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In conjunction with Vanport Mosaic and Northwest Children's Theater, Shalanda Sims works on staging musical in 2022

COURTESY PHOTO: KATE SZROM - World Stage Theatre put on Vanport the Musical in 2013 for only two shows. It's coming back in 2022, telling the story of the lost city.In a quest to find out more about how, when and why Black people emigrated to the Portland area, Shalanda Sims heard stories about Vanport, the lost community in the north part of the city destroyed by flood in 1948.

Her mother passed down some knowledge, telling of how Sims' great-grandmother went there to work in the shipyards, and Sims also met another woman who worked at Vanport. Sims sought out more information and found very little out there; it only made her more curious.

SHALANDA SIMSSeveral years of research later, and building on a previous musical performed eight years ago, Sims has been developing the play "Vanport the Musical," set for staging in May 2022 — in the 80th year since Vanport was built in 1942. It's being developed in conjunction with Vanport Mosaic and founder Laura LoForti and Northwest Children's Theater and School.

It'll feature a cast of 30 and a soundtrack of jazz, gospel and more. Sims and Sarah Jane Hardy, Northwest Children's Theater artistic director, will co-direct the production. There'll be water involved, or at least the illusion of water, Sims said.

Sims and her company, World Stage Theatre, have received funding from Regional Arts & Culture Council and other organizations, but also seeks more.

The play was staged in 2013 at Jefferson High School, but Sims, a native Portlander, said the company didn't have enough money to do anymore shows. It took a while, but she has brought the musical back and, after the shows at Northwest Children's Theater, May 20-June 5, it'll go on tour for summer 2022.

"There was a need or request for doing it again," Sims said. "Just being able to speak with the elders of Vanport, who were children back then, interviewing them … we had one of the elders come up to us and thank us so much for telling their story. "

Vanport existed between 1942 and '48 as a shipyard community for the World War II effort. At its peak, Vanport had 40,000 residents, ranking as the second-largest city in Oregon.

Sims has come across about 20-25 elders who lived at Vanport.

"There are a lot of themes in the play," she said. "War, housing, employment or lack thereof, and most importantly family and community, people coming here to pursue that American dream, and making sure that families are taken care of."

Black people moving to Vanport was part of the Great Migration from the south in the 20th century. "To them, from stories I've heard, Vanport being there was a dream," Sims said.

"Vanport the Musical" tells of Black people living and working in Vanport, but also the diversity of the community. It wasn't segregated, and Black, Asian, Latino, Native American and other people lived together.

"What excited me then (in 2013) was that this was a story that hadn't been told before, we hadn't heard much about Vanport, and there was nothing really going on," Sims said. "There was this story that I feel had been hidden from many of us.

"That is what excites me, finding these pieces of history and making them come alive, and educate various communities of people. Introduce something that people had no idea existed and here in our hometown. Finding that piece of treasure excited me, and still excites me."

Sims said she and World Stage Theatre like to accentuate the positive in historical pieces.

"It's really a celebration of life and community and people who lived here before us, paved the way for us to do things we do," she said.


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