Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tectonic Theater Project stops by to kick some ass!

Tectonic Theater Project
photo credit: Michael Lutch

I had the privilege of attending The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on UPenn's Campus. This NY-based theatre company is called Tectonic Theater Project, and they are so soulful.

Sometimes it seems like theatre in today's standards is measured according to the spectacle of the performance. How glitzy and glamorous was the experience for the patron? This is all well and good if you like big splashy Broadway musicals (which I do...I love them), but there is a wave of theatre attached to the social and political movements of the time, and lately, I'm drawn to these performances...more so than I was ten years ago. Perhaps it's my grown-up-ness, or maybe I identify with a more down-to-earth performance quality. Who knows? All I can say is this company spoke to me. I mean REALLY spoke to me. When theatre turns you on, you know the company is up to something big.

These actors were more like storytellers. They introduced themselves to the audience with a genuine spirit, and when they quietly slipped into character, it wasn't in a "look at ME, I'm ACTING!" sort of way. It was as if the characterization and physicality was completely stripped down to a basic allusion. The actor alluded to the character, yet the transformation was complete and successful because the audience lost themselves in each simple moment. It was pretty haunting.

Matthew Shepard
photo credit:

For those readers who don't know about The Laramie Project, it's a play written in documentary-fashion based on the interviews that were collected when the company members visited Laramie, WY after Matthew Shepard's brutal murder in 1998. Matthew Shepard was a gay college student and actor, and he was targeted because of his sexuality. This hate crime struck the community of Laramie to the core, and the world watched through a glass bell jar as the town mourned the crime and the hate that poisoned their environment. Ten years later, the company re-visited Laramie to document the changes the community had made. Unfortunately, this companion play reveals that not much had changed other than the fact that very few townspeople wanted to discuss Matthew's death at all. Denial surfaced through just about every scene; denial of the murder as a hate crime, denial of homosexual citizens' basic human rights, denial of a voice, denial of the power to change, denial of the will to change. The play touched on so many facets of the Gay Rights social movement, and the audience was asked to consider and reflect on this movement as the civil rights movement of the last decade.

As a new mother to a son, I identified most with the Judy Shepard scene. After her son's death, Judy became an activist, pursuing and lobbying for new legislature against hate crimes (which Obama passed!!). She spoke of people pleading with her to end the struggle and to let Matthew rest. "You're keeping Matthew alive by doing all this." And she replied, "that is exactly why I'm doing this." In the end, she expressed anger that ten years has gone by, but little difference has been made. Little has changed.

Tectonic Theater project is using storytelling as a progressive tool to forge the Gay Rights social movement. In the same way that Louis Valdez fathered Teatro Compesino in response to Mexican migrant farmworkers' human rights struggle, or Lorraine Hansberry wrote A Raisin in the Sun in 1959 black Chicago, artists will continue to create in the name of their fight. The artist needs the movement to facilitate it's inspiration, but the movement needs the artist to stir the fire.

photo credit: P.A.P


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