many conflicting statements about the events.

"Discrimination exists everywhere," says Tanng. "It exists even in places like San Francisco. There’s someone somewhere who would disagree with this play."

Katie Rubin, who just moved from Miami to Davis, said. "There’s a much larger Christian community here in Davis than I knew. Very strongly so. I’ve heard student comments on campus that were homophobic, which surprised me, coming from some people in that group."

"A thing that’s interesting about the play just as a piece of art," continued Rubin, "is that Peter and Hester (Chillingworth, assistant director) have done such a good job in dealing with how to approach this play as a text without making it all message-message-message. There’s no ‘gay rights are good.’ We’re not being that simple about it. We’re approaching it in a complex human way. We’re saying ‘OK--some people think it’s good, some people think it’s bad; some people are neutral. He died. Here’s the reality of it. Some people are sad about it.’ They don’t want it to be a tear-jerking piece. They want it to be a human piece. People dealing with bad things that happen--how they deal with it rather than ‘I’m going to try to evoke emotion from the audience now and you will cry because I’m in pain.’ We’re trying to play against that kind of thing."

Lichtenfels points out that the young man who discovered Shepard’s body was homophobic. "I find it much more interesting to know that a homophobic person would want to save a gay person than not knowing that. Because it creates tension and it’s very human. We say something, and then we don’t do it," he says. "Those kinds of tensions are interesting. They’re human and they’re people and they’re messy. I think that’s how we all work. We’re all working to find the light."

Lichtenfels hopes that in presenting The Laramie Project he may shed light on the issue of hatred and discrimination.

In his comments to the Jury, Matthew’s father, Dennis Shepard spoke about his son: "Matt loved people and he trusted them. He could never understand how one person could hurt another, physically or verbally. This quality of seeing only good gave him friends around the world. He didn’t see size, race, intelligence, sex, religion, or the hundred other things that people use to make choices about people. All he saw was the person. All he wanted was to make another person his friend. All he wanted was to make another person feel good. All he wanted was to be accepted as an equal."

Three months ago, Adam Conley, a member of the Seattle Gay Men’s chorus was attacked and savagely beaten while on tour in Montreal, by half a dozen men hurling gay epithets at him. He was tripped, beaten and slashed.

Incidents like these demonstrate the value of productions of The Laramie Project and the continuation of the dialog that Lichtenfels intends to initiate.

"It is my belief that once an audience has come to see itself in a play, it cannot, in good conscious and with any presence of mind, leave the theater without having been affected, changed, awakened, or challenged in some way," concludes Katie Rubin.

Website of the Day

See what Edie Falco, the original MOB mother, has to say about the upcoming election.


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There are wildfires everywhere--terrible for the people involved, but they make for
impressive sunrises.  The family room was bathed in red this morning.

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