Ashley Mellinger

Art for and from unprecedented times

RACC's "Capturing the Moment - Stories from a Pandemic" provided much needed funding to artists in the Portland Metro area. Luiza Lukova reviews the initiatives debut selections.

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted every facet of our lives over a year ago, the sudden upheaval and economic fissures left many individuals without employment, fearful, and struggling to make light of this new reality. Lockdown and mandated quarantine forced communities to look inward and into new methods of coming together and providing support. 

Capturing the Moment – Stories from a Pandemic is the recent initiative by the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) to support artists in the Portland Metro area during this unprecedented time. The initiative’s open call invited artists of color to submit emerging work in all mediums that reflected their response to the crises unraveling and deepening in their communities. Eligible work needed to be created in the present moment and capture a creative response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The program was made possible by funding from the federal CARES (Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act. 

RACC’s Public Art Team invited four Black community curators who represented a range of experience, and who identified as Black, Indigenous or artists of color to review submissions. The curators chosen were Christine Miller, Bobby Fouther, Ambush, and Stacey Drake Edwards. As artists themselves working and surviving during the pandemic they approached their curatorial process with a consideration of RACC’s guidelines as well as with an intimate understanding of the truths felt by the artists submitting. The work from the final artists chosen for this initiative also encapsulated the weight of the Black Lives Matter movement, racial justice, and the urgent socio-political environment; limiting the artists to addressing only the state of emergency brought on by the virus would have only perpetuated a historic dismissal of otherness.


The Wonders of Wonderland

Portland Playhouse closes the curtains on 2020 with an epic virtual theater festival. We talk with the people who created it.

Ashley Mellinger scripted a witty conversation between two webcam models. Fyndi Jermany crafted a category-defying musical experience. Kailey Rhodes unleashed a meditation on the role of blame in myth and life. Francisco Garcia told a tale of two sisters who are casualties of the Trump Administration’s barbarous family separations.

Mellinger, Jermany, Rhodes and Garcia are the creators of the four new plays that form Wonderland, a virtual theater festival from Portland Playhouse that runs through January 19. Each work mirrors our damaged and divided world (Mellinger says the artists were asked for reflections of “our sociopolitical landscape”). Yet the ways that the plays boldly leap across space, time and genre remind you that while COVID-19 has shaken Portland’s theatre community, it hasn’t shattered it.

Wonderland was born of an army of innovators led by producer Charles Grant and populated by multitudes, including the main creators of the festival’s selections. I spoke to all four of them about the art of creating brazen and beautiful theater in 2020.


The title 545 refers to the number of migrant children separated from their families by the Trump Administration as of October (by December, it had risen to 666). With actors Lulu Kashiwabara and Mila Kashiwabara (who are sisters), Francisco Garcia fought to convey the human toll behind that statistic with a tale of two siblings who are imprisoned and taken from their mother.

Lulu Kashiwabara (lef and Mila Kashiwabara in Francisco Garcia’s “545.” Photo: Kirk Johnson

How long did you have to write the play?

I think I did about three drafts. When I found out [that Lulu Kashiwabara and Mila Kashiwabara] could do the show, I started building the show around them. I sent them questionnaires to fill out so we could build upon their relationship and so I could find out about their backgrounds more, and a lot of that stuff was incorporated into the show.


Antigone behind (and beyond) bars

Director Patrick Walsh is bringing a filmed production of a Greek tragedy to prisons across Oregon

“Thank you for being here.” 

“Don’t forget about us when you leave.”

Those two audience reactions have echoed through director Patrick Walsh’s mind ever since he brought Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative’s modern retelling of The Iliad (called An Iliad) to prisons across Oregon in 2018, including Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, the only women’s penitentiary in the state.

“I love The Iliad,” Walsh says. “But both the play and the source text are very male-centric. And so I really wanted to create a production with a strong female heroine—not only for the women at Coffee Creek.”

So Walsh turned to a play with a heroine who is equal parts steely will and wrenching vulnerability. It was a play that fit his fascination with ancient power struggles that reverberate with contemporary meaning; a play with the potential to make incarcerated audiences feel liberated, if only fleetingly.

Walsh knew that he had to direct Antigone for NWCTC. He didn’t know that he would have to defy a pandemic to do it.


Masked, separated, ready to roll: Shooting an “Antigone” for the pandemic age in the old Wapato Jail space. Photo courtesy Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative