Light a Fire 2016: Inspiring Creativity

Artists Repertory Transforms Its Home into an Incubator for the Future of Local Theater

While still producing shows that give you “all the feels.”

By Rebecca Jacobson October 10, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Artists Repertory Theatre’s production of Cuba Libre

Artists Repertory Theatre refuses to rest on its laurels. Sure, the 34-year-old company’s core mission remains story-driven, emotionally resonant theater—shows that give you “all the feels,” according to artistic director Dámaso Rodriguez. Since Rodriguez arrived in 2013, the company has also transformed its 40,000-square-foot Goose Hollow building into an incubator for the future of local theater. At any given time, around 10 other resident companies breathe and sweat there, from the avant-garde Risk/Reward Festival to the August Wilson Red Door Project, which aims to increase racial diversity in Portland’s arts scene.

“This vast facility, this empty space—it just seemed philosophically, ethically right to share it,” Rodriguez says.

The company’s 27 resident artists—actors, directors, playwrights, designers—also have free rein to pursue their own projects. On any given day, you might find Vin Shambry teaching acting classes to young people of color, or Susannah Mars scheming about concerts to accompany the Artists Rep season.

Moreover, the company—which got its start in 1982 in the downtown YWCA—has firmed up its commitment as a developer of new work. Last fall saw the world premiere of a large-scale musical, Cuba Libre, with a $600,000 budget, an international cast of dancers, and a Grammy-nominated band onstage. And in 2014, Artists Rep landed a $125,000 grant to launch a new play development program, starting with eight commissions—four by writers of color, four by women, with one work to be tailored to young audiences. Also in that mix? Steve Rathje—a 21-year-old Stanford student and Lake Oswego High School grad—will complete Signs, a comedy about horoscopes, dangerous metaphors, and love, after winning an online vote.

“It is a bit of a roll of the dice, a bit of the gamble,” Rodriguez says. “But we’re finding our identity as a company that’s known for doing new work, for audiences who crave it.”

A Peek at Artists Rep’s First Four New Play Commissions

The Talented Ones by Yussef El Guindi
Slated to hit the stage next spring, El Guindi’s play charts the challenges faced by an immigrant couple in America.

The Thanksgiving Play by Larissa FastHorse
Here’s a Sisyphean undertaking: craft a politically correct school play about both Thanksgiving and Native American Month. That’s the subject of FastHorse’s new satirical comedy.

Refugee Radio by Andrea Stolowitz
Inspired by a German radio program hosted by a Nigerian refugee, Portland playwright Stolowitz takes on the refugee crisis, with a Rashomon-esque framework.

The Only Place Left by Linda Alper
Alper—a resident artist at the company and vet of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival—follows a Jewish girl from Berlin who’s displaced to Shanghai during World War II.

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