Barry Hunt on the return of Sowelu Theater and ‘Vincent River’

Lorraine Bahr and Clayton Schnell in Sowelu Theater's
"Vincent River"

Last weekend Sowelu Theater, led by artistic director Barry Hunt, reappeared on the theater scene with a production of Philip Ridley’s Vincent River. The company did a full season for its 10th anniverary in 2007-2008, and then dived into a film project, based on a new play it produced in 1998, The Further Adventures of Anse and Bhule by Tania Myren.

OregonLive reviewer Richard Wattenberg praised Vincent River‘s intensity and the acting of Lorraine Bahr in the two-hander, which explores the aftermath of a hate crime: “There is a no-holds-barred quality to this play; it is certainly not for the squeamish.”

I asked Hunt a few questions via email, mostly about the recent history of the company and his observations about the Portland theater world as Sowelu reenters it. Here’s what he said, edited just a bit.

Question: What was the movie project and where does it stand now?

Barry Hunt: The film/video is a screen adaptation of “The Further Adventures of Anse and Bhule” by Tania Myren, a post-apocalyptic love story. We produced it as theater in 1998, winning an Outstanding Original Production Drammy.  The film is in post-production (sound, score, FX, etc.) We hope to have it festival ready by the summer. The project has great production values and performances.

It has received wide community support, which is one of the reasons we don’t feel we have been “gone.” The film has been funded by RACC, the Collins, Miller and Kinsman Foundations, individuals and corporations, Maryhill Museum, ODOT, Oregon Bureau of Land management, Indent studioa, Pacific Crest Community School, St. Philips Parish. It features Sowelu actors Lorraine Bahr, Kelly Tallent, Sean Skvarka, Dan Hill, Garfield Wedderburn and Aundre’ Barnes, with choreography by the late Keith V. Goodman.  It features the work of over twenty video and design artists and a dozen children.

Why did you re-enter the precarious world of indie theater? Was that your plan all along?

Indie film is no less precarious. And yes, we planned all along to work in both mediums. We performed a full season of theater for our 10th anniversary in 2007-08 because we knew we would be underground working on the film for a few years. Having the film near completion, it seemed like a good time to reconnect to the theater community and follow shortly with a reveal of the film.

Why this particular play?

One factor was looking for something small. Two characters. After producing/directing the film for this time, I needed something more manageable. Producing film is equivalant financially and energeticly to staging a full play each week of shooting. Vincent River came along through Sean Skvarka who found many of the plays Sowelu is best known for producing. It is a mystery as it unfolds. The plot reveals issues centered around homophobia in connection to a hate crime. My real attraction to the piece was the writer’s unique approach to the subject of intolerance by looking more at the subtleties in the relationships of the victim’s loved ones as catalysts in the crime rather than at the perpetrators.

The story is powerful and relies on strong performances, which has been a Sowelu trademark. The play seemed perfect for Lorraine Bahr, and we had some great young actors from our workshops that fit the bill for the young male lead. What is unique about this production, however, is the lack of stylized physical work that signified past Sowelu productions. The style of “Vincent River” more reflects the acting evolution of the company brought about by working in film. Much more naturalistic. The film holds the high production values and choreography associated with past Sowelu work, and the play reflects the more subtle acting style needed for film.

Has the scene changed at all from your perspective during the past few years of Sowelu’s detour?

Yes! First, the town overall produces more work of a higher quality. Wonderful growth leading to increased competition. Better sets, better acting. I felt a need to be more detailed and less raw in my approach. Also, connecting to an audience had completely changed. I have experienced the shift to social networking as a marketing tool. I am still trying to discover how all that works. I can only hope the people who should see this play will find us, and we them.

Who are the core members of the company at this point?

Core members are hard to identify. Our model has changed. We no longer meet weekly and produce a regular season. We produce on a project-by-project basis. Maybe like Sojourn and Liminal. All projects however are still in an ensemble model and are populated with Sowelu actors. Sowelu actors are those actors who have acquired the key skills that define the Sowelu approach, strong Meisner and physical theater skills. These actors will always include past company members. The film featured Lorraine Bahr, Kelly Tallent, Sean Skvarka, Barry Hunt, Dan Hill and Jeb Pearson. Added to the Sowelu skill set, however, is the actor or filmmaker who can create film in an ensemble atmosphere. Not an easy task. Key additions in this area have include Director of Photography Michael Pritchard and renaisssance man Kyle Aldrich, among others.

NOTE

Vincent River continues through April 21 at 7:30 Thursdays-Satuardays, 2 p.m. Sunday, April 15, at Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont St., Portland. Tickets are $10-$18.

2 Responses.

  1. james ryan says:

    I had wondered what Sowelu had been up to for the past few years so I was very glad to see this article. Because of the long-term collaborative nature of Sowelu actors and the very complete integration of a recognizable approach to the work, I always looked forward to their productions. I come into Portland only occasionally now so I was unable to see “Vincent River”; it would seem that is my loss. I want to have moments from a production stick in my mind and I could count on Sowelu shows to make me think and have an excellent theatre experience to talk about afterwards. I am looking forward to seeing the movie they have been working on but I hope they continue live theatre as well. Portland is very fortunate to have such a vibrant theatre scene and I hope to get there for the next Sowelu production. Wish I could have seen this one.

    • Lisa Carpenito says:

      I watched two amazing actors on stage friday night the 13th of April. I cried, felt anger, the pain, and laughed with the humor. I witnessed a fire develop between both on stage that I hadn’t seen in along time. Vincent River is a must see play. The issues in this work are about the reality of homophobia, love, anger, and the way society is affected in all areas of living. Barry your production was outstanding,and the performances were breathtaking and brilliant! Thank you!

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