Creating bridges, not walls
"Here on This Bridge: The -Ism Project" is a rare opportunity to hear stories by people of color on stage.
Bag&Baggage Productions is donating its space for a one-night performance at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19 to MediaRites, a nonprofit that focuses on "telling the stories of diverse cultures and giving voice to the unheard through the arts, education and media projects," according to its mission statement.
Its theater project, Theatre Diaspora, is Oregon's only professional Asian American/Pacific Islander theater company. Its actors are performing "The -Ism Project" in Hillsboro for the first time, with a shortened version of the production originally directed by Catherine Ming T'ien Duffly.
Premiering at the Fertile Ground Festival at Portland State University last January, "The -Ism Project" zooms in on stories showing the intersections of race, national origin, gender and orientation from a Pacific Northwest perspective. Its goal is to address the question on how to be inclusive of the area's people of color, despite a history of exclusion, according to MediaRites's website.
A national call went out to artists to submit stories, with many Oregon residents responding.
MediaRites executive producer, Dmae Roberts, is a writer, theater artist and producer with two Peabody Awards, who grew up in Oregon.
"I know from my life experience, people living outside of urban areas are often not heard," Roberts said. "There are also great divides in small communities about things that are going on statewide and nationally. After the 2016 election, I think it was clear that a lot of voices were not being heard, and the divides became more divided and there was this call to be as brazen as possible with negative reactions to people of color and immigrants, and LGBTQI people. Anyone consideredan 'other.'"
The othering of America itself became bolder. As someone grouped as an 'other,' but also with great respect for rural people in small-town America, I wanted to figure out a way to create empathy for people who are considered other, and also create allies."
Today, Roberts is heading the project as it pursues its goal to tour around the state to rural and smaller towns. Recently, the show has been taken to Corvallis, McMinnville, Hood River's Columbia Center for the Arts, and the Beaverton City Library.
Three monologues will be performed in a 70-minute production.
Roberts wrote "Harvest" to be staged during the Hillsboro set. It's about an Asian American man who reflects on his tragic family history with Oregon's exclusion laws. Actor Larry Toda will perform the piece.
One actor returning to Bag&Baggage for this show is Shelley B. Shelley, who starred in the company's "The Island in Winter," a Shakespeare adaptation, earlier this year.
Shelley will deliver a monologue titled "That Diversity Thing" by Bonnie Ratner & Roberta Hunte, which describes the story of a black lesbian tradeswoman navigating diversity training at her construction job.
Debuting as a monologue in the show for the first time is "Ruega Por Mi" by Yasmin Ruvalcaba, who also works as the Problem Play Project manager at Bag&Baggage Productions. Ruvalcaba's bilingual monologue describes "a mother in Central America grieving the separation from her child who was taken across the American border" and will be delivered by actor Yolanda Porter.
A post-show discussion will follow the performance, giving audience members the opportunity to ask questions and further engage with one another.
"This is about creating a safe space for people to talk to each other and build allies," Roberts said. "Even between cultures, we don't understand everything we're going through."
Two panelists will be leading the discussion — Nansi Lopez, the Latino business outreach manager from the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce, and Linda Tamura, a professor of education emerita from Willamette University who participates in organizations educating on the history of Japanese Americans in Oregon.
The show is at The Vault Theatre, 350 E. Main St., Hillsboro, and seating is limited with a first-come, first-served basis. While the show is free, donations are welcome. Doors will open at 7:15 p.m., with ages 12 and up encouraged to
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