Portland Playhouse Passing Strange Portland Oregon

All Rise: A new playwright steps onstage

Bobby Bermea: Promising writer and recent high school grad Evan McCreary gets a weekend of readings at IFCC with talent and a little help from his older friends.

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North Portland' Interstate Firehouse Community Center, where Evan McCreary's "All Rise" will be performed. Photo courtesy IFCC/City of Portland Parks and Recreation.
North Portland’ Interstate Firehouse Community Center, where Evan McCreary’s “All Rise” will be performed. Photo courtesy IFCC/City of Portland Parks and Recreation.

What does it take to become an artist? How does it happen? A lot of times — not always, but a lot – that moment happens when an adult takes an interest in what a young neophyte has to offer. And then, if that student is really lucky, that adult is able to hand off the teaching to another mentor.

This process describes the journey of Evan McCreary. McCreary is producing five staged readings March 1-3 of his first play, All Rise, through Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center’s Grant and Residency Program. But the journey didn’t start there.

McCreary, who recently graduated from high school, hails from Colorado but has called West Linn, Oregon his home since he was eleven years old. McCreary has been a writer most of his life, even creating his own book when he was a child, amassing it out of stories and drawings from his kindergarten days. But it was at West Linn High School that, with the help of an invested adult, he discovered his love for playwriting and theater.  

“My teacher was Annie Kaiser, who works all around the Portland area, particularly with Broadway Rose,” McCreary says. “She still works there. She’s one of those teachers that really makes a lasting impact on her students. There were only about eight of us, as I recall. It was a very close-knit, good group of people who all supported each other as people and as creatives. It was a very safe space to foster creativity and to share our stories together.”

For McCreary a safe space was needed, because West Linn wasn’t always the easiest place to grow up for a Black person. “West Linn has a huge lack of diversity, says McCreary. “There was a lot of racism at school. I’ve personally faced a lot of that.” Kaiser’s class presented a means and an opportunity to address these circumstances and to define himself as something apart from that.

Playwright Evan McCreary. Photo courtesy of the playwright.
Playwright Evan McCreary. Photo courtesy of the playwright.

All Rise came about because it was my way of coping with a very dark and scary thing that I was seeing,” says McCreary. “It was my way of finding a light in all that and finding a way to make sense of everything that was going on around me, and my place in the world and especially in West Linn, where there are very few people of color. A large part of why I created this piece – unknowingly, at the time – was to reclaim my identity.”

The “unknowingly” hints at a process that did not evolve in a straight line: McCreary is frank about that. “About a year ago,” he says, “we’re preparing for our semester finals showcase in the playwriting class, and up until that point I was struggling to write my final one-act play. Annie finally said, ‘Just tell your own story.’ That would be the early stages of All Rise, when I decided to just tell my truth rather than create something fictional, which I was struggling with at the time.”

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Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante Voices of Tomorrow Beaverton and Gresham Oregon

Kaiser saw some promise in the young playwright and encouraged him to submit his play for consideration into West Linn’s end-of-year, student-directed production, Shorts, a collection of one-acts written, directed, and performed by West Linn students. McCreary did, and got in. “Even crazier,” he laughs now, “I got the opportunity to direct it.”

A friend’s mother, Rachel Tillman, saw McCreary’s piece and had an idea. She happened to be connected to one of the Rose City’s most prestigious and active movers and shakers, 2019’s Spirit of Portland Award winner, Dr. S. Renee Mitchell.

Listing all of Mitchell’s accomplishments here would take up too much space (you can catch up at her website reneemitchellspeaks.com), but undoubtedly one of her primary engines has always been supporting Black youth.

“It’s now the second night of our performances,” remembers McCreary, “and I’m backstage with our cast and our crew and we’re celebrating, and it was another great show. One of our crew members comes into the green room and says, ‘Hey, Evan. There’s someone in the audience asking for you.’ I had no idea who that was. I go outside and I meet Dr. Mitchell, who I find out is very involved in the arts community, and the community as a whole in Portland. She shared with me how she had felt about the performance. She said she would like to do anything in her power to bring this production to Portland.”

McCreary’s momentum, already strong and steady, notched it up a gear.

Dr. S. Renee Mitchell. Photo: Jacobsen Valentine
Dr. S. Renee Mitchell. Photo: Jacobsen Valentine

“I was in disbelief for a week that that had actually happened,” says McCreary, “ just meeting her and having her be so moved by what I had created, because I had never experienced something like that before.” Dr. Mitchell put McCreary in touch with Jerry Foster, artistic director of Portland’s longest-running Black theater company (and one of the longest-running theaters in Oregon, period), PassinArt. Every year, PassinArt holds its annual  Pacific Northwest Multicultural Festival of “films, staged readings, and panel discussions.” At first McCreary was just going to volunteer to help out, but Dr. Mitchell encouraged him to submit his script. He did.

