Patrick Walsh talks about “re-enfranchising” incarcerated audiences in Oregon by directing theater for performances in Oregon prisons. He is the Executive Artistic Director of Northwest Classical Theater Cooperative, who presented their latest production, Antigone, via video during the pandemic.
Patrick Walsh is a theatre director and producer who believes in the power of language, art, and community to change lives. His work has been seen across the United States of America. He currently serves as the Executive Artistic Director of Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative Inc (www.nwctc.org), touring classic theatrical stories to culturally under-served audiences; bringing art to people who have the least access to it and knitting rooms together throughout the state of Oregon.
Locally, in Oregon, Patrick’s directing work has been seen at Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative, Defunkt Theatre, Portland Actors Ensemble, Post5 Theatre, Bag&Baggage Productions, the Fertile Ground Festival, and at Two Rivers Correctional Facility where Patrick volunteers through the Arts in Prison program. Work across the country includes credits at Chautauqua Theatre Company, The Guthrie Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Compass Rose Theatre, Theater Workshop of Nantucket, Steppenwolf Theatre, and the Hangar Theater. In addition, Patrick is a proud member of the 2009 Lincoln Center Directors Lab, while also being a recipient of an SDC Foundation Observership, a Chautauqua Theater Company Directing Fellowship, The Leslie O. Fulton Fellowship, and a Drama League Directing Fellowship. Patrick is also a proud founding member of Salmon Nation. https://salmonnation.net/
Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive, progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick, this is Volume V, episode 2.
The arts are a critical part of how we conceive of ourselves. As much as you’re a person who wears their hair a certain way, dresses a certain way, or practices a certain religion, you’re also a person who makes or appreciates certain kinds of art. You might be into the weirdest of weird experimental theater, or you might prefer Shakespeare, or maybe you really only pay attention to cat videos that your aunt shares on Facebook.
And that part of your identity is like a passport. If you think of yourself as someone who feels not only comfortable but also excited and affirmed by going to a theater in the United States, you’re probably also a person who feels affirmed by our culture in general. You’re likely to have a certain level of disposable income, a level of educational achievement, the ability to have free time in the evenings, and you’re likely to be white.
All of those indicators put you closer to the center of power in the United States, and the lack of them pushes you to the margins. The way I’ve described it so far is that those indicators of power bring you access to theater, and the arts in general. But, in the conversation I had on this episode, we ask, what if it also worked the other way around?
My guest this episode is Patrick Walsh, a theater director and organizer who lives in Portland, Oregon. Patrick is the Executive Artistic Director of Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative, a company dedicated to bringing theater to culturally underserved audiences. They’ve pursued that mission by producing theater performances in prisons across Oregon. I recommend you go back to Volume I episode 4 to hear Anna Fritz and Paul Susi talk about their roles in a production of An Iliad that Patrick directed. In this episode Patrick talks about a new production of Antigone and how the pandemic has changed how they deliver their work in the short and long term and revealed an even deeper significance to the core of his company’s mission.
Patrick has been acting on the theory that sharing theater with incarcerated audiences grants them a piece of cultural capital that many of them never thought was theirs.
Here’s the episode.
Part 1 – Pandemic check-in, Antigone basics, theater culture in the United States
Douglas Detrick: So Patrick, welcome to More Devotedly. Tell us how you’re doing. just kind of a basic pandemic check-in.
Patrick Walsh: Yeah. To be honest, Douglas, I’m actually doing pretty well. You know, every day that we have. That more people are vaccinated. You know, that we have a working federal government, I’m feeling much more positive about the world. And, and I actually just got married this past weekend. So I’m feeling like I’m feeling great for the most part.
Like I, myself am vaccinated. My partner was vaccinated. My mother was vaccinated and so were her parents. So we were able to have the ceremony together, which we didn’t think was going to be able to happen. and you know, in the days are longer and the sun is shining, so I’m in a pretty good mood most days.
Douglas Detrick: Congratulations on getting married. That is wonderful. And congratulations to you.
Patrick Walsh: Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Douglas Detrick: when I talked to Paul and Anna Oh my goodness. What, what production were you doing back then? It
Patrick Walsh: It was The Iliad.
Douglas Detrick: Okay. And so now you’re doing Antigone. And I was wondering if you could help the listeners who may not know about classical theater, give kind of some context just about the basics of this piece. you know, just to help folks kind of have that context and to understand why was it a good piece to bring to these populations?
