There is a place in Portland where you can walk out of the rain into an unassuming little coffee shop, order yourself a warm drink, then head through the back door into another world.
Nestled in the back of the Common Grounds Coffeehouse in the heart of the historic Hawthorne district—one of the most quintessentially “Portland” areas of our city (think quirky vintage shops, independent bookstores, and restaurants that make a mean locally sourced vegan brunch)—is a small backbox theatre that houses one of Portland’s most fearless companies, Defunkt Theatre.
Founded in 2000, this nationally recognized non-profit theatre has spent the last twenty years finding new ways to push boundaries and prove that Defunkt is fully unafraid to challenge themselves and their audiences. They have been featured in American Theatre magazine and named by Playbill as one of the nation’s top fiteen companies leading the charge in LGBT theatre. Defunkt has earned a reputation for staging bold, timely, and thought-provoking work in innovative and imaginative ways.
Always striving to give their audience something they haven’t seen before, Defunkt has produced over twenty Portland premieres and eight world premieres, including The Udmurts by David Zellnik and The Undiscovered Country by DC Copeland. Their current season opened with the Portland premiere of Noah Haidle’s sprawling family epic Smokefall, a play normally tackled by theatres with a much larger space and budget. Defunkt’s production, under the direction of Patrick Walsh, used the intimacy of their 40-seat theatre to immerse the audience in the world of the play in a way that lingered long after the last lines were spoken. Their next production, the west coast premiere of Jami Brandli’s wickedly smart, funny, and feminist reclamation of Greek mythology BLISS (or Emily Post is Dead!) directed by the company's executive director, Sarah Armitage, is currently in rehearsal. Their season will close with the world premiere of Carrie Barrett’s delightfully absurd, savagely comedic, and chillingly familiar exploration of human behaviour TO US!, directed by co-artistic director Elizabeth Jackson. After stumbling across Barrett’s play on the New Play Exchange (playwrights, take note), the company knew that this look at how ideologies divide us would be just right for the year 2020, and aligned perfectly with their mission to produce risky theatre that, “makes you think, feel, and talk afterwards.”
Fiercely dedicated to the idea that everyone should have access to quality theatre, Defunkt ensures that cost is never a barrier by making their tickets—yes, every ticket to every production—“pay-what-you-can”. In their words, “we live and breathe for great theater, and we want the work we do to be available to everyone.” So, if you find yourself in Portland, treat yourself to a nice cup of coffee (seriously, we really are very good at coffee here) and head through the back door and into the world of Defunkt. You’ll be glad you did.
SARA JEAN ACCUARDI’s plays include The Delays, < 3, The Storyteller, and Portrait of the Widow Kinski. Her writing has been produced and developed at theatres including Theatre Vertigo, Seven Devils, Victory Gardens, Portland Center Stage, The Blank Theatre, and Spooky Action Theater. She holds an MFA from Northwestern University and is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.