Rehearsals of ‘Buried Child’ begin at Profile Theatre

Last evening, cast and crew gathered in a back room for the first read-through of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize winning play.

The very first production of Buried Child was directed by Robert Woodruff who, many years later, would have Profile’s Artistic Director, Adriana Baer, under his tutelage at Columbia University. Last night, Adriana addressed her actors, crew, and guild members, speaking of her excitement to step into her chapter in this particular lineage.

The Pulitzer was awarded to Shepard based solely on the merits of the written page (performance/production is usually taken into account by the Drama jury) and the actors were encouraged to read through the play naturally. Often Shepard’s plays are read and staged ‘heightened’ because of the surreal and crazy situations his characters find themselves in.

For now, it was okay to just have the words—“we’ll find the situation later,” said Baer who encouraged us to embrace the play’s contradictions without judgement. For the characters in Buried Child, everything is true in the moment, and the truth changes, while remaining true, from moment to moment. The play only seeks to ask questions and the audience is to find their own answers to whatever they feel, think, believe, those questions are.

Before the read-through, we also heard a little from those lovely folks behind the scenes who are busy with costumes, music, props, and lighting. I particularly liked this little model that holds true to Shepard’s sparse stage conception. It’s a visceral as opposed to a literal architecture. The designer imagined the home as a contorted place that is reacting to and rejecting the people who exist there, poisoning their own lives, perpetually stuck inside their story.

Bleak stuff.

And yet, not—or not always.

Typical of Shepard, humor cut through horror, levity grappling with loneliness and longing, and the reading elicited many laughs and wry smiles from those of us who were lucky enough to sit in on it last night.

The actors are already so good—particularly those playing Dodge and Shelly. It’s fascinating to attend these first readings and I’m excited to see where they go with it in the next six weeks.

If you’re living in the Portland area, Buried Child plays May 29th through June 15th and I think it will be one to watch.

Buried Child at Profile Theatre Portland

 

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To the Theatre, and Beyond.

I somehow find myself on the guild of Profile Theatre.

This surprises me.

I have had little previous exposure to theatre and have typically failed to connect with the live performances that I have seen. I preferred the slickness and distance of cinema, needing, oddly, an element of detachment in order to immerse myself fully. The intimacy of theatre was distracting to me. I pictured the actors applying their make-up, waiting in the wings, and was unable–I thought–to take the imaginative leap required.

I felt that I lacked a certain kind of intelligence or discernment. I didn’t feel badly about this. I figured it just wasn’t my medium.

I rarely dismiss a thing entirely. When my friend Stephanie asked me to see a play with her about two women in 1970s South Africa, I was interested. She and I did the same Gender and Women’s Studies Masters program in Ireland (though we were only introduced and met once I moved to Portland) and it’s been nice to have someone to share and foster my feminist leanings with here.

So I gladly accepted her invitation to see Athol Fulgard’s The Road to Mecca but my hopes were hardly high. I expected to be intellectually interested in the play’s subject matter and its themes. I thought I might learn something new about race and ethnicity and gender relations. What I did not expect was to openly weep. I did not expect to see myself so painfully in an elderly Afrikaner widow. I did not expect that I would be touched on an emotional level that night and haunted for days to come.

In short, it was one of the most transformative and affecting ‘artistic’ experiences I’ve ever had. I’m not sure if it can be replicated but I’m going to go and find out.

The Road to Mecca

I was planning to keep an eye on upcoming plays at Profile but it is just happenstance that I heard about the Guild at a fundraising event last month. I still feel like as though I’m yet to really find a place for myself in Portland. I’m sort of stretching my arms out in all directions, figuring out who I am here, where I will belong and develop and thrive. I’m excited about this new thing in my world. I think it will help my writing, particularly the revelation of character through dialogue. And it feels good to participate in Portland life and hopefully help some.

The aim of the guild is to promote the theatre and greater community participation. I am a quiet person and not one to proselytize, but I hope that I can convey to folks how thankful I am for the experience I had through Profile, and how glad I am that I didn’t dismiss the theatre entirely. I just needed that one breakthrough moment, and I encourage anyone who has felt a similar disconnect to remain open. Accept all invitations.

Here’s a couple to start with:

On November 13th, Portland’s Hollywood Theater is showing a special screening of Fool For Love, written by and starring Sam Shepard and directed by Robert Altman. Profile Theatre will host a beer and popcorn reception in the upstairs lobby from 6-7pm and  Artistic Director, Adriana Baer, will talk briefly before the film about Profile’s upcoming season of Sam Shepard.

As always, Profile’s season of plays is devoted to a single playwright and 2014 will be the year of the often strange but compelling Shepard.

Sam Shepard

The season will showcase three large-scale but rarely-performed productions, as well as a festival of one-act plays, and a series of lectures, dialogues and further explorations of the playwright’s work.

Consider checking out one or all of what’s to come. You’ll be hearing me talk about it a lot; I’m curious and excited and still have no idea what theatre is really all about but, like everything in life, I guess we learn by going.

Profile Theatre