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Friday, February 15, 2013

Moment Work: The Laramie Project

by Tamar MacKay

Photo: Julieta Cervantes
On February 12th, the Tectonic Theater Project’s highly anticipated The Laramie Project Cycle began its run at BAM. The cycle is based on the events surrounding the murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay student, and the varied and complex community response of residents in Laramie, Wyoming. The Tectonic Theater Project conducted thousands of interviews in the small town, which, along with other source documents, were the basis of both plays. Rather than simply recreating scenes from these interviews, the group used Moment Work to build The Laramie Project Cycle, a technique that aims “to suggest, not recreate.”

Moment Work, organically developed by the Tectonic Theater Project over several years, is a technique that they've used for several productions. The group’s work builds off of the ideas of Brecht and aims to create critical distance, rather than existing in a sphere of realism. The Tectonic Theater Project rejects the traditional scene, and focuses on moments—a different unit of theatrical time. Mois├ęs Kaufman explains in his introduction to The Laramie Project:
“It is a method to create and analyze theater from a structuralist (or tectonic) perspective. For that reason, there are no ‘scenes’ in this play, only ‘moments.’ A ‘moment’ does not mean a change of locale, or an entrance or exit of characters. It is simply a unit of theatrical time, which is then juxtaposed with other units to convey meaning.”

Next week, on February 19th & 20th, in conjunction with the performances, Leigh Fondakowski, co-director of The Laramie Project Cycle and a founding member of Tectonic, will lead two Moment Work master classes. These workshops will give participants a broad framework to explore the theatrical elements through looking at individual moments. In these workshops, elements are often looked at one by one in order to give time to explore the elements separately, though there is no set step by step process. There is no hierarchy to the stage elements, nor a designated time-frame for each moment. Moments can be simple or complex. In more advanced sections of the workshop, students build off of their understanding of Moment Work to build longer moments, and then later to build full theater pieces.

Like with The Laramie Project Cycle, the moments that are created in workshops do not have to, and are often not, presented in a linear manner. Rather than encouraging us to engage with the plays as pure documentation of events, The Laramie Project Cycle juxtaposes scenes from different times, encouraging us to question the people who live in Laramie, and what is presented as the “truth.” The eight actors act as chameleons, representing over 100 townspeople against a minimalist set. Though The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later in one way represent a specific place at a specific times, Moment Work helps to move the story to a greater plane—the story of a small town that is trying to come to terms with lost hope.

The Laramie Project Cycle runs through February 24th at the BAM Harvey Theater. For more information on Tectonic Theater Project and Moment Work, please visit For more information on BAM master classes, please visit

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