Join CoHo in welcoming Jessica Dart as the organization’s first Artistic Fellow. Thanks in part to generous support by Age & Gender Equity in the Arts, she will collaborate with CoHo staff, co-producers, artists and community partners for one year. Here, Jessica answers a few questions about her past and present work in the theatre, and how that connects to CoHo.
What production from CoHo’s past seasons do you remember most and why?
The first show I saw at CoHo was 2009’s Fool For Love. That one stays with
me because 1) Sam Shepard is amazing/the production was great, and 2)
because it was one of the first plays I experienced as a fresh new
resident of Portland. More recently, I thought the production of Sam
Hunter’s The Few was all-around wonderful. I met Sam in grad school [at University of Iowa] over a decade ago, and it’s such a thrill to see a writer I love and respect getting the attention he deserves. This answer seems to indicate I only
like plays by writers named Sam, but that isn’t entirely accurate.
How are people most likely to be familiar with your previous work? Or what
do you wish they knew?
I’ve been doing more freelance dramaturgy work lately, but prior to that I
was the Artistic Director at PHAME for six years. It was joyous hard work,
and I’m so proud of the way the students there rose to every artistic
challenge put before them. My final project at PHAME in 2015 was the
original commissioned play UP THE FALL by Debbie Lamedman with songs by
Laura Gibson. It was PHAME’s most ambitious project up to that point, and
it marked the first time the organization presented a play featuring a
cast of actors both with and without disabilities. It was utterly dreamy
to see that project come to fruition after 2 years of intense planning and
What three playwrights or or plays would you recommend?
Gah! There are so many exciting writers! The pressure to choose is almost
too much! I’m intrigued with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Luis Alfaro, Sheila
Callaghan, and Aditi Kapil. Portland has a rich and talented community of
playwrights, too. That’s way more than 3.
What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of working as a
dramaturg? How will you share your dramaturgical skills with CoHo
The most rewarding aspect for me is fulfilling the role of creative
supporter and problem-solver. I enjoy being a calm, open-minded, trusted
presence in the room, and I find so much happiness in the creative
collaboration that results from that. Being a dramaturg is never about the
dramaturg – it’s always about supporting the work and making it the best
it can be. The role of dramaturg often seems nebulous from the outside,
though, and that is certainly one of the challenges. I’m usually not able
to point at something tangible and say, “I did that! That’s dramaturgy!”
so explaining and/or justifying the vital importance of dramaturgical work
can be difficult sometimes.
This season at CoHo, I’ll be the embedded dramaturg, available to work
with each co-producer as needed. For example, I’ve created a resource
packet for THE HOW AND THE WHY that will be useful for the actors, the
director, and the audience. That involved around 12 hours of research
related to evolutionary biology and the hypotheses about menstruation and
menopause mentioned in the play. I learned a great deal though that
process, and it’s helping me think about the play differently. In addition
to working on productions, I hope to establish a Portland branch of the
Dramaturgy Open Office Hours Project, and help develop stronger ties
between CoHo and the diverse pool of possible co-producers in the Portland
area. It’s only been two weeks, though, so I’m sure my list of things I
want to do will grow exponentially!
What are your big-picture professional theatre goals, and how does this
fellowship help you advance those?
I want to help make excellent and meaningful theatre with artists that I
admire and respect. I want to help create greater access to the theatre
for anyone who wants it. I feel invested in and hopeful for the Portland
arts community, so I’m really hoping to find or create a niche for myself
within it. This fellowship is an incredible opportunity for me to meet and
collaborate with a wide variety of artists, act as a gentle dramaturgy
evangelist, and, most importantly, learn from every single person I
encounter. I am beyond grateful to CoHo and AGE for allowing me the chance
to