Chamber Music Northwest Orion Quartet The Old Church Portland Oregon

Looking for light, packing a punch

Fertile Ground 2021: In "Livin' in the Light," opera singer Onry seeks a space for a Black man to breathe.


One morning last June, the opera singer and multi-hyphenate artist Onry could not get out of bed. Amidst the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, Onry says, “I, like so many other African Americans, had a moment. I was afraid, both for my life and for what the world would think of me and view me.” This impasse, Onry recalls, led him to the realization that “I was living in the truth of others versus living in the light of myself.” 


Livin’ in the Light is the title of Onry’s film, which premieres on Saturday, Feb. 6, as part of Fertile Ground’s 2021 online festival of new works. Directed by Hannah Hefner, the short film is a stunning musical journey of self-actualization. It opens on Onry in a cloistered world, which seems to be constructed from dark pink cloths—rays of sunlight are trying to break through. Soon the scene shifts to the outdoors. “A river, a giant field, a forest,” Hefner says, “Each has these particular heavy and beautiful and romantic physical qualities.”

Onry moves through these spaces as if in search of an unknown destination. We see him running his hands through the grass, pausing to admire wildflowers, sprinting through the woods. A chorus sings background to Onry’s solo, (My soul never burned so damn bright / I wanna be livin’ in the light). Eventually, Onry returns to the same closed space from the beginning, but now he’s changed. He looks directly into the camera. He inhales and exhales, his breaths deep and certain. 

“We felt like it was really important, and really healing hopefully, for people to see a Black man with space to just breathe,” says Hefner. 

“It was one of the most empowering moments,” Onry says of filming the ending scene. “I wept and wept and wept for a very long time after we cut.” 

Onry and Hefner say that, when making the film, the team was instilled with a sense of urgency—both from the summer’s protests, and from a need to create art during the pandemic. “We were spending a lot of time together because we had this quarantine pod,” says Hefner. “So we needed to make rules from everyone in the pod.” One of those rules, Hefner says, was: “Make this music video.” 

To make the film, they needed to raise money. This proved to be a manageable task. The film is sponsored by a number of institutions, including the Regional Arts and Culture Council, and All Classical Portland. To see those resources be made available, Onry says, “was really powerful,” adding that contributions were made “solely through the community saying we want to see African American lives represented.” 

For a four-minute film, Livin’ in the Light packs a punch. The landscapes and music production are stunning, but the film’s essence is Onry. As an actor, he conveys a wealth of emotion through his eyes without having to say a word, and his voice, often climbing into a falsetto, is amazing. Ultimately, Onry views Livin’ in the Light as a testament to his own creative prowess. If a time ever comes, he says, where he stops living in his own light, “I can look to this film, and say, you did it, and you can continue to do more.”  

“This is just a witness and genesis of more beautiful artwork to come.”


  • Livin’ in the Light debuts at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6. Sunday is the final day for rollouts of new shows, but all festival projects will be available through Feb. 15 to stream on Fertile Ground’s Facebook and YouTube channels.



  • Fertile Ground 2021: Digital seedlings sprout. Bennett Campbell Ferguson previews the festival and talks with director Nicole Lane about the switch from live to online viewing.
  • Interactive cookies and scares. Bennett Campbell Ferguson writes about two plays with interactive aspects: Fold in Gently and RE: Lilith Lopez.
  • Martha Bakes in Black & White. Bobby Bermea talks with playwright Don Wilson Glenn and director Damaris Webb about Martha Bakes, a play about race and history and the nation’s first First Lady in her colonial kitchen.
  • Tough questions, tough answers. Lisa Collins’ “wonderful and exacting” new play Be Careful What You Ask For delves into a Portland killing and matters of race, Max Tapogna writes.
  • The rhythm and meaning of Lilies. In the short Lilies, Max Tapogna writes, poet Joni Whitworth and filmmaker Hannah Piper Burns find the mythic amid the reality of Covid-19.
  • A “Hot Mess” of a zombie jamboree. Mark LaPierre and Ian Anderson-Priddy’s zombie comic-book musical, Max Tapogna writes, will make your pulse rush. If you have one.
  • Strike up the virtual festival band. This ArtsWatch Weekly update talks about Kwik Jones’s screwball comedy/mystery thriller Cat Napper and Rachael Carnes’s post-apocalyptic What a Memory Looks Like.
  • A room with a redemptive view. Bobby Bermea talks with the makers of The November Project, a videotaped play that takes place in a bathroom.
  • Days of Fezziwig Past. Bennett Campbell Ferguson considers the pleasures of Fezziwig’s Fortune, a more-than-a-prequel to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Max Tapogna is a writer, musician, and theater maker who hails from Portland, Oregon. He graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a degree in Theater Arts and minors in English and music. Max is a former Acting Apprentice at Portland Playhouse and has performed with musical groups including the Adelphian Concert Choir, Portland Symphonic Choir, and the Oregon Symphony. He has worked various other jobs, including waiting tables in Grand Teton National Park and teaching English in southern Spain.
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