A conversation with a Portland Theater Icon for Women’s History Month.
Editor’s note: Oregon ArtsWatch welcomes Dmae Roberts, one of Oregon’s leading arts and cultural voices, to our lineup of journalists. Beginning today, Roberts, a writer, theater artist, and two-time Peabody Award-winning radio producer, will publish her lively and essential biweekly podcast Stage & Studio on ArtsWatch. In 23 years of producing Stage & Studio in Portland, she’s interviewed more than 1,000 of the artists and other workers who create Oregon’s performing, literary, and media arts scenes – a continuing who’s-who of the creative world.
Roberts maintains her own Stage & Studio website and moves her podcasts to ArtsWatch from KBOO-FM community radio; they’ll also continue to be available on her podcast website. Her projects with ArtsWatch will be, in her words, “especially focused on Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) artists and arts.”
Roberts begins her partnership with ArtsWatch with this conversation with Wanda Walden, the Portland- and Oakland, California-based actor, visual artist, writer, and in-demand costume designer, who had an astonishing fourteen shows lined up in Portland for 2020 before the pandemic shut productions down. Since the 1980s Walden, who grew up in Portland after moving here from Chicago at age 11 in the 1960s and began her career as a theater costume designer with the pioneering Black theater company PassinArt: A Theatre Company, has designed for most of the city’s leading theater companies. She talks here about her history of working with artists to develop Black theater in Portland. Most recently she costumed Martha Bakes at Vanport Mosaic from afar, locating a Revolutionary War era dress in her collection. Walden spoke from her studio in Oakland.
Click on the podcast link or download at the right of the audio icon to hear about Wanda’s vision!
Wanda Walden says the use of color is her signature in costume design as well as her visual art.
About our guest: Walden is an actor, writer, visual artist and veteran Portland costume designer. Her passion for collecting and wearing vintage clothing led her to start her own company, Retro-Spect: A Theatrical Modeling, in 1981. Michael Grant, co-founder (along with Connie Carly) of Passinart Theater, established in 1982, asked her to costume The Resurrection of Lady Lester by Oyama (Charles F Gordon) at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center in 1986. That was followed by costume designing Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson in 1987 for Storefront Theater. In the ’80s and ’90s, Walden also worked as an actor. She was cast as Dussie Mae and (also costumed) for Ceremonies in Dark Old Men by Lonnie Elder III. More recently, she received the 2019 Drammy Award for her outstanding body of work during the theater season.
As the resident costumer for PassinArt: A Theatre Company, Walden’s credits include The No Play, Hazardous Beauty, Black Nativity, Two Trains Running, Repulsing the Monkey, The Gospel of Loving Kindness, and Smoldering Fires. Other Portland area credits include Crowns and How I Learned What I Learned (Portland Playhouse); Fires in the Mirror and The Secretaries (Profile Theatre); It’s a Wonderful Life, Skeleton Crew, An Octoroon, and We Are Proud to Present…(Artists Repertory Theatre). In addition to her costume designs, Wanda’s visual art was presented in association with And in This Corner: Cassius Clay (Oregon Children’s Theatre); Left Hook, American Summer Squash, Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water, and Cottonwood in the Flood (Vanport Mosaic).