Tamera Lyn

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.


Charles Grant’s Matter at Hand

The Portland actor-writer brings a vivid sense of movement to his play about the ever-present danger of violence that Black Americans face

Matter, conceived, written, and performed by Charles Grant and directed by James Dixon, is a deeply personal portrayal of a young Black man’s quest to find a way to save Black lives by examining police brutality and gun violence. Co-produced by Portland Playhouse and Many Hats Collaboration, the one man, 20-minute, filmed theater piece methodically examines the facts amidst opposing viewpoints, social division, and the constant barrage of news. Grant, frustrated and grieving over the many Black lives that have been lost, becomes aware of his vulnerability as a Black man and the possibility of his death at the hands of the police. While not strictly a dance work, Matter includes a lot of movement, as life should, and includes sections that could be called dances, with movement direction by Many Hats Collaboration’s artistic director, Jessica Wallenfels. Through a combination of camera angles, lighting, sound, text, movement, and the cast’s lived experiences, real emotions and trauma are expressed in the work, framing the complex Black experience. 

Charles Grant in the 2017 version of “Matter.” Photo: Tamera Lyn

“From early conversations with Jessica [Wallenfels], I knew that I wanted to incorporate more dance and movement into this piece,” Grant told me in an email. Grant originally conceived of Matter in 2017 as part of his apprenticeship at Portland Playhouse and is unofficially calling it Matter 2.0 this time around. Sadly, it is still part of our larger cultural conversation because of the disproportionate amount of violence toward Black bodies. He hopes he doesn’t have to keep bringing it back over and over again. 


Finding a voice for black media

Open Signal's screening Friday at the Hollywood Theatre of work by six young black Portland filmmakers opens the door on a world of stories

Something’s happening. And you’d better know what it is.

On Friday, June 14, Open Signal Labs is giving six black filmmakers a chance to showcase their work and let the Portland media world know they’re here, they’re thriving, and they’re ready to enter the industry and take a commanding role. The screening, at 7 p.m. at the Hollywood Theatre in Northeast Portland, is the culmination of a year of work, learning and training for six young, black filmmakers: Kamryn Fall, Elijah Hasan, Tamera Lyn, Sika Stanton, Noah Thomas and Dustin Tolman.

Open Signal’s Ifanyi Bell and RaShaunda Brooks: making it happen. Photo: Sam Gehrke

This fellowship is the first of its kind in the state of Oregon. Over the course of the year, these artists were granted “a $2,000 stipend, training, access to industry-standard equipment, staff and actors from Artists Repertory Theatre, as well as mentorship with media professionals and connections to the field from the Oregon Governor’s Office of Film & Television.” The idea, says Open Signal executive producer and industry veteran Ifanyi Bell, is to “provide our fellows the best possible resources — cutting-edge filmmaking equipment and experienced industry professionals — and then time will tell. We hope to create a safe space immune from outside influence that will inspire true innovation and authentic stories of black Americans.”