Jane Vogel

On the bridge: American true tales

Theatre Diaspora's "Here On This Bridge: The – Ism Project" tells six stories of life from the nonwhite side of the national divide

Shareen Jacobs, performing the opening monologue in Theatre Diaspora’s Here On This Bridge: The – Ism Project, takes her audience for a walk on the wild side. The wild side is the sidewalks and streets of Lake Oswego, the small and pretty Portland suburb often cited as Oregon’s safest city to live in, but which, in Josie Seid’s short solo piece Being Me in the Current America, can be very much something else again.

Minutes later, in his own piece See Her Strength, writer/performer Samson Syharath, in the midst of the story of his Laotian-immigrant mother’s fortitude and coming to terms with her new culture and her son’s gayness, lays his head softly for comfort onto Jacobs’ lap. Everything stops: It’s a moment of revelation and grace.

Samson Syharath and Shareen Jacobs in “See Her Strength.” Photo: Alex Haslett

On they roll, these short and telling stories, each its own tale yet all gathering force and strength from their mutuality. Sofia Molina’s firm yet gentle telling of Yasmin Ruvalcaba’s Carmelita, a story of danger and bravery and crossing the Rio Grande to the United States. The tough and sorrowful truth in Dré Slaman’s performance of Heather Raffo’s bone-rattling Lockdown Drills, about slain children and the psychic cost of mass-shooting lockdown drills in America’s schools: “Who grew this boy? This girl?” Shelley B. Shelley’s stubborn, wryly humorous, and sometimes angry performance in Bonnie Ratner and Roberta Hunte’s That Diversity Thing as a black lesbian blue-collar worker who loves her job but not the guff that comes with it: “Twenty years later I still hear that voice. ‘You’re only here because you’re black.’ Or, ‘You’re here because you’re a woman. That’s the only reason you’re here.’” Jane Vogel, in Dmae Roberts’ Harvest, her story of an Asian American woman growing up in rural and mostly white and inhospitable Oregon, and the state and family history of stolen land and incarceration during World War II: “It’s like the harvest was us.”

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Boom Arts: A dance for freedom

"Chang(e)" tells the story of the short life of activist/artist Kathy Change, an "alarm against Armageddon"

By ELIZABETH WHELAN

“A universe full of love and wonderful possibilities would be yours if only you would reach for it. You are sitting in timid conformity… Do a dance for freedom.”—Kathy Change, 1996

Kathy Change: an activist, artist and dreamer who devoted her life to spreading her message of radical change in the name of peace, social equality, and a higher sense of global consciousness. She was born in Ohio with the name Kathy Chang, which she eventually switched to Change for performance. Her life was a culmination of misunderstood yet passionately persistent warnings of the social evils of an increasingly catastrophic world. Her vision was hopeful, but the increasing frustration and helplessness she felt led to her own self-immolation on October 22, 1996, when she doused herself with gasoline and lit a match.

Chang(e)—the third section of a trilogy of dance/theater plays that paid homage to Asian American visionaries with early deaths by NYC-based movement artist and actor Soomi Kim directed by Suzi Takahashi—depicts the life and work of a woman whose character was as vibrant as the technicolor wings she danced in while screaming words of warning against nuclear warfare, environmental degradation, the war on drugs, and every other social problem you could name. Boom Arts, a non-profit presenting organization for contemporary art, seeks out artistically adventurous and unusual work to bring to the Portland community, and this revised version of Kim and Takahashi’s 2014 original hybrid play fit in perfectly with Boom Arts’ programming.

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At the Drammys: a voice for equity

Portland's Age & Gender Equity for the Arts is fighting for equal opportunities in the performing arts – and awarding $30,000 at the Drammys for the cause

“A theater that is missing women is missing half the story, half the canon, half the life of our time.” That quote from playwright Marsha Norman sits atop the home page of Age & Gender Equity in the Arts, a young and thriving organization based in Portland that promotes equal opportunity in the theater in age, gender, race, and identity. And it’s putting its money where its mouth is: At this year’s Drammy theater-awards celebration in the Newmark Theatre on Monday evening, June 27, AGE will present $30,000 in awards to theater companies taking steps to achieve equity. That’s a significant commitment. ArtsWatch asked actor and activist Jane Vogel, who founded AGE in 2014 and is its board president, to write about the group and its goals.

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Jane Vogel, center, taking part in a “Brave New World” panel sponsored by Oregon Humanities and Profile Theatre, with, from left, Kimberly Howard, Adriana Baer, S. Renee Mitchell, and Pat Zagelow. Photo: Lorelei Culbertson

Jane Vogel, center, taking part in a “Brave New World” panel sponsored by Oregon Humanities and Profile Theatre, with, from left, Kimberly Howard, Adriana Baer, S. Renee Mitchell, and Pat Zagelow. Photo: Lorelei Culbertson

By JANE VOGEL

Women make up 51 percent of the United States population, yet women are significantly underrepresented in the arts. Women of color, women with disabilities, trans women, and older women experience added layers of marginalization and discrimination.

To help the performing arts reflect the actual makeup of the culture and break through longstanding barriers, I founded Age & Gender Equity in the Arts (AGE) as a nonprofit organization in 2014. AGE advocates for equity, diversity, and inclusion. Our mission is to promote the visibility of women across the lifespan in the performing arts, effecting a paradigm shift in the culture. Veteran actor Karla Mason Smith is our executive director and Lorelei Culbertson is our operations associate. We have an active advisory council and cadre of volunteers.

As an actor, a clinical psychologist, an immigrant, and an activist, I have always been an advocate for social justice. I fought equity battles as a young woman in the 1970s. But the progress my generation made in the ’60s and ’70s has lost ground. The objectification of younger women and the marginalization of older women is still commonplace in theater and across industries.

Maya Jagannathan of Anjali School of Dance, from an AGE showcase performance. Photo: Jason Bruderlin

Maya Jagannathan of Anjali School of Dance, from an AGE showcase benefit show at Artists Repertory Theatre in January 2016. Photo: Jason Bruderlin

Stella Adler said that theater is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation. The current theater landscape is rife with gender and age bias, and thus is lacking in truth. My passion and determination are even greater than they were in the 1970s. The stakes are higher now that I’m in my sixties. I want the generations that follow to be the beneficiaries of our work. I believe that together we can create conditions where a woman’s opportunities to achieve her full potential are not compromised because of her gender or her age. I am proud of Portland theater for embracing AGE’s efforts to make this happen.

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