BWW Interview: Source Material's Samantha Shay Talks About Upcoming Premieres
The Fertile Ground Festival is almost here, which means the Portland theatre community is gearing up for 11 days of new works performed across the city. In preparation, and to get a hint of what's to come, I spoke with Samantha Ravenna Sóley Shay, the founder of Source Material Collective, an international group of artists who recently established a home base in Portland and will be premiering two works here in the upcoming months.
Source Material was founded in 2014. Shay described them as "an international group who at different times were in the same place and started making work, and then decided to have a company because we just kept making work." The group gained fast acclaim. Their first piece, INTO THE FOG, won four awards at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2014.
Although the artists are located all over the world, they decided to make Portland their company's home. Shay said: "We came to Portland because a lot of our work is theatre-based, and I think it's really important that we build a community. I've noticed that repertory theatres do their best when they build communities -- when actors and directors and audiences grow together. We didn't have that previously because we were moving around so much. We were drawn to Portland because there's such enthusiasm around experimentation here."
So, what's Source Material about?
Shay talked about two things that are important to her. First, accessibility. Shay (and some of the other Source Material artists) went to CalArts, where Shay says she found "a lot of theatre I was a part of and seeing was intellectually sophisticated, but not as emotionally intelligent as I desired. I wanted to make work that was strict down-to-essence, and was therefore challenging and accessible in the same way to everybody."
She's also interested in our relationship to the classics: "I'm curious about how we can be faithful to really great classical theatre. I think the word "faithful" is really loaded. People use that word very often to mean, 'I'm not going to interfere,' so I'm going to use all of these formalities that mean 'not interfere.'" I'm really excited about how we can redefine what faithful means by entertaining the really wild impulses that brilliant text brings up."
Source Material will be premiering two shows in Portland in the next two months.
A THOUSAND TONGUES
A THOUSAND TONGUES, which will be at Fertile Ground, is a solo performance concert by Danish artist Nini Julia Bang, featuring traditional music from around the world. Shay characterizes Bang as "an extraordinarily powerful performer" who "channels something so beautiful when she sings." This particular piece was born out of Bang's "vision to articulate the power of self-expression through music." It's a collaboration with Jaroslaw Fret, the founder of Polish theatre company Teatr ZAR and director of Poland's Grotowski Institute, where the full performance will premiere in November.
Shay is excited to be bringing this European style of performance to the United States and to Portland. It's a style we don't often get a chance to see, and one that Shay describes as getting to "what the roots of theatre are. There is something so emotional about it. It's powerful on a physical, primal level. It isn't so much the aesthetics, although the aesthetics are beautiful, but that the offering is so powerful and honest. It's popular in the art world to make dystopian, jaded work, but this work is not that. It's heartfelt. It's based on tone and feeling -- right-brained, dreamscape, liminal space. That's a lot of what I'm inspired by in my work, and that's the style that Nini brings."
You can listen to some vocal tracks on Soundcloud to enter the dreamscape for yourself.
A THOUSAND TONGUES runs January 22-24 at 8pm at The Headwaters. Buy tickets here: http://fertilegroundpdx.org/festival-passes-and-tickets/
I SHOULD HAVE A PARTY FOR ALL THE THOUGHTS I DIDN'T SAY
I SHOULD HAVE A PARTY, which will premiere at the Old Church in February, is a site-specific performance piece described as "a love letter to Chekov."
It's a piece Shay has been working on since undergrad. And it is, by her own admission, " really strange show." The show is inspired by Chekov and explores how we deal (or don't deal) with grief. Shay noted: "We don't know how to process grief. There aren't any good containers for it. We spend several months bringing a human into the world, but then just a couple of days bringing them out." The first half of the performance is "a funeral, grief ritual...a sensorial experience of grief and what isn't being spoken...then the second half is the after-party." [And, BTW, it looks amazing. Check out the video promo.] "I'm excited about it, and whenever I work on it I get very nervous because it's such intense subject matter. I actually get scared working on it, which I think is good!"
I SHOULD HAVE A PARTY will be performed at The Old Church February 4-9. For more information, visit the Source Material website: http://www.source-material.us/index/#/schools-out/
Welcome to Portland, Source Material. We look forward to building a community with you.