Theatre is “back,” and for the first time in a long time, Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre is operating outside of its usual building at 1515 SW Morrison Street. Throughout the 2021-2022 season Artists Rep has been in residence at Portland Center Stage, but Zi Alikhan, Director of DNA: Oxygen and Artistic Directing Fellow, saw ART’s transitional period as a transformational one: An opportunity to take theatre out of traditional spaces, and into the community. Thus, pushcART was born. 

Director of DNA: Oxygen, Zi Alikhan. DNA: Oxygen is a new initiative dedicated to the development and production of new work generated by, led by, and featuring BIPOC artists.

What is pushcART?

pushcART, DNA: Oxygen’s debut program, is a mobile unit that travels high-performances to community spaces traditionally overlooked and underserved by theatrical organizations. A pushcART stop might include local parks, community centers, schools, and cultural spaces like museums, galleries, and libraries. Each pushcART stop includes a 45-minute play, as well as a small community offering. The community offering is a tailored, care-oriented incentive, ranging from an educational workshop to a free haircut, aimed to expand the theatrical experience into something that is not only artistically nourishing, but a “resource and tool through which people can learn, grow, and commune,” Alikhan says.

The first pushcART play, to be announced soon, will be a classic myth adapted to a Portland narrative by playwright Keelay Gipson, workshopped over ten performances in the Ellyn Bye Studio before launching in full later in the summer. All pushcART performances will be free to attend, actors and designers on the upcoming pushcART play will be locally hired, and each community offering will partner with local organizations to curate an experience unique to every pushcART stop.

The inspiration behind pushcART is simple, and in line with the DNA: Oxygen mission: Breaking down barriers and building community by sharing art and resources, and opening up the theatrical experience to people who have historically been kept out. Alikhan notes that theatres have “told many bodies they don’t belong… bodies of color, bodies of different abilities, bodies under difficult economic circumstances, bodies with complicated relationships to citizenship, queer and trans bodies, and these mandates have compromised trust between these communities and the work we do on our stages.” He goes on, “My hope is that by starting our work to unravel these complicated histories we’ll be able to restore this trust, with the long term goal of coming back to our space with mutual respect and stronger relationships than ever.”

Historically, short, open-air dramas called pageants, would process through the streets on carts in which scenes were performed. As the citizens stood in the streets, carts moved past carrying actors in still poses depicting biblical events.

pushcART will begin workshops in late March, and travel to locations throughout the Portland metro area and beyond in late summer. Keep an eye out for developments to join the mission to dismantle traditional theatre, touring sites and dates announced soon at artistsrep.org.

Questions about pushcART or interested organizations can contact Director of DNA Oxygen Zi Alikhan, [email protected], or Associate Director of DNA: Oxygen Melory Mirashrafi, [email protected].

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