Tectonic Member Scott Barrow Visits Laramie Cast

Our growing list of the elements of the stage.

This weekend, members of The Laramie Project cast took part in a weekend intensive workshop led by Scott Barrow—actor, writer, director and member of the Tectonic Theater Project.

Over the last 15 years, Tectonic has established itself as one of the most groundbreaking theater companies in the country. Five weeks after the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, members of Tectonic went to the town to learn more about why he was murdered. Using a collaborative, process-based approach, Tectonic crafted The Laramie Project entirely out of interviews conducted over six trips to the town.

The play, originally done with eight actors playing 63 roles, will be performed with a cast of 19 at Williston this spring.

Laura, Oliver, and Gabe create a moment with text from a Honey Nut Cheerios box.

To create The  Laramie Project, Tectonic used what artistic director Moisés Kaufman defines as “moment work.” Kaufman describes a moment as “a unit of theatrical time, which is then juxtaposed with other units to create meaning.”

That’s pretty abstract stuff for high school students. Yet, through our work with Scott Barrow, this “moment work” became a concrete tool the actors used to bring their unique theatrical visions to life.

Tectonic uses basic moments to generate ideas and, ultimately, to create plays. An exploratory moment could look like this: One actor is sitting in a chair. Another actor enters the playing space, looks at the actor in the chair and leaves. The company is then challenged to create a narrative for that moment. What is happening? Who are they? What is their relationship? Needless to say, the possibilities are endless.

Laura A. sets up a light for her group's moment.

Throughout the weekend, we explored how other elements of the stage could expand or clarify a narrative. How could we explore the use of lights? Rhythm? Architecture? We transitioned from playing with moments that are used in Tectonic’s creative process to creating ones from scratch, some with text and some without. Our students were utilizing new and unfamiliar elements of the stage to make meaning for themselves.

Simultaneously, the actors were learning how not to connect all of the dots for the audience. With moments, audience members are invited to make meaning on their own. The most striking thing for me in exploring this process was realizing how badly audience members want to make meaning from a narrative and how simple it is to connect those dots. As humans, we are wired to tell stories but we are also wired to try and understand stories.

What a beautiful gift.

Denison, Calvin, and Brian's Moment titled "Dull Dark Dock."

The process of creating moments empowers writers, actors, directors and designers to work cohesively. It completely deconstructs the theatrical hierarchy. This is a challenging proposition, but it was immensely powerful for our cast.

The actors gained dozens of new vocabulary words to support them as they build multiple characters over the next few months. As we embark upon the rehearsal process, I can ask them, “How would Reggie Fluty interact with the architecture of this space?” or “How would Dennis Shepard use mass to tell his story?” In this scenario, the actors are no longer simply vehicles of a director’s vision, but collaborators to a larger vision.

Zack, Mackenzie, and Matt's moment titled "Interrupted."

Scott was a gracious and giving facilitator. He is a master teacher who was able to see the gifts in our students by the end of our first night. We closed the workshop with a Q&A where he discussed his experience as performer in The Laramie Project and life as a working actor. Scott shared that playing the part of Dennis Shepard was probably the greatest gift of his career. When asked about how to approach being an actor, he told our students that training is critical, but letting the theater be your teacher is key. This means seeing as much theater as possible and Scott shared some secrets for how to do it for free!

Q&A with Scott

The weekend was definitely a long one (the workshop totaled about 20 hours), but I left with a deeper understanding of how to see and create theater. There is no doubt that my perspective as a director has expanded and our students more deeply understand their capacity as storytellers.

For more information about The Tectonic Theater Project visit www.tectonictheaterproject.org

For more information about Matthew Shepard visit www.matthewshepard.org

The Laramie Project will be performed at the Williston Theatre April 25-27 and May 2-4.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *