Cover artwork of the Season in review 2020/21: A group of friends open a time capsule labelled 2020.
Oregon Season in Review 2020/21
  • Oregon Banner for Season in Review 2020/21
    Artwork by Bekka Lindstrom, Drawings by Ian Sklarsky
  • Lonesomes by Octavio Solis artists
    Lonesomes by Octavio Solis artists. From top left, clockwise: Director and ANPF Artistic Director Jackie Apodaca, Isabel Pask, playwright Octavio Solis, and Armando Durán. Image by Kara Q. Lewis for Ashland New Plays Festival.
  • Lonesomes Performance still: Isabel as Jesse.
    Lonesomes by Octavio Solis. Performance still: Isabel as Jesse.
  • Talkback of Lonesomes
    From top left, clockwise: Lonesomes director and ANPF Artistic Director Jackie Apodaca, Isabel Pask, Armando Durán, and playwright Octavio Solis during talkback following the first live Zoom performance on February 27, 2021. Image by Kara Q. Lewis.
  • Lonesomes Performance still: Armando as Conrad.
    Lonesomes by Octavio Solis. Performance still: Armando as Conrad.
  • Lonesomes Playbill cover.
    Lonesomes by Octavio Solis. Playbill cover.

In the year that was the Big Pivot, Oregon dramatists have created brave, bold new work. This feature will highlight just a few examples of Oregon-based dramatists and some of the Oregon venues that featured them. It will also speak to the myriad ways we found to tell stories, in what was a challenging year for our communities. Police brutality and protests shook the night on our city streets. Wildfires raged, blotting the sun, making the air unbreathable for weeks. Yet in this hard time, artists found new capacity to connect with each other and with audiences.

Here are a few highlights.

Playwright Octavio Solis premiered Lonesomes, “written in and for isolation” for the Ashland New Play Festival (ANPF). Directed by Jackie Apodaca,“it’s a pair of monologues, Conrado and Paisley Blue. I never thought that they would constitute a real play, but I guess they add up to that,” Solis says. “I wrote it for the Zoom platform.”

The piece features Oregon Shakespeare Festival company member Armando Duran, who, like Solis, lives in Medford, “a long-time favorite of mine,” Solis says. The other performer is Isabel Pask, a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon.

Another company that caught our attention is Portland’s Hand2Mouth Theatre, which recently released Distancias, their first fully digital work in collaboration with the newly formed Latinx theatre company Moriviví, founded by a group of diverse Latinx artists with multidisciplinary backgrounds to create a space of empowerment and education through the celebration of roots, stories, languages, and complex identities in the Latinx community.

A knockout performance is MATTER by Portland playwright and actor Charles Grant, co-produced with Many Hats Collaborations and Portland Playhouse during the fires last September. Conceived, written, and starring Grant, with film by Tamera Lyn, direction by James Dixon, movement direction by Jessica Wallenfels, lighting design by Thyra Hartshorn, and sound by Shareth Patel, MATTER follows the quest of one young Black man looking to find answers to police brutality and gun violence.

In a year of uncertainties, artists have turned to lively new mediums. Crave Theatre Company released the cast album for Bad World, a new devised musical with lyrics by Kylie Jenifer Rose and Jennifer Provenza, music by James Liptak and Kylie Jenifer Rose, and book by Kylie Jenifer Rose, James Liptak, Jennifer Provenza, Rachael Singer, Michael Cavazos, Ashley Mellinger, Maya Maria Brown, and Zeloszelos Marchandt.

And who doesn’t love a podcast? Brianna Barrett’s limited series True Love and Other Noncommunicable Diseases, Part I, based on her solo show, is available now in cooperation with Bag & Baggage Theatre.

Portland’s Fertile Ground Festival, an eleven-day arts festival held every January/February, moved to a digital platform, but that didn’t slow down creativity, including Be Careful What You Ask For by Lisa Collins, directed by Jennifer Lanier, and produced by Family of Color Productions. The play examines the political and social conversations taking place at dining room tables and Zoom meetings throughout the nation. Featuring performances by Vana O’Brien and Keith Cable as a Portland couple chatting over morning coffee about 2020, this play asks: “How do we have a conversation about politics, nationwide protests, racial injustice, and videos of police brutality against Black people?” 

Fertile Ground’s Cat Napper by Kwik Jones, winner of the 2021 Portland Civic Theatre Guild New Play Award, directed by Victor Mack and produced by the Portland Civic Theatre Guild, was a hit. A mystery thriller with more than a bit of comedy, Cat Napper centers around newly hired Special Detective Crystal Beck. Beck, under orders from the Mayor himself, must partner with not-too-pleased veteran detective Gribbs to solve a series of mysterious cat kidnappings. This award-winning play has money, power, politics, and cats!

Our state celebrated five 2021 Oregon Book Award finalists for the Angus Bowmer Award in Drama, including Sara Jean Accuardi’s The Delays, Conor Eifler’s You Cannot Undo This Action, E.M. Lewis’ How the Light Gets In, Anya Pearson’s The Measure of Innocence, and Andrea Stolowitz’s Recent Unsettling Events. The award went to Conor Eifler. Congratulations! Also of note, the recipient of Literary Arts 2020 Oregon Literary Fellowship is… me! Rachael Carnes. And the 2021 Oregon Literary Fellowship winner is Sara Jean Accuardi.

Portland Center Stage has commissioned Anya Pearson to create a new work, through the theatre’s PCX Remix program. “I am beyond honored to receive this commission from Portland Center Stage and to be part of this amazing and formidable lineup of BIPOC playwrights,” writes Pearson. “We need theatre now more than ever! The collective breath, the joy, the vulnerability, the investigation of the soul, and the reimagining of what it means to gather, to hold space, and to dream of a better world for all of us.”

And Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre has been bringing innovative Oregon-based projects to the airwaves, including a five-part audio drama adapted from E.M. Lewis’ epic play Magellanica, directed by Damaso Rodriguez with composition and sound design by Rodolfo Ortega, and The Berlin Diaries by Andrea Stolowitz, transformed into an audio drama by the same creative team.

Other highlights from around the state include Joy Frickin' Hates Her Dumb Stupid Room by Sara Jean Accuardi at Western Oregon University in Monmouth; The Fear of Speaking by Jane Comer at Fusebox Theatre in Portland; The Trouble with Tea by Lynn Millar at the Spotlight Community Theater in Stayton; Dorothy Velasco’s Maria Indomable (Maria Untamed), coproduced by Minority Voices Theatre and The Very Little Theatre; and Eugene and Rich Rubin’s Caesar's Blood at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland.

This roundup offers a small fraction of the creative outpouring that Oregon dramatists have made during challenging times. They continually inspire with community spirit and can-do resolve.


View this Region's latest additions to the Dramatists Diary

Rachael Carnes
Rachael Carnes

(She/Her/Hers) is an award-winning playwright who has productions across the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Asia, publications in lots of nice literary journals, and recent invitations to the Inge Theatre Festival, the Midwestern Dramatists Center, the Mid-America Theater Conference, the American Association for Theatre in Higher Education New Play Development Series, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conferences, as well as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Playwriting Intensive. She and her family live in Oregon.