53nd: Run not in the streets; neither go too slowly nor with mouth open; go not shaking your arms; kick not the earth with your feet; go not upon the toes nor in a dancing fashion.
Today's Search Engine queries:
*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.
THE LARAMIE PROJECT
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 didnt 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 Shepards death. Most notably, they spoke with Dave OMalley, the former Chief of Police. OMalley said, "According to my wife, I lost my innocence at age 16, and I lost my ignorance at 42. Before Matthew Shepards death, I had all the traditional, prejudiced views about homosexuals. By the end of that weeks 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 Moisés Kaufman and fellow members of New Yorks 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 its 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 its just about coming in and having a good cry or soulful tear over one persons death, thats very moving, but it doesnt leave us richer. It doesnt move us along."
"Its an important piece," says Katie Rubin, second year MFA student and member of the cast. "Its the kind of show that makes me feel like Im doing something good for the world while Im 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 its a mirror to something really serious and dark and real that happens in a twisted way in real life."
"This play I unlike anything Ive done," says actor Richard Hess, who plays 7 different characters in the show. "Ive never done this hard core text work before. I think its 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. Its not just these two guys who are being punished because they attacked someone who was gay and thats it. There is a lot of stuff behind it that I think people havent 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 plays 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 doesnt get the audiences commitment or critical thinking because they might have watched passively."
Lichtenfels continues, "Its 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 were better or worse than any other region, but just because then it becomes about us. If its only about them, whether "them" is called Laramie or Denver or any other town, its 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 dont 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 dont 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. Theres someone somewhere who would disagree with this play."
Katie Rubin, who just moved from Miami to Davis, said. "Theres a much larger Christian community here in Davis than I knew. Very strongly so. Ive heard student comments on campus that were homophobic, which surprised me, coming from some people in that group."
"A thing thats 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. Theres no gay rights are good. Were not being that simple about it. Were approaching it in a complex human way. Were saying OK--some people think its good, some people think its bad; some people are neutral. He died. Heres the reality of it. Some people are sad about it. They dont 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 Im going to try to evoke emotion from the audience now and you will cry because Im in pain. Were trying to play against that kind of thing."
Lichtenfels points out that the young man who discovered Shepards 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 its very human. We say something, and then we dont do it," he says. "Those kinds of tensions are interesting. Theyre human and theyre people and theyre messy. I think thats how we all work. Were 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, Matthews 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 didnt 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 Mens 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.
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