Red-letter day: The Playhouse lands major grant as well as world premiere of Michelle Horgen's SCARLET


The Oregon Community Foundation recently recognized Portland Playhouse as one of 18 recipients of its 2016 Creative Heights Grants, an $80,000 award intended to “develop, create and premiere the musical SCARLET by Portland composer and lyricist Michelle Horgen, based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter.”

Production is scheduled for winter 2018.

SCARLET, according to Horgen, “asks audiences to do more than just delve into a piece of classic literature through a series of pretty songs. It asks them to think about the consequences that come from choices of the heart. It blurs the lines between right and wrong, sinner and saint, and it reminds them that every story has more than one point of view…

“At Portland Playhouse, SCARLET (will) be more than just a lovely piece of musical theatre. It (will) be a story that resonates with everybody in the audience. I couldn’t ask for more.”

Neither can Portland Playhouse artistic director Brian Weaver. Last year, he directed a reading of Horgen’s adaptation, which highlights the mother-daughter relationship between Hester and Pearl, at the New York Musical Theater.

“I was swept away by the beauty of Michelle’s songs and the power of this classic story,” Weaver says.

And now - thanks in part to partnerships with Bitch Media as well as PHAME, a Portland nonprofit that has supported artists and performers with intellectual or developmental disabilities in achieving their potential since 1984 - the classic story will be told in a manner believed to be among the first of its kind.

Portland Playhouse is showing itself to be visionaries in the American theatre. How many professional theatre companies commit to hiring actors with intellectual or developmental disabilities?
— Stephen Marc Beaudoin, executive director, PHAME

“We've been working with PHAME to learn how to make our casting practices accessible to persons with developmental disabilities, and this will be the first project that puts that work into practice,” Weaver says. “We have the intention to cast one or two actors who experience an intellectual disability and integrate them into the professional cast. We are also working with Bitch Media to understand how this classic tale from Nathaniel Hawthorne fits into a contemporary feminist narrative. It's all a search for relevance. We strive to make art that speaks to the present moment and being inclusive of multiple perspectives and to multiple experiences is the first step.”

Adds Stephen Marc Beaudoin, PHAME executive director: “Portland Playhouse is showing itself to be visionaries in the American theatre. How many professional theatre companies commit to hiring actors with intellectual or developmental disabilities? Far, far too few - almost none. This collaboration is a huge step forward for the American theatre scene, for Oregon’s arts and culture community and for all artists with disabilities.

“Portland Playhouse gets it. Their vision for the American theatre is an expansive one - including actors, musicians, technicians and audiences with intellectual or developmental disabilities. We are thrilled to be partnering with Portland Playhouse on the world premiere musical SCARLET, and look forward to collaborating with them on this production and beyond.”

Says Weaver: “Our goal with the project, and all of our work, is to create the strongest, most complex, surprising and multi-layered work of art possible. And we do that through asking real questions, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and really searching for what’s the most alive choice… I find it most exciting because I am certain that we will LEARN so much along the way. We will learn about our hidden biases, our blind spots. We might might even learn that it’s surprisingly easy in unexpected ways.

“We will learn about ourselves and we will learn about people whose experience in life is much different than outs - and that’s why I love the theatre.”