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.

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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.

About the author

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.

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