Patrick Walsh: Sure I’d love to. So, Antigone was originally written in, performed in 442. BC was written by Sophocles, who was like one of the great tragedians There are only three surviving traditions. It’s Sophocles. It’s Aeschylus and it is Euripides and those are the only plays we have that survive.
From these tragedians, even though there were a lot more that were writing for these festivals back then, those are the only ones that we have that are available to us. That haven’t been saved across time. and Antigone is about, there’s been a war between Thebes and another city state. And at the ends of this war, we’re Antigone’s two brothers.
These brothers have fought very hard and they have both killed each other during the war. Creon and Antigone’s uncle has taken over the government and decreed that the brother who was antithetical to his purposes in the war, even though he’s dead, will not be buried at all.
Douglas Detrick: which is an, an incredible insult, right.
Patrick Walsh: And like he says, he will just leave him outside and the birds and dogs can devour him while the other brother will get a States’ rights funeral, will be buried with honors. And Antigone decides who is Creons niece, that she is going to bury her brother. and then that starts the entire cycle. She gets caught.
And there’s this whole cycle in this whole conversation of like, whose law are we actually supposed to follow, like man’s law or is there a higher law that we need to be aware of? And this goes between her and Creon back through the entire play. And then at the end of the play Creon decrees, that Antigone will be buried alive.
And she passes and she dies. And so it’s a pretty heavy play. But again, it’s like one of our oldest stories that we have surviving in Western culture, and it’s kind of a really beautiful play. The version we were doing was translated by the poet and classicist Ann Carson. And it was actually the first time it was ever performed on the West coast, which was, which was really, really cool.
There was one production with Julliette Binoche that was done in Prague and then in London and then in New York. But this was also the first generative American production, which was also kind of really cool to be working on.
Douglas Detrick: wow, fantastic. I haven’t been able to see the whole player yet, but , as listeners, I think would kind of glean easily from your synopsis, it deals with some really, life and death matters. Like we’re not talking about like, did so-and-so insult the other person by not quite following the right rules at the party. So this is about big, elemental sort of questions, you know, like the life and death questions. Right. I would love for you to kind of comment a bit about why bring that to an incarcerated population?
Patrick Walsh: So for three years, I directed shows in Yumatilla at two rivers correctional facility, which is a medium security prison. There, I directed Hamlet William Shakespeare’s, the Tempest and Mary Zimmerman’s metamorphosis, which is based on Ovid, short stories. So they were all classic plays are classically rooted.
Now, the reason I did that was a couple of different reasons. One is that if you get the, you can’t see this on the podcast right now, but I’ll be making finger quotations, but like the, the moniker of classic theater just kind of gets a rubber stamp through a lot of things. You know, like the older something is the more people are willing to accept it.
Because it’s been around for so long, even though like the stuff I’ve just said about Antigone, those plays are really heavy and there’s a lot of really subversive subject matter in there. But because they see that classic theater, they just kind of rubber stamp it and let it right through, which was really interesting to me, which, you know, if, if you’ve ever read Hamlet, obviously there’s a whole bunch of… there’s murder, there’s poisoning, there’s betrayal, there’s possible sexual abuse in that play. You know, compared to a lot of things that we see now, it’s actually pretty heavy.
And the other reason is, you know, so we were rehearsing those plays for six months and it, the subject matter needs to be large enough so that people don’t get bored. It can’t just be like a note comedy or a farce or anything like that because we read plays in there and like, those guys would get bored. And this was one of the only times they were allowed to do what they wanted to do, which was be in this theater group. So classic theater in general, I think is very subversive in that way that allows us to go in and it is also, it gives people large enough themes to talk about about, and it is our shared cultural history.
That people are denied, all over the place. You know, that theater people think is very exclusive. You know, for a very long time, I would try to give tickets away to my productions, my professional productions that I would do and people didn’t come. And the things that I would always hear was. Well, you know, I don’t know how to dress. I’m worried about how I smell. What if I act strangely? Like, are people gonna laugh at me?
And there’s the idea about going to these big ivory tower buildings, these theaters that seem unaccessible because people have never been allowed inside either, because there are the reasons I just stated, or, you know, there are economics oral, so they live really far away.
They have no access to these things. And so they’re just going off what they think it is or what they’ve heard. so choosing these big plays, choosing these big themes, you know, it’s about starting a conversation, but it’s also bringing something to people that they should already have access to. And that they need.
And, you know, in our incarcerated populations, also, there are so many rural places that we visit in in the state. There’s so much in the opportunity gap that people just don’t get this stuff where they are. And you know, kind of our internal tagline is Douglas w you know, if you don’t have art, we’re going to bring it to you where you live. And that just means where you’re going to feel comfortable.
Douglas Detrick: Yeah. How did you get started working in, you know, doing this job that you talked about in Yumatilla?
Patrick Walsh: Oh, God Douglas. I just fell into it. So ass backwards, if I’m being really honest. So I’ve been living in Portland about six years. And the first week or two, I was here, I got invited to be on a panel for the Dramatists Guild, which is like the professional playwrights union of America. And it was about the director playwright relationship.
And it turned out the woman who was running it, Francesca Piantedosi, who is an absolutely lovely person. also had in Woodburn, in Woodburn, at McLaren correctional for boys, a playwriting program. And we just really hit it off. You know, we had some great conversations and at the end of that, she asked me, you know, would you ever come down and talk to the guys in my program about what it’s like being a director and working with a playwright, maybe give him some notes. And Douglas I didn’t have a job yet. I’ll be there. No problem. and you know, and we ended up going down and it was never, and I just, I loved it. Like I really enjoyed it. I was like, Oh yes, and I ended up going back three or four more times that semester. And then I directed there, the final presentations, we were able to bring in professional actors to read it for the residents of McLaren and the playwrights and their families, which was really cool.
And then I started wondering if I could do this somewhere else, you know? And so I’ve been doing that thing at McLaren for, for six years. I think I’ve done it 10 times at this point. And then I found this other group open hearts and open minds, which ran the program in Yumatilla. And so I met with their executive director, a guy named Johnny Stallings and he asked me if I would co-direct Hamlet with him up there.
And I said, yes. And then I just, and then after that myself and two other women were in charge of the program Anna Crandall and Victoria Spencer. And then we kind of ran it for the two years after that.
Douglas Detrick: Why did you love it?
Patrick Walsh: it’s a weird thing, Douglas. I know, you know, I don’t know how many of your listeners are theater people or involved in theater or anything like that. But for about the two years before I moved to Oregon, I was living in New York city. I’d gotten like a big fellowship, which, which was awesome, you know?
And I was leaving my, I was living in Brooklyn. I was leaving my place probably ever six or eight weeks to go direct, to play. And so I was, as a director, I didn’t have any other jobs, which was fantastic, but I was getting so burned out and it, wasn’t why I started to be in theater, right? Like if you just want to, for the most part, like, I want to have conversations with people.
Like, I want to know how the work that we’re doing is affecting the community I’m in and vice versa. And I want to have talks about that, but you know, they fly you in for the day before first rehearsal and they fly you out the day after opening night. So I was not having a good time. I was doing a lot of work. I didn’t really believe in, and. was making work for large in my view, largely White, wealthy opening night audiences, you know, so I talked to donors about various vacuous things that I particularly care about. and when I moved to Oregon, I didn’t know if I was still gonna do theater because I was kind of burnt out on that.
And then like making these genuine connections with people that I never thought, like if you told me six years ago, Douglas, that I would spend a lot of time in a prison. I would have told you, you were crazy.
Douglas Detrick: Sure. Yeah.
Patrick Walsh: But being able to have these conversations, these connections with people, but also seeing people grow through the work, like honestly make changes through the work.
I realized that I could use my skillset, you know, theater directing, which is basically how I’ve always naturally participated in the world. And I could do that to actually make some good in this place. And I love living in Oregon, like this is my home. But I could actually do that with this work that I’m talking about at two rivers and at McLaren, and now through Northwest classical, which wasn’t really open to me. And I didn’t even know such a thing existed when I graduated college. If I’m being perfectly honest.
Douglas Detrick: Sure. Well, yeah, you know, it’s, it’s interesting because it seems like. A lot of the measures that we have for success in our artistic careers, you know, such such as those are these days. If you get to do the, you know, the performance in a big fancy hall maybe even getting paid well, you go to the cocktail party with the fancy donors after where it’s just like, these are, these are the things that Mark success. At least, you know, I think in some estimations. And so, I mean, I guess what I think is just interesting and inspiring about this story is just that, what’s driving you to do this is, you know, That you’re seeing that the people that you’re working with are, are being changed by the work. It’s like being changed by a play that was written, you know, more than 2000 years ago.
And that’s a pretty amazing experience. And just, but for people to have their lives, hopefully positively impacted by a piece of art, any art is like, it’s an amazing experience. And so it sounds like that that is what’s driving you and it’s not those things about like, Oh, like, you know, look how many people showed up and bought tickets and this kind of thing, you know?
And, and I, I don’t mean to be reductive. I would say it’s kind of overly simplistic to say, Oh, this, this fancy actor, like, you know, I don’t mean to be dismissive of that as well. Cause it’s also great. It’s like, but I think we need, it’s kind of just like how we’re saying we’re expanding this definition of who was an actor, an incarcerated person can be an actor, can be a director. Can be a theater audience. Right? All those things. It’s like, let’s, let’s make sure that we’re opening up that definition to, to, to allow those other people into the room as well.
Patrick Walsh: Douglas, I think you’re dead on with that. I’m originally from Massachusetts, but I think a lot of times, what is the biggest stamp of approval on your work as an artist and for a lot of people it’s that you get paid. Like that you’re doing it for money, you know, and like, Like, no matter what I think about capitalism or like where we’re living or anything else, like that’s where we are right now.
And I think for a lot of people, like that’s the Mark of success for their families. You know, I’m doing this, I’m making a living, I am receiving monetary compensation, but I think there is a, you know, there’s a spiritual and emotional deficit that can come with that. The more that we, the more that people pursue that.
You know, and that, and that, and I still do professional work, you know, like I’ll still travel once or twice a year to do something. I’m much more selective. And those things feed both different parts of my, my life, my artistic, my creative impetus. and so, yeah, I don’t want to just make people think, you know, that you need to suffer a certain thing about that, you know, but there is something about the work and being so close and being with people who don’t experience it every day. You know, I think here living in Portland, like there is a glut of cultural activities that you can take advantage of all the time. And yeah. And for people who don’t get that, you know, like going into a prison and hearing Anna Fritz play the cello for the first time ever, you know, like you just felt like hearts open up in that room, you know?
And I think a lot of it is because they’re not, They don’t feel like they have ever had that experience. And so they don’t even know what it’s like, our audiences. Don’t exactly know how to keep it close to the chest, you know? Like, so it just all comes flowing out. Cause it’s, it’s beautiful and it’s new and it’s real.
Douglas Detrick: Wow. Yeah. Kind of grabbing on something you said about like, you know, working in a professional theater is great. Doing theater in a prison is great. You know, I think it’s, we should be leaving it up to the people that are involved to make these decisions. I think, you know, one thing I’ve, been surprised by, you know, hearing from you hearing from Paul and Anna.
is That kind of unexpected impact that you, looks like you’re seeing in real time. And it’s like, it’s it’s, you don’t have that normal filter that you might hear with somebody who paid $35 for their ticket, you know, and then they’re going to go spend $50 at the, at the bar or the restaurant afterwards, you know. It’s like they have a filter where they kind of edit their own behavior I won’t assume that folks in prison don’t do that. Cause they, they do in their own way. I’m sure. According to the rules that are there. But like it’s, they don’t have the like, Oh, this is proper behavior at a theater.
Part 2 – Producing Antigone during a Pandemic
Douglas Detrick: Tell me about the trailer and how you shared that with some of the folks in prison and what effect that had.
Patrick Walsh: Yeah. So, you know, I remember about a year ago, we were in the middle of rehearsals for Antigone. We had gotten about a week and a half in And then everything was shut down. So, and I think like everyone else, we were thinking, Oh, this will just be two or three weeks, and then we’re going to get back to it.
and so when we went a little bit longer than that, you know, we realized one people were expecting us to be there and two, you know, we wanted to be able to give something to these audiences, So we decided to make three trailers. One was just about the just like our performers, you know, just as themselves saying how much we miss you, we’re thinking about you. We’re going to be there as soon as we can. The second one was kind of like a look into the work that we were doing. So it was like the characters of Antigone with some musical underscoring, and the third one was Anna, just playing excerpts from her beautiful score, for the people. And I would say one of our, the actors who played Antigone whose name is Ashley Mellinger. She is part of, a group of artists, in a production company called desert Island studios.
And her partner, Joe Bowden runs that. And so Joe and Ashley had the know-how on how to make these trailers, put them together, edit them really well. And then I was able to make some inroads with the department of corrections and also the, the shelters that we visited. And some rural community centers.
And so we were able to set up a system where we could send these to the different places that we were supposed to go the different institutions and they would show those on the closed circuit TV in the prisons. And then also. The staff at the shelters would show them to their participants.
and, for instance, we’re going to go to the Pendleton center for the arts. So the executive director there sent it out in an email. And so we figured out this delivery system on how we could do that kind of on the fly, which was cool and paid a lot of dividends later in terms of how are we going to distribute the full version of Antigone when we realized we would have to film it.
Douglas Detrick: did you get any response, especially from the folks in prisons to the trailers?
Patrick Walsh: Yeah, we got some beautiful letters to be on. And, you know, we put that in each of the trailers, you know, we, I created a safe email address so that people could send emails to it. And then also, got a PO box. So that people could send could send us letters. And we got some really beautiful letters.
One in particular, sticks out to me. And, I’m going to use a pseudonym right now, but this person’s name was Eric. And, you know, and it was a couple of page letter. And then honestly, he, he was so happy we were thinking about him because he didn’t feel like anybody else was.
You know and that was, and we got that one in the middle of actual rehearsals for the full Antigone and it really kind of spurred everybody forward. It’s like, Oh, people are seeing this. Cause you know, in prison it’s hard to get a response. It’s like, yeah, I put it on the TV. They seem to be enjoying it.
But, you know, that’s kind of where it ends. Uh, And we did receive some beautiful letters and I would just like to highlight Paul Susi, who we talked about earlier, who was actually the officiant at my wedding this
Douglas Detrick: The good, okay.
Patrick Walsh: yeah. Yeah, but Paul, I just want to, the good work that he’s doing, basically on his own, he has started like a pen pal program where he is Where he’s joining up incarcerated individuals with people who are on the outside uh, just to be able to give them somebody to talk to.
And he’s done that completely on his own. As all things Paul does, you know, he keeps it, he keeps it close to the chest cause he’s such a good guy, but I do want to highlight that because Paul’s doing great work, not only with our company, but also just by himself, because he is such a good guy.
Part 3 – Producing the filmed version of Antigone
Douglas Detrick: Let’s talk a bit about how you produced this, this filmed version of Antigone. And so it’s done at Wapato, what was formerly known as Wapato jail. And maybe you can tell the listeners about that. but I would love to know just how you guys put that together. And then what are your plans for this film version of Antigone that you’ve done?
Patrick Walsh: I think we got about into may last year Douglas and I realized that it’s like, Oh, we’re, we’re not going to be able to tour this thing. Like, it’s just not going to happen in any timeframe that we can guess about. but also funds came from a lot of donors, a lot of foundations that support our work.
And we had to have some sort of a finished product, to be able to pay the artists that we had contracted. And so I started looking around, you know, and I was wondering where I could film it. You know, we were thinking about doing it in a theater. We had a couple of churches that we’d performed in before that were willing to let us film there. Uh, But I was really looking for something that would connect us to our audiences, particular incarcerated audiences.
and so I was calling around seeing if there were any buildings, any places that we could use. And then I came upon an article about the, the Wapato jail, and that, you know, it hadn’t been sold and I was calling different people, trying to get permission to be able to use it until I finally happened upon the executive director, Alan Evans, His cell phone number, which I called multiple, multiple times. And then one day and Douglas, I swear to God. I said, I was, I was like, listen, if this guy doesn’t pick up this time… picked up on the second ring and we talked for two minutes and then he goes, yeah, he’s like, I think we could make that happen.
Yeah, isn’t that cool. I went to go meet, him and his, well, actually tell you this to Douglas, cause it’s actually kind of a crazy story. But so it’s helping hands outreach re-entry centers is the organization that Alan started and is now, you know, transforming the Wapato jail into a homeless shelter. They already have people there, but I actually, the second person is a woman named Raven and that’s who I just married this past week.
Douglas Detrick: Wow. Okay.
Patrick Walsh: and I had never, like we met and it was like, I was like, Oh, this is the person like, this is who I’m going to marry. And I called my mom after our second date. And I told her that,
Douglas Detrick: Wow.
Patrick Walsh: yeah, I just knew, but if it wasn’t for Antigone and all this stuff, I never would have met her.
Douglas Detrick: Wow. Theater is changing lives, bringing people together.
Patrick Walsh: yeah. Neat. I know. I kinda just got chills. Tell him that’s good. but so we got, you know, we talked about it and we worked out timeframe. it was an active construction site. So we had to get a lot of sign-offs from the construction people, but we were able to go in there. We were able to tech it and then we were able to film it. The person who filmed it is a man named Seth Nehil, he has a company called paradise meow. Which is awesome. If anybody need, you know, if you want to film your theatrical production. And Seth didn’t only come in and film, he really became like a part of the creative team. So we could kind of troubleshoot problems as they arose. And he kept coming with ideas of how we could make it better, you know, for lighting and different things. And camera angles, stuff Douglas, to be perfectly honest, I, it was certainly a steep learning curve for me. And I was so lucky to have Seth there and our whole team that was just like trying to make it work.
Douglas Detrick: Yeah.
Patrick Walsh: The last weekend in August, we filmed it. And then Seth and I went back and forth editing, you know, it was like kind of a whole new directing process. And then we finished that, I think, about the middle of October. And so then we were able to send it out. And one of the cool things Douglas about maybe the only cool thing about the pandemic is, you know, like normally one of our tours reaches somewhere between, 2500 and 3200 people.
But because we filmed it like so far over 18,000 people have been able to see and experience it because we were able to send it to every single prison in Oregon and a bunch of OYA, Oregon youth authority facilities that we’re usually not able to get to. And you know, and we increased the number of people we could send to the homeless shelters. For instance, we’ve been able to create more partnerships through that.
Douglas Detrick: Do you see that as a permanent change? the followup question to that Is that like a separate success? is it like a unfortunate, compromise due to the pandemic? Or do you think it’s like it’s its own kind of win that you were able to reach that many more people. I’m curious, like how does that redefine success for you and for the company?
Patrick Walsh: Yeah. You know, Douglas, that’s been something we’ve like internally between the board and myself uh, you know, thinking about going forward and just, what are those things that we’ve learned from this? You know, I think the pandemic has shown a lot of. A lot of creative people, as well as just people in the world that, that the world is broken.
Like the way we’re doing things was not great and that we can improve upon them. Now whether that’s access or maybe that’s the way we make the thing or the demands we put on artists to be there. I think there’s going to be a lot of major changes, not just in like artistic unions, but also how organizations run.
And so I think for us and you know, we’re still, we’re still sussing it out a little bit. Right. But one, you know, I don’t ever think more art is a bad thing. Like more art for more people is never going to be a bad thing for me or us. So being able to increase the reach, like that was awesome. I would say I miss being in the room with people, you know, I think that’s why we do theater or why people don’t do film, you know?
It’s like you just get something really special from it. and I just miss seeing those faces in the audience, you know, and having those conversations afterwards where people felt like they could get so raw and so intimate so quickly. And, you know, and we got some, we’ve gotten some great letters and some emails back from people about what they’re feeling and how it’s affected them.
But it’s not quite the same, But in answer to your question, Douglas. I do think moving into the future because right now it sounds weird to say this, but it feels like Northwest Classical is in like a growth phase, mostly because there’s more demand. So more people want us to visit them, visit their institutions, come to their towns than we have time for in our performance schedule. and so I do think moving forward, we are going to be filming it and then sending it out. Like I do think that’s going to be something for the places we can’t visit.
It’s also a great calling card, you know, because hopefully something that’s happening now is, you know, hopefully we’ll do two, maybe even three shows. But you know, if we can’t, so we’re going to have to kind of do a Rubik’s cube of, you know, what places did we visit last time? Who do we need to hit now?
who are we going back to? So it’s a lot of conversations around that, but I do think that as well as the trailers we talked about earlier, I think that’s now going to become a permanent part of what we do. It’s going to be a line item on our yearly budget every single year.
Douglas Detrick: Well, yeah. it’s interesting. Cause it’s serving two purposes. Like it’s both, it’s both the art itself and it’s a tool to get to that next step of an in-person performance. really enjoyed what I’ve seen so far of Antigone and I think it looks great. And I also like just seeing the actors working in a prison, it looks very institutional. This is not a place where people are necessarily like expressing ideas. It’s more that they’re just here. As I was watching that, and then thinking about You know that intensity of the material that we’ve talking about, I was really just feeling that tightness in my chest is I’m thinking about the folks that could be watching that performance and just thinking about what their lives are like compared to mine and the freedoms that I enjoy.
And, and they’ve been probably, I don’t know if the worst hit population of all, but certainly one of the worst, in terms of deaths and. infections there, far higher than the general population. And so what you said earlier about one, inmate talking about, you know, it feels like we’ve been forgotten completely.