“And I heard back,” says McCreary. “They wanted to select it to be showcased among scripts from playwrights all across the country and Canada, at this festival. That was a mind-blowing conversation to have. I later found out I was their youngest playwright to present a piece in their festival’s history. I got to be at the festival and meet a lot of incredible people and get to know them and take classes with them and develop my craft, not only as a playwright but as an actor. Towards the end of the festival I got to present my own piece and have all of these people who I had been admiring and asking questions of – they were all in the audience supporting me, which was a really surreal experience. That was really exciting and a huge honor.”

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“Dr. Mitchell was the pilot of organizing all that,” says McCreary, “and connecting me with a lot of people. I’m so grateful and blessed to have her attached to the history of this production, which was only possible because of her. Because she saw potential in what started as a homework assignment and believed in it and nurtured it to wherever it goes now.”

McCreary then found the IFCC opportunity and jumped on it, eventually sending his application to Dr. Mitchell for pointers. She gave him some pointers, but mainly left the application to McCreary, saying “she believed in what I had written,” says McCreary.

The rest, as they say, is history. Evan McCreary’s first play is going up this weekend. All Rise “follows Valerie Williams after the murder of her teenaged son at the hands of police. She finds herself in a tumultuous battle with the criminal justice system in a desperate attempt to avenge her young son’s stolen life.”

Like most writers, McCreary draws on much of his own life to tell his story. “Valerie” in the play, for instance, is modeled on his own mother — “the strength of her,” says McCreary, “and her spirit and courage, as well as her compassion and her kindness.”

It hasn’t always been easy. On this leg of the journey McCreary has received his baptism of fire in producing, assembling a creative team, casting the show, and directing. “While it has been challenging,” he says, “it’s also been a huge learning experience that I’m very grateful for. I’ve gotten experience as a producer and a director and learned about the business side of the craft.”  Still, the challenging aspect of this project hasn’t deterred McCreary in the slightest about his chosen path forward.

Annie Kaiser, McCreary's theater teacher at West Linn High School. Photo: Jared McLean
Annie Kaiser, McCreary’s theater teacher at West Linn High School. Photo: Jared McLean

“I was bit by the bug very young,” he says, “and now I’m stuck with it forever. Now that I know writing plays is an option for myself, I definitely see myself continuing down that path. I also see myself pursuing my other passions in the theater, such as acting and directing; musical theater, maybe. I just want to fully commit myself to my passion in the performing arts, even though it’s a risky field to pursue and to go into. It’s what makes me happiest in life.”

McCreary is effusive in his praise and gratitude to the adults in his life, especially Annie Kaiser and Renee Mitchell, and he should be. But it’s one thing to get mentoring, to be presented with opportunities, and another to make the most of it. That’s all on McCreary himself, who is doing the learning, meeting the people, putting in the work. When you talk to older people about him, everyone is excited about his potential. The lessons he learns today, the trials and triumphs of this time in his life now, will pay off larger dividends later. Evan McCreary knows that, and is applying himself to achieving that greater future.

Sponsor

Chamber Music Northwest Imani Winds and BodyVox Beautiful Everything The Reser Beaverton Oregon

Though the context within which All Rise was created was difficult, McCreary is grateful even for that. “I’ve noticed a social renaissance of more understanding, empathy and critical conversations,” he says. “It was a hard time to be a student but I’m grateful that I was a student during that period, because I got to be a part of those conversations and be a part of the change that happened over the years and part of the change that is still happening today.”

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Evan McCreary’s “All Rise”

  • Where: Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, 5340 N. Interstate Ave., Portland
  • When: 7 p.m. Friday, March 1; 2:30 & 7 p.m. Saturday, March 2; 2:30 & 7 p.m. Sunday, March 3
  • Tickets: $5-10; ALL RISE Events

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bobby Bermea is an award-winning actor, director, writer and producer. He is co-artistic director of Beirut Wedding, a founding member of Badass Theatre and a long-time member of both Sojourn Theatre and Actors Equity Association. Bermea has appeared in theaters from New York, NY, to Honolulu, HI. In Portland, he’s performed at Portland Center Stage, Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Playhouse, Profile Theatre, El Teatro Milagro, Sojourn Theatre, Cygnet Productions, Tygre’s Heart, and Life in Arts Productions, and has won three Drammy awards. As a director he’s worked at Beirut Wedding, BaseRoots Productions, Profile Theatre, Theatre Vertigo and Northwest Classical, and was a Drammy finalist. He’s the author of the plays Heart of the City, Mercy and Rocket Man. His writing has also appeared in bleacherreport.com and profootballspot.com.

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2 Responses

  1. Evan’s work has always been beautifully creative, and I recently saw his production, All Rise – incredibly moving, heartbreaking, and soul-reaching on a deep level.

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