Dmae Roberts

Dmae Roberts is a two-time Peabody winning radio producer, writer and theatre artist. Her work is often autobiographical and cross-cultural and informed by her biracial identity. Her Peabody award-winning documentary Mei Mei, a Daughter’s Song is a harrowing account of her mother’s childhood in Taiwan during WWII. She adapted this radio documentary into a film. She won a second Peabody-award for her eight-hour Crossing East documentary, the first Asian American history series on public radio. She received the Dr. Suzanne Ahn Civil Rights and Social Justice award from the Asian American Journalists Association and was selected as a United States Artists (USA) Fellow. Her stage plays and essays have been published in numerous publications. She published her memoir The Letting Go Trilogies: Stories of a Mixed-Race Family in 2016. As a theatre artist, she has won two Drammys, one for her acting and one for her play Picasso In The Back Seat which also won the Oregon Book Award. Her plays have been produced in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, NYC and Florida. Roberts is the executive producer of MediaRites, a nonprofit multicultural production organization and co-founder of Theatre Diaspora, an Asian American/Pacific Islander non-profit theatre that started as a project of MediaRites. She created the Crossing East Archive of more than 200 hours of broadcast-quality, pan-AAPI interviews and oral histories. For 23 years, Roberts volunteered to host and produce Stage & Studio live on KBOO radio. In 2009, she started the podcast on StagenStudio.com, which continues at ArtsWatch.

 

Stage & Studio: Vanport Mosaic 2021

The 6th annual festival is in full swing with virtual, indoor and outdoor activities through June 30. Dmae Roberts talks with founders Laura Lo Forti and Damaris Webb.

We The People (Remember – Repair – Reclaim – Re-imagine)

Dmae talks with Laura Lo Forti and Damaris Webb, co-directors of Vanport Mosaic, a multidisciplinary organization that devotes itself to memory activism through visual and performing arts, history and community dialogue. First formed to honor the history of the devastating 1948 Vanport Flood, the organization has embraced inclusivity to the point that this year its sixth annual festival includes 200 artists, activists, cultural organizers, historians, media makers, grassroots groups and nonprofits, all reflecting on what the WE means in the festival’s theme “We The People.”

Last year, during the height of shutdowns and quarantines, the festival was one of the first organizations to adapt into a virtual offering of performances, films and panels. This year, as a portion of Oregonians feel they’re ready to emerge, slowly, in public to attend events, the Vanport Mosaic Festival offerings include outdoor walking experiences and small indoor gatherings, sprinkled with some online virtual events.

In this podcast, we’ll hear about some of the virtual and in-person events.

Subscribe and listen to Stage & Studio on: AppleGoogleSpotify, Android and Sticher and hear past shows on the official Stage & Studio website. Theme Music by Clark Salisbury.

On co-directing the Vanport Mosaic organization, Dmae asks, what is their secret sauce?

Laura: “I don’t think there is a secret. I think there is a genuine respect for each other and genuine friendship. I’m constantly in awe and inspired by Damaris, and we both share (a) resistance to certain formula. We don’t believe in this words like ‘leadership’ but kind of in a horizontal way, meaning that we make decisions in a very easy and fun way…. and with the hundreds of people we collaborate with so it doesn’t feel (like) a struggle. It doesn’t feel a competition. We always feel there is an abundance of resources if we collaborate instead of compete with each other and especially with all the other organizations. So that that’s really, I think also she’s really fun and beautiful.”

Damaris: “I think that we both have a resistance to those kinds of constraints. When we try to imagine the stories or the relationships that need to be supported. We’re like, well, what would that look like? Not what, what should it look like? What would it look like? What does it want to, to be? There (are) all these levels happening concurrently, and we don’t have a season, rather we have initiatives. And some of them just go on for as long as – they’re still going, they’ve been going for years. And then other things morph into something else. So I think it’s also that neither of us is particularly interested in the product as the product, but that there are moments of opportunity to share. And there’s all kinds of like, different variations on that theme for anything.”