I’m sure they, they probably feel that to some degree all the time, but even worse now. and then just that escape that’s provided by the theater piece. I just, I, it it’s, it was really powerful to me, even just watching, you know, for a few minutes. And so I congratulate you on that, but I just want to see if you could kind of take us to the end of this thought of like, you know, how do you see this working in this particular moment? How do we make something new out of all these broken pieces? How do we make something that’s new and useful and beautiful and better than the thing we had before. And so that, that idea of rebirth and renewal and finding a new purpose for something that was broken and fixing mistakes, is powerful to me now. And I’m, and I’m wondering if that speaks to you as well right now, too, as you’ve gone through this experience of creating Antigone.
Patrick Walsh: Yeah, totally. You know, Douglas, it’s weird, you know, I mean, I’ve had like debriefs with our board and stuff, you know, but it’s really cool to actually talk to you and be like, Oh, right. Like that’s where we started. And now this is where we are. and so I would say in terms of making something new, like yes.
You know, we’ve talked about the trailers, we’ve talked about filming it. We talked about it, increasing our reach. and that feels like some really like, though, like in a time when a lot of arts organizations or artists in general, are looking for a win. That really felt like a win to us, you know?
And I feel like Antigone in particular, we were really blessed to have some great artists working with us and it’s like every great production that there ever is. You know, that you think about, it’s all about The individuals are making something larger than themselves.
And we’ve talked about Seth and Ashley and Paul and Anna. I’d also just like to highlight two other actors in it, Sam writer and Marie Lazaroff Babin, and everybody was game for doing it and trying something new, you know? and that’s exactly what it was. It was like an experiment to be able to see if we could make something better than what we were doing at the time, you know?
And that’s always the best part of it for me is like the collaboration and the fact that we can all coalesce around a story. We all agreed was worth telling. No. And that’s exactly what that group did. Like that group brought it. And I’m eternally grateful to them because, you know, I mean, I’m on this podcast, but it’s not about me.
It’s about all those other people, because they took it, they ran with it and they did so much better than I think we could given extremely restrictive circumstances. like, we’ve made sure like our number one watchword was safety. You know, we had temperature checks.
Everybody in the show wore a mask, which is incredibly restrictive to actors when they’re not looking forward to that. But like nobody complained. And so I, I really appreciate all of those people, especially being able to do that for our audiences and being able to allow them to feel seen, allow them to feel, like they mattered and that they’re not forgotten because Douglas, as you said, like, I think other than, our native populations in the state.
I’m sure everybody is really heard that reservations have been hit amazingly hard, by the pandemic. Our incarcerated residents are right there, you know. And there were at one point because of the fires this summer, they had to move to other prisons into Oregon state penitentiary.
so in the middle of a pandemic and obviously like social distancing as a prison is impossible because people are on top of each other as they are. And then to add two other prisons into that was incredibly hard for the people who were already there. But also, these are circumstances that we have set up as a culture that seems to believe in the idea of mass incarceration, you know, and treating our audiences, these individuals, like people who aren’t part of the overall community, or don’t share our cultural history or anything like that.
And I’ve talked about earlier two rivers correctional, like that’s where I started that prison has been amazingly hard hit. There have been more cases and more deaths there than in any prison in Oregon. that’s been really hard and scary, and to be honest, like I worked up there for three years.
There are guys in that place that I love, you know, and I can’t talk to them. Like I can’t go and do a play. And that’s been really, really difficult, I think for me in particular, because I have a lot of connections up there, you know, years and years. but Douglas, I think in answer to your overall question, yes.
Like there are things that we want to do. That will, we will keep from this experience. The thing that I think we most want is to get back to business as usual. And by that, what I mean is we want to be in the room with all of these people. Like we want to be in that space with them. We want to breathe their air.
We don’t want to worry about it. And we want to bring something into those places. You know, I think classic theater is great because I think it speaks to whatever time that we’re in. But it’s not restrictive to that. People have been doing Antigone since 442 BC, and they’re going to do it a hundred years after you and I are both gone, and the fact that you can feel the ancestors in the room with you when you perform that, you know, the litany of experience that speaks to is beautiful.
And being able to share that with people who have been cut off from that have been denied that, it gets even more powerful because it’s the first time you’re there with everybody, for people who don’t have a lot of experience with classic theater, this might just be me, cause I’m a total nerd about it.
But you do like you feel the ancestors and you feel everyone who has done these plays before. You know, because again, it’s about our shared cultural history in this country. and in the Western Canon in general. and there’s something that’s so beautiful and right about that, you know, that these plays are for everyone.
that they’re a vehicle to enfranchisement for our audiences, I think. And they’re also, they belong to everyone all the time.
