Bare Portland will produce a widely known and long-loved piece of feminist literature as its next play, and do so in a collaborative process that allows actors wide latitude in their interpretation of the text.
The theater company reprises “The Yellow Wallpaper” at 8:30 p.m. Friday to Sunday and Wednesday through Aug. 26 at the Grotto, 229 Anderson St., Portland.
But the Grotto is only the starting point for this play. Director JJ Peeler said audiences should expect a different kind of theater experience than they are accustomed.
“We are asking the audience to move around with us. We will be visiting multiple locations, although we don’t wander that far. It’s all contained in East Bayside. We have some exciting and mysterious plans for extra little pop-up experiences that will key the audience to come,” she said.
Bare Portland presented a workshop version of “The Yellow Wallpaper” at PortFringe in June. It is based on an 1892 short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which tells a first-person account of a woman’s descent into madness. It is considered influential early feminist literature and was familiar to many of the cast members.
Bare Portland is a collaborate performance troupe that specializes in modern interpretation of classics, usually Shakespeare, in non-traditional spaces. In addition to being mobile, for this play, Bare Portland is employing an acting method known as devised theater to adopt the script. Devised theater can mean many things, and at its core, it’s about working collaboratively and empowering actors toward self-direction.
They chose “The Yellow Wallpaper” because it includes essential elements for drama: conflict, interesting characters and a clear narrative arc. Set in the Victorian era, Gilman’s story raises questions about mental illness, gender inequality and the medical treatment of the day. The Bare Portland production uses the story as a starting point to explore those themes with music, movement and words in a site-specific performance.
“We always have the story to return to, but we also depart from the story and stick with what we understand the plot to be,” Peeler said.
The cast includes Catherine Buxton, Tarra Haskell, Allie Freed, Mackenzie O’Connor and James Patefield. An additional collaborator, Diana Clarke, contributed to the creative process. Kelly Sue and Gelsey Amelia of New Fruit Art Studio designed the sets.
The process of creating this show involved a lot of experimentation. Rehearsals were about exploring ideas around the story’s themes, using the text itself as well as related material.
“As director, I would come up with exercises that would help them get at ideas they were interested in exploring, and then we would go back to the story and start sewing where things would fit in,” she said. “It is a group effort. There’s material from all sorts of sources in the piece, material we generated as a group, scenes taken directly from the text and also moments where we explore other writers who have thought about similar themes, like Edna St. Millay, and we pulled articles from magazines and songs from TV.”
WHERE: The Grotto, 229 Anderson St., Portland
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday; and Wednesday, Aug. 23, through Saturday, Aug. 26
TICKETS & INFO: $10 at the door; bareportland.org