On the presentation of Act II of ‘Martha Bakes: a Biography of a Revolution and Insurrection that never happened,” a new play written by Don Wilson Glenn, directed by Damaris Webb and featuring Victoria Alvarez-Chacon as Ona Marie Judge.  Online at  7 and 9 p.m. Friday, June 4.

Damaris: “George Washington has recently passed away and in the will, he has suggested that the slaves be free upon Martha’s subsequent death, which has led to a slave uprising. Because if all that’s standing between you and freedom is one woman … Well, and she’s locked herself in the kitchen and proceeds to reflect on her life while baking us a three-course meal. The second act is about their runaway slave Oona Marie Judge, who we know even less about. In fact, I never heard about her growing up and in his history class. And then the third act, well, you’ll have to wait and see…”

About the intersections of Laura interviewing Mr. Kent Ford for an oral history when Damaris spotted a familiar photo.

Damaris: “Mr. Ford had been offering this walking tour, his memories of the Albina area. Laura had met him and made a documentary interview with him. A few years ago…Laura screened the interview of Mr. Ford, and there was a picture of my dad that I’d never seen before in there. And so then I realized that Mr. Ford and my dad had known each other.”

And that’s how Mr. Ford  history tours became an integral part of the festival and perhaps is the secret sauce of Vanport Mosaic.

Laura: “And this is often the case, and that’s why we call ourself a platform, because we want to be able to support these relationships. It all starts with a relationship, with a real connection. It’s never something that starts with, with our brains. We tell story with and not about. And so that’s why I think that’s really the secret sauce here. It’s all based on real genuine relationship.”

Walking through Portland with a Panther: the life of Mr Kent Ford, All Power” a new play by Don Wilson Glenn based on the walking tours with Mr. Ford, co-founder of Portland’s chapter of the ’60s-era black empowerment organization the Black Panthers. Virtual table reading, 1:30-3:30 p.m. June 12.

Mr. Ford’s walking tours are Saturday, June 5 and 19, 10 a.m. to noon, gathering at the Matt Dishman Community Center, 77 Northeast Knott Street, Portland. United Walking tour of Albina led by Kent Ford. Listen to Mr. Ford’s memories of revolutionary activism and community service. 25 max per tour. Masks required.

Two photos from the upcoming film adaptation of “SOUL’D”

SOUL’D: the economics of our Black bodies (the Black Joy edition), a performance piece adapted for film, 7-10 p.m. June 19, Echo Theatre, 1515 Southeast 37th Avenue, Portland.

Damaris:SOUL’D is an investigation into what ways our Black bodies have participated in the American economic dream. And it’s referred to as a devised piece. So part of it is who is in the collective ensemble at the time where we’re, you know, relooking again. So each time the pieces, a new piece with some continuation of story.”

Other events discussed (but not all!). Listen to the full podcast to hear about more of Vanport Mosaic Festival events:

About the We The People Weekend with Zine Machine, a collaboration with Taylor Valdes of The Venderia and A’Misa Chiu that includes a vending machine distributing free memory activism zines, postcards, CDs in North Park Blocks from 10 a.m. Friday, June 25, through 6 p.m. Sunday, June 27. This also inlcudes Soul Restoration Rituals, a series of morning and evening artistic (music, poetry, dance) offerings involving several artists, curated by Darrell Grant. 

Come Sunday by Darrell Grant, a  self-guided sound walk in collaboration with Third Angle Music, is available through June 30. The walk begins at Denorval Unthank Park, 3920 North Kerby Avenue. It’s inspired by inner-Northeast neighborhoods that were once home to more than 200 Black churches.

For a full schedule of Vanport Mosaic events, visit: https://www.vanportmosaic.org/festival2021-schedule.

Devin Fei-Fan Tau: Who’s On Top?

Stage & Studio: A new documentary by a gay Taiwanese-American filmmaker follows four LGBTQ+ climbers to the summit of Mt. Hood

Devin Fei-Fan Tau and George Takei

For her second episode during Asian American/Pacific Islander month, Dmae Roberts delves into the layers of filmmaking and identity with filmmaker Devin Fei-Fan Tau. He’s reached a milestone in his career with his first feature documentary Who’s On Top? 

The documentary features four diverse LGBTQ+ climbers going to the summit of Mount Hood. Only one is an experienced climber. The film follows the four, as well as Tau and his film crew, while they train together and make the arduous climb. As a bonus, the film is narrated by veteran actor and narrator George Takei.

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Desdemona Chiang – A Great Leap

Like many theater artists, this noted director has been perfecting the virtual reading which has evolved as its own art form during the pandemic. Hear her thoughts on directing, racial equity, sound design and her concern for her parents and relatives during COVID-19.

For Asian Pacific American Heritage month in May, Dmae Roberts features theater director Desdemona Chiang. Chiang is directing Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap, online May 1-9 from the Portland Chinatown Museum. At a time when virtual play readings are an everyday occurrence, Chiang is directing an enhanced reading based on her direction of Yee’s play at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis in 2019, with three of the original cast members.

Desdemona Chiang. Photo: Cheshire Issacs

Inspired by events in Yee’s father’s life, The Great Leap centers on Manford Lum, a 17-year old rising basketball player who brashly convinces a coach to include him in an American college team traveling to play in Beijing, China, for a friendship game. The play travels between 1971 and 1989 from Beijing and Chinatown in San Francisco. Those are two crucial times in U.S. and China relations. It wasn’t until 1972 that President Nixon visited China to open relations between the two countries, and 1989 was the time of the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre.

Lawrence Kao (L.)and Kurt Kwan (R.) in the Guthrie Theater production.
Subscribe and listen to Stage & Studio on: AppleGoogleSpotify, Android and Sticher and hear past shows on the official Stage & Studio website. Theme Music by Clark Salisbury. Sound design samples by Robertson Witmer.

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Subashini Ganesan: Creative Laureate Checks In

Stage & Studio: Dmae Roberts and Portland's arts advocate talk about Covid relief, EDI initiatives, and what the next laureate might do

What is the current state of Portland’s creative community? One person who has had her finger on the pulse of the needs and challenges for Portland’s artists is Subashini Ganesan, and she’s checking in with Dmae Roberts.

Subashini Ganesan-Photo: Intisar Abioto.

In 2018, Ganesan was selected to become the Creative Laureate of Portland, the first woman of color to represent the city’s creative community. As the cultural ambassador of Portland, she conducted surveys to help artists define needs for affordable space, and organized arts and culture communities in an event, “Walk with Refugees and Immigrants.” She also co-founded and organized an emergency relief fund for artists during March through July in 2020 as the arts community struggled to adapt to COVID-19.

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Lillian Pitt: 10,000 Years Through Art

Stage & Studio: Dmae Robert talks with the noted Warm Springs artist about friendships, mentoring, Covid, and the Indigenous traditions that shape her art

Dmae Roberts first met Lillian Pitt when noted writer Cheryl Strayed curated an artists  section of a TEDx talk in 2013 that included Roberts and Pitt. Though she was familiar with Pitt’s work, it was a pleasure for Roberts to finally meet her. In her TEDx talk, Pitt shared the stage with Toma Villa, a young artist she was mentoring.

In her new curated art show Pitt is again sharing space with Villa and other Native American artists, two others she’s also mentored. That is the giving spirit of Lillian Pitt. Her new show Lillian Pitt Solo Show: Ancestors Known and Unknown runs through May 1 at the Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River.

Lillian Pitt. Photo: Dennis Maxwell

Pitt features her glass art based on petroglyphs for this exhibit. Other artists and artwork she curated for this show include photography by Joe Cantrell (Cherokee Nation) and contemporary paintings by Sara Siestreem (Hanis-Coos Tribe),  large-scale mixed media wood carved masks by Toma Villa (Yakama Nation), found-object sculptures by Debora Lorang (friend of the Columbia Gorge Native Americans), and  aesthetically rich oils on canvas by Analee Fuentes (Mexican Heritage).