Douglas Detrick: Really appreciated when you said the word enfranchisement. it’s a really powerful way to think about what you’re doing. You know, something we haven’t really talked about at all is a fundamental part of mass incarceration racism and how populations in the prisons are disproportionately Black and Brown folks.
So when you talk about enfranchising those people through the arts. I think that’s a really powerful idea. If we think of that idea of the Western cultural Canon it’s like it’s so often that’s used as a weapon against people. it’s used as a weapon to throw them into the jail, because it’s like, you’re not part of this Western cultural canon and so then it becomes weaponized.
And so what you’re saying is that, you know, you’re putting all that away and saying, No, here, here we are giving you this cultural capital. You know, it’s not, not a million dollars for everybody, but it’s a powerful piece of cultural capital that says, you are just as capable of experiencing this and appreciating it and having an opinion about it. Being moved by it. Maybe you hated it. but your opinion and your experience of it, it’s just as valid as, as the people who are paying a bunch of money to go to a theater and to experience the same thing.
Patrick Walsh: Yeah, totally. So the original like theater, you know, the, the Dionysus festival where these plays were originally done. The thing that I love about it is that everybody could go, right. Everybody could go, slaves could go for the day. It was meant to be a thing that the whole community enjoyed except if you were a woman. Women were not allowed to go, but it’s amazingly subversive for these playwrights to, for instance, Sophocles, to make a play with a female protagonist who stands up to the cultural mores of what this new society is trying to be. You know, fifth century Athens is always held up and, you know, if, if I can live in one place, that’s where I would live, but it’s held up of this Pantheon of like amazing literature and voices and philosophy.
And it was certainly that. But it was also full of artists that were trying to change the world, you know, and imagine being in an amphitheater that’s full of 5,000 people and there is a female protagonist there who’s fighting for what she believes in, who has a voice, when so many people who aren’t allowed in this place have a voice to be able to talk.
And she is voicing that for all the women who aren’t there, you know, and again, just getting back to who gets to speak, who this art is for, who gets this amount of cultural capital, artists are kind of always that subversive force and that’s from 442 BC to today, you know, we’re trying to interrupt the status quo and we’re always trying to make things I think more equitable.
And to your earlier point, I just think you’re, you’re dead on there, you know, talking about enfranchisement. But also, we’re talking about representation in these places. You know, and that, to be honest, those Greek sculptures we see were painted Brown, for the most part, the people who originally performed those plays looked like Paul Susi.
And imagine having Paul Susi, who is a brilliant actor, and I think the best actor in Portland, maybe the best actor I’ve ever worked with, you know, imagine seeing that and how powerful it is to, you know. How do we decolonize the Canon? How do we take those stories back?
And how do we make sure that people know that they’re for everyone? Because unfortunately the history of white supremacy and, patriarchal attitudes have subverted not what the original thing was about. Like, it’s more about like that the Renaissance took it over, said this thing was for white people, but that’s not the case.
This stuff is for everybody. And I think it’s up to organizations like ours to be able to understand that and be able to push the envelope forward a bit for representation. And just for making sure that the Canon is for everybody. And it’s for everybody all the time. You know, it’s not just for when we’re there or for when you see a performance, like it’s all floating in the air all the time. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, beauty. And it’s just there for you. And it’s there for everybody.
Douglas Detrick: Thank you so much, Patrick.
Patrick Walsh: Yeah. Thank you, Douglas. This is a lovely conversation. I really enjoyed talking to you.
Douglas Detrick: Thank you, Patrick.
Learn more about Patrick Walsh and the Northwest Classical Theater Collaborative’s work by going to the episode page on moredevotedly.com.
Now that we’re two episodes deep into this volume, I hope that you’re finding ideas and sounds that are lighting up parts of the underground cave of your imagination that you didn’t even know were there. And if you’ve had that experience, please tell a friend to subscribe to the show and listen as well. You can also rate and review the show on the platform you use to listen which does a lot to help new listeners find the show.
Be sure to follow the show on Instagram and Facebook, find it @moredevotedly. And if you aren’t on the show’s email list, head on over to moredevotedly.com and sign up. You’ll hear about new episodes and other big announcements.
You’ve been listening to More Devotedly. My name is Douglas Detrick, and I produced this interview and created the music here in Portland, OR.
What you’re doing is beautiful. Can you do it more devotedly?