Many Hats Launches '5 in 5 Initiative' to Promote New Work, New Voices

Many Hats Launches '5 in 5 Initiative' to Promote New Work, New Voices

Local theater company Many Hats Collaboration has announced a commitment to create five new works of original theater within the next five years, 2019-2023. This intentionally ambitious goal for the micro theater company is meant to respond with urgency to the dynamic world in which we live by lifting up the voices of underrepresented groups through collaborative theater practice. Each project will collaborate with artists and community groups, engaging differing perspectives to create an inclusive, transformative body of work.

"The goal right now is to invite artists to the conversation who have a different perspective than mine, and to engage that point of view in the artmaking process," said Jessica Wallenfels, artistic director of Many Hats Collaboration. "Collaboration is in our DNA as a company, and there's never been a better time to dig into multiple viewpoints to promote a deeper understanding of one another as a society."

Wallenfels went on to outline the artistic reasons for embracing an accelerated production timeline.

"Up to now, Many Hats has developed new works over several years, and has taken years-long pauses in production when needed," Wallenfels said. "I wanted to challenge our tiny company with an audacious goal, and in doing so upend the idea that new works require years of development and resources. Creating work in quantity forces you to make choices based on what is happening right now."

As part of Many Hats' mission to create theater performances which reimagine music and movement onstage, the 5 in 5 Initiative will create a series of experiments in theatrical form. These forms will include the creation of a new musical, devised piece, play, dance theater work and adaptation of nondramatic literature or source. Following Many Hats' history of innovating music and movement onstage, from the pop-heavy score of 2006's "Mutt" to the danced folk-rock song cycle, "Find Me Beside You," in 2010, each 5 in 5 project will employ music, sound and movement as integral ingredients within each of the chosen forms.

Many Hats looks to leverage collaboration as a platform to amplify the voices of underrepresented voices through its choice of artist and community collaborators. At a time when vulnerable populations are endangered, Many Hats seeks partners to tell stories from marginalized groups and populations.

Broad outlines of topics that may be broached by projects the 5 in 5 Initiative come from Wallenfels' own lenses of identity, including the generational impact of the immigrant experience, the female-identified and queer experience, the impact of mental illness and addiction in families, and the medical establishment's crisis of elder care resources.

Further, the 5 in 5 Initiative seeks to move Many Hats' employment and curatorial practice toward increased representation of diverse populations, modeling inclusivity for Portland through project selection, casting, and creative team selection. The overall impact by 2023 is increased visibility of collaborating artists/groups, authentic, compelling stories from lesser known sources, expanded opportunity for emerging artists and voices, a wider Many Hats audience, and a a rapidly expanded body of work created in response to the times in which we are living now.

The first 5 in 5 project is the dance theater work, "The Undertaking," presented in conjunction with the Fertile Ground Festival of New Work in January, 2019. Depicting end-of-life care of an elder through the lens of a mother/daughter relationship, the piece uses the music of Dmitri Shostakovich Piano Trio #2 as its spine, with original text by Emily Gregory. Northwest Piano Trio musicians Hannah Hillebrand (cello), Heather Mastel-Lipson (violin) and Susan McDaniel (piano) perform the work live. Like the company's last mainstage show, "The Snowstorm," it features movement and storytelling enacted by actors and scored by live musicians.

The show is also presented with a new play reading created from The Art of Aging Project launched in October, 2018. This community art project sourced stories and survey responses from people over 65, as well as interviews from participants at the Urban League of Portland Multicultural Senior Center. Weaving together these contributions in the form of a choral play, Camille Smicker directs a reading of a new work created from elders speaking in their own words.

Performance details about "The Undertaking" can be found at or by calling the information line at (503) 893-9757.

Photo credit: Gary Norman

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