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BWW Review: WEATHER ROOM: A Strange, and Strangely Comforting, New Work from Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble


WEATHER ROOM runs through this weekend at 7:30 each night.

BWW Review: WEATHER ROOM: A Strange, and Strangely Comforting, New Work from Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble On November 1, I put on my long underwear and winter coat and made myself a thermos of hot tea to take down to Zidell Yards to watch the filming of Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble's WEATHER ROOM: A Record of Standing in the Dark Down by the River.... The interactive virtual version of the show is now available in an interactive format for viewing nightly on the PETE website.

WEATHER ROOM consists of three solo pieces, devised and performed by Cristi Miles, Rebecca Lingafelter, and Jacob Coleman, each of which lasts exactly 23:26 (taken from the tilt of the earth's axis) and responds in some way to both the climate crisis and the pandemic. The design came first, and then each performer created their piece using the same set (a geodesic dome), sound, lighting, costumes, and props. Miles's piece evoked interstellar exploration, Lingafelter's examined what we can learn from birds that spend their entire lives in the air, and Coleman's was a movement piece with no narrative but plenty of raw emotion.

Here's how the performers describe the process of creation:

Rebecca Lingafelter

The experience of making this piece was isolated and interior. I held on tightly to the clues that the designers had laid out - clay birds, shrunken balloons, a dance break, stripes and bee suits, astroturf, a geodesic dome lit like a circus. Images of space, flight, air, lightness and heaviness became the building blocks. Then Jenny Ampersand sent us the Helen MacDonald piece and I felt like I had a scaffolding for the thing I was trying to make. Amber [Whitehall], as director, helped me to unclench my grip on the material, and breathe into the possibilities and the unknown. The performance of the piece also felt surprisingly isolated and alone... maybe that is just how we have to be right now? And maybe, rather than denying that, we quietly wave at each other from our living room windows or zoom screens and make plans for a different future?

Jacob Coleman

The structure, costume, lights and sound were all created before I began conceiving my performance, so the idea of Weather Room was to 'read' the design as if it were text and respond. The design created a whole world that was beautiful and sad, euphoric and raw, and I spent a lot of my time just watching it and listening to it and responding with my body. As I worked, the piece developed a sense of ritual, and started to explore how we might apologize to our children for the mess we've made of the planet... and whether such an apology would be the right action to take.

Cristi Miles

I started late due to being quarantined away from the group during our first iteration. I had lots of ideas, none of them proved. After my first run-through, Amber helped me to remember what the piece was about, and also asked me to include a song. I am not well practiced in making alone and threw fit upon fit throughout the process, ending up alone in the tailor weeping through most of the entire soundscore. Then, I laughed at myself, got over myself, and asked what I wanted to make. Next, a (sort of) clown came out. I took inspiration from Maggie Heath who had written some beautiful prose in response to a prompt for the whole group, and from bits and phrases from conversations around the work I'd been collecting along the way. Using these pieces and an article summarizing previous mass extinctions on our planet, I created a script and a (sort of) piece. It feels unfinished. It taught me a lot and I hope to work on it again when the sun comes back.

It's a PETE show, so it's beautiful, emotional, and a little strange. But I also found it strangely comforting. The performers didn't interact directly, but their worlds all inhabited the same space, which is something we can't do right now. In this time of social distancing, it comforted me with the idea that even though we're all isolated, at least we're all isolated together.

WEATHER ROOM runs through this weekend at 7:30 each night. The virtual experience is interactive, so you can watch one piece all the way through or switch between them, whatever you want. There are also some additional short performances by young artists that were developed in partnership with Northwest Children's Theatre. More details and tickets here.

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