PORTLAND, ORE.: Artists Repertory Theatre has assembled ART: Mercury Company, a group of 50 writers, directors, educators, actors, technicians, designers, producers, and staff members hired to create theatre-inspired work. The projects, which were developed independently and collaboratively on Zoom, will be released during the summer and fall.
“The pandemic has forced the disruption of our operating assumptions,” said ART artistic director Dámaso Rodríguez in a statement. “Rather than waiting it out, we are testing new ideas for pursuing our mission and are reimagining what ART will be whenever it is safe for audiences and artists to gather again. Thanks to the nimble work of our team—who wrote dozens of contracts, purchased equipment, made and remade schedules, while quickly learning new ways of working online and in person—we were able to use Payroll Protection funds to hire artists on mostly full-time salaries comparable to our mainstage programming. We called this rapidly assembled group of artists and projects, ART: Mercury Company. It has been a transformative experience during a time of unprecedented uncertainty, and we may have found a model that we can employ with confidence even as the pandemic timeline continues to shift.”
The ART: Mercury Company includes Lava Alapai, Linda Alper, Patricia Alvitez, Naiya Amilcar, Ayanna Berkshire, Gavin Burgess, Charlie Capps, Leslie Crandell Dawes, Nathan Crone, Blanca Forzán, Sarah Gahagan, Jeff George, Karl Hanover, Chris Harder, Sara Hennessy, Karen M. Hill, Anthony Hudson (Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde), Kisha Jarrett, Sarah Kindler Crone, Dan Kitrosser, Val Landrum, Shawn Lee, E.M. Lewis, Sarah Lucht, Susannah Mars, Vonessa Martin, Michael Mendelson, Kristen Mun, Allen Nause, Rodolfo Ortega, Eric Pargac, Sharath Patel, Dave Peterson (in memoriam), Gregory Pulver, Dámaso Rodríguez, John San Nicolas, Alex Rameriz de Cruz, Edward Rivera, Marissa Sanchez, Aubrey Saverino, Pancho Savery, Luan Schooler, Miriam Schwartz, Josie Seid, Vin Shambry, Avital Shira, Jamie Lynne Simons, Andrea Stolowitz, Lloyd Suh, Caridad Svich, Sean Roberts, Andrea Vernae, Joshua J. Weinstein, Alana Wight, Kristeen Willis, Carol Ann Wohlmut, Rick Woodford, Barbie Wu, and Julia Zazhigina.
The projects by ART: Mercury Company include:
- Magellanica Audio Drama, a five-part audio drama adapted from Mellon playwright-in-residence and Steinberg Award-winning playwright, E.M. Lewis’s epic play Magellanica, which ArtistsRep premiered in 2018. An additional sixth part on the science behind the hole in the ozone layer and climate change will be co-produced with Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, all parts to be released to ART audiences prior to broader distribution. The audio drama is directed by Rodríguez and features award-winning composition and sound design of Rodolfo Ortega.
- The Berlin Diaries Audio Drama, the autobiographical story of playwright Andrea Stolowitz’s quest to untangle her family’s history using her German-Jewish great-grandfather’s real life diary, to be released to ART audiences prior to broader distribution. Rodríguez will direct. The play is scheduled to premiere off-Broadway in NYC in March 2021.
- Oxygen, a devising group made up of nine Black artists in the company. The name “Oxygen” is chosen in honor of the many Black people whose final words were, “I can’t breathe” before being killed by police. Produced by ART development & marketing director Kisha Jarrett, and created by collaborating artists Vin Shambry, Josie Seid, Lava Alapai, Jeff George, Ayanna Berkshire, Andrea Vernae, Pancho Savery (ART board vice-chair), and Kristen Mun (line producer). The group’s first project will be a short film called See Me, a slice of life of seven Black people interwoven with animated fantastical dreamscapes, to be filmed in September 2020. This group will expand to include BIPOC artists and will continue to devise works beyond June 2020.
- Untitled Site Specific Project, an outdoor piece in which the audience moves through a series of staging locations. The project will feature the work of playwrights Lava Alapai, Linda Alper, Dan Kitrosser, Josie Seid, Susannah Mars, and Anthony Hudson, and will be directed by ART director of new-play development and dramaturgy, Luan Schooler.
- Better Maybe, a video project of Obie winner Caridad Svich’s short play, which will be shared this summer and features the entire company. Originally commissioned by the Play At Home project, the piece is a choral poem and features music, movement, and home-filmed performances. It will be directed by ART development and marketing director Kisha Jarrett and ART producing director Shawn Lee.
- The Chinese Lady, pre-rehearsal work for a production of Lloyd Suh’s play, which ART will produce in the 2020-21 season either in person or as a filmed performance starring resident artist Barbie Wu and directed by resident artist Lava Alapai. Playwright Suh worked with the director and actor during this pre-rehearsal process.
- Why This Night, a new play by award-winning screenwriter and playwright, Dan Kitrosse, based on his screenplay, a screwball murder-mystery comedy set in a Russian shtetl in the 1880s.
- Flower Joy by resident artist Vin Shambry, one in a series of four storytelling works following Shambry’s journey on the road to wholeness, with a goal to inspire audience members to connect with the “humanness” of one another by sharing personal stories of joy and heartache and shame and family.
- The Caralogues by Anthony Hudson, an audio play featuring Anthony’s famed drag-clown persona, Carla Rossi, an immortal trickster whose attempts at realness almost always result in fantastic failure.
- Untitled Video Project, conceived and written by resident artist Chris Harder. The Portland-set piece of online theatre was crafted through improvisation and interweaving a vast network of characters.
- Forget Me Not, America, by resident artist Josie Seid, an audio recording of a living poem that goes on an emotional ride through American history and centers on Black Americans.
- Looking For Tiger Lily Production Elements, completion of set and costumes for the Table|Room|Stage world premiere production (dates TBA) of Looking for Tiger Lily by Anthony Hudson, which was postponed three weeks before the beginning of rehearsals by the pandemic.
Creative credits for production photo: Magellanica by E.M. Lewis; directed by Dámaso Rodríguez; s–Wallin; lighting designer: Carl Faber; projection designer: Megan Wilkerson; composer and sound designer: Rodolfo Ortega; dramaturg: Luan Schooler; fight choreographer: Jonathan Cole; stage manager: Jamie Lynne Simons; assistant director: Tamera Lyn; props master: Robert Amico; assistant lighting designer: Trevor Sargent; assistant sound designer: Jake Newcomb; assistant stage manager: Michelle Jazuk; production assistant: Karen M. Hill.Stephanie Kerley Schwartz; costume designer: Bobby Brewer