Last night was the 31st Annual Drammy Awards, a celebration of Portland theatre hosted by the Portland Civic Theatre Guild. I haven’t been able to make it for the last couple years so I was very excited for this year’s ceremony. It’s essentially Portland’s version of the Tonys, except that I care more because these people are my friends. I am a huge dork for the Drammys . . . they make me misty-eyed, sentimental and nostalgic in a way that no televised awards ceremony with a celebrity red carpet ever can or will. The Portland theatre community has been incredibly good to me, and I like to see their work celebrated.
The first time I ever went to the Drammys I was nineteen years old. I was an intern at Portland Center Stage during Chris Coleman’s very first season as artistic director. I remember exactly what I wore – a red dress and a floor-length satin leopard-print duster. Because that was how I dressed for special occasions back in college. (And still would, if my mother hadn’t forced me to quit leopard print cold turkey.) I was giddy and starstruck and even though I had only seen a handful of shows (and thus did not have terribly strong opinions), I was thrilled to be there. My clearest memory (besides what I wore) was of coming home late at night and finding my mom reading in the kitchen; she liked to wait up for us when we were out doing fun things so she could get the gossip when we came home. The kettle was on for tea – she had a kind of sixth sense about making tea so the hot water was always ready when needed – and we sat at the kitchen table and I told her all about it, and she said, “Someday that’s going to be you up there.” So if it ever is, we will all know that Theresa Willett called it first, ten years ago, when I was a college freshman with nary a stage credit to my name outside of high school.
When I worked at Artists Repertory Theatre, I never missed the Drammys. Artists Rep always bought a table, so we had great seats, and it was usually the party kids (me, Katy, Trisha) who attended rather than the grownups (Allen and Jill), so we were plenty lively. I longed for the day when we would win an award and there would be no one from the company there to accept it so Katy and I could go up onstage, but unfortunately, Stephanie Mulligan usually beat me to it, and Literary Director trumps Grants Manager. Sad times. But even if we didn’t win anything, I loved it. Nearly everyone in the room last night I knew, I knew from my years at Artists Rep. I was the girl who stalked actors to collect their bios and headshots for the playbill, who staffed them and occasionally art-directed on photo shoots, who ran around carrying wine crates in high heels at opening nights. I got to know a lot of actors and designers through that process, and it made me a little sad and self-pitying when I moved to writing grants full-time and no longer really had any involvement with cast or crew outside of parties. I hold a special place in my heart for the Artists Rep actors who still know who I am even though they have had no obligation to remember my name in like five years (the Chrises Murray and Harder, Kirk Mouser, Todd Van Voris . . . )
Artists Rep took some (in my opinion) undeserved slams last night implying it was essentially theatre for the elderly. As a longtime fan of their work – and a girl still on the right side of thirty – I call bullshit. Let’s not perpetuate the lame stereotype that the classics are only for old people. No one would do Shakespeare and Arthur Miller and Chekhov anymore if they weren’t relevant. I came up at Artists Rep; that’s where I cut my teeth in the Portland theatre, so I’m very protective of Allen Nause and Jon Kretzu and their artistic vision. And even though I did laugh out loud at the joke last night about their capital campaign (“They built a $28 million staircase! You can walk up AND down it!” Hilarious), I draw the line at slams against their artistic product. Did you see Allen Nause in Death of a Salesman? No? Then shut up.
(End of rant. I swear.)
Interestingly, the theatre whose work I’ve seen the most this year was neither PCS nor Artists Rep (where I can occasionally score free tickets), but Miracle Theatre. I am ashamed to say I had never seen a Miracle production until this year (I know! I know! I’m horrible!), but I saw both El Quijote and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents this year, as well as their reading of Oedipus El Rey with Classic Greek Theatre, and those three productions were three of the best things I saw all year. It says a lot about how much I loved Quijote when I tell you that I had to switch seats at intermission because I was getting RAINED ON IN MY SEAT, but I liked it so much I didn’t want to leave even though they offered me comps to come back another day. (By the way, may I just add by way of a side note that I think Miracle has some of the best customer service of any theatre in town.) Though I was hoping my date/writing partner/friend/pretend boyfriend Gilberto Del Campo would snag a Best Actor for his stellar work as Don Quijote, and disappointed that he didn’t, I was thrilled to see them pick up solidly well-deserved accolades for that show’s awesome set and costume designs, as well as two awards with money attached – $1500 for new tech equipment and $5000 to send Marketing Director Tim Krause to an international theatre festival in Chile.
My favorite part of the Drammys – actually, my favorite part of any awards show – is the acceptance speeches that really come from the heart, the ones where you know that person genuinely had no idea they were going to win, and are absolutely beside themselves with excitement and gratitude and joy. Even my cold dead heart was melted when the lovely Maureen Porter broke down in tears because her award for Outstanding Actress In a Lead Role was presented to her by actor Isaac Lamb, who happens to be her godson . . . or when the tiny adorable little girl who starred in that awesome production of Pinocchio everyone’s been talking about all year got up to the microphone and just giggled for like five straight minutes because she was so excited . . . or when Spencer Conway sprinted down from the balcony, drink in hand, to accept his Best Supporting award with the air of someone who was so sure they weren’t going to win that they’re already drunk fifteen minutes into the award presentations. I didn’t see 4.48 psychosis at defunkt, but they absolutely CLEANED UP last night and you could tell that the company was absolutely jumping out of their skins with giddy excitement and pride, and it was really nice to see such a giant heap of awards bestowed upon a comparatively tiny theatre company. It says a lot about how egalitarian the Drammy committee really is when you realize that the two “Outstanding Production” winners were from the city’s largest company and one of its smallest.
During the last Fertile Ground Festival, I got a lot of press and visibility around my play How the Light Gets In – far more than I did with my previous year’s show Upon Waking. Most of the Portland theatre artists who know who I am, know me as a grantwriter or from when I used to do PR and development at Artists Rep, so throughout the festival I kept waiting for somebody to make a snarky comment or make me feel unwelcome at the cool kids’ table because I was an admin person. “Oh, how cute, Office Girl thinks she’s an artist.” But absolutely nobody did. In fact, the exact opposite happened. Stellar actors I’ve looked up to for years emailed me saying things like, “I can’t wait to see your show, I had no idea you were a playwright too!” or “Let me know what your next project is, I’d love to audition for you!” I felt wholly embraced and welcomed into the community as an artist. I used to feel like it was presumptuous of me to say I was a playwright, but when I’m in a room with those people they treat me like I’m an artist. Of all the Drammys ceremonies I’ve attended, as an employee of various arts organizations, this is the first one where I’ve felt like I genuinely belonged there on my own merits. Every time a friend introduced me to someone, they didn’t say, “This is Claire, she’s a grantwriter,” or “This is Claire, she used to work for A.R.T.” They said, “This is Claire. She’s a playwright.”
One day, Mom. I swear.