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Roberta Wong – Conceptual Artist & Tireless Advocate

Stage & Studio: In her newest podcast, Dmae Roberts talks with artist and curator Wong about challenging stereotypes and anti-Asian racism

Note: Dmae interviewed conceptual artist Roberta Wong the day of the killings of six Asian women in Atlanta, Ga. that night on March 15, 2021 in an apparent (though not yet charged) hate crime. In their conversation, the two Asian-American women talked about Wong’s earlier work that challenged the stereotypes and racism against Asian American/Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and about how, unfortunately, her work is still relevant considering the rise of anti-AAPI hate incidents around the country.

Stop AAPI Hate gathered a report summarizing the 3,800 reported incidents by AAPIs around the country. Out of all the reports, 68 percent of the respondents were women. The overall amount of reports went up by about 2,800 hate incidents nationwide from the period of March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021.  AAPIs who experience a hate incident can still report it at Stop AAPI Hate. Read the full report. Locally, you can report hate incidents at Report Hate PDX.

Roberta Wong. Photo by Julie Keefe.
Listen to Roberta’s interview here!
Subscribe and listen to Stage & Studio on: AppleGoogleSpotify, Android and Sticher and hear past shows on the official Stage & Studio website. Theme Music by Clark Salisbury.

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FOR HER SECOND WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH PODCAST episode on Stage & Studio, Dmae talked with Roberta Wong, a veteran artist who grew up in Portland and has created thought-provoking conceptual art focused on themes of identity, ethnicity, ritual and transformation.

Her works during the 1980s, among them All Orientals Look Alike, All American, and Chinks, directly challenged people’s concepts of what it means to be Asian American.  Wong even contested an assumption in a grant proposal to the Metropolitan Arts Commission (the precursor to Regional Arts and Culture Council) that slated all Asian artists under the “folk arts” category.

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Wanda Walden on Stage & Studio

Dmae Roberts moves her essential performing, literary and media arts podcast to ArtsWatch. Up first: A conversation with costumer deluxe Wanda Walden.

A conversation with a Portland Theater Icon for Women’s History Month.

Editor’s note: Oregon ArtsWatch welcomes Dmae Roberts, one of Oregon’s leading arts and cultural voices, to our lineup of journalists. Beginning today, Roberts, a writer, theater artist, and two-time Peabody Award-winning radio producer, will publish her lively and essential biweekly podcast Stage & Studio on ArtsWatch. In 23 years of producing Stage & Studio in Portland, she’s interviewed more than 1,000 of the artists and other workers who create Oregon’s performing, literary, and media arts scenes – a continuing who’s-who of the creative world.

Roberts maintains her own Stage & Studio website and moves her podcasts to ArtsWatch from KBOO-FM community radio; they’ll also continue to be available on her podcast website. Her projects with ArtsWatch will be, in her words, “especially focused on Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) artists and arts.”

Wanda Walden: actor, writer, visual artist, costume designer. Photo: Don Lewis

Roberts begins her partnership with ArtsWatch with this conversation with Wanda Walden, the Portland- and Oakland, California-based actor, visual artist, writer, and in-demand costume designer, who had an astonishing fourteen shows lined up in Portland for 2020 before the pandemic shut productions down. Since the 1980s Walden, who grew up in Portland after moving here from Chicago at age 11 in the 1960s and began her career as a theater costume designer with the pioneering Black theater company PassinArt: A Theatre Company, has designed for most of the city’s leading theater companies. She talks here about her history of working with artists to develop Black theater in Portland. Most recently she costumed Martha Bakes at Vanport Mosaic from afar, locating a Revolutionary War era dress in her collection. Walden spoke from her studio in Oakland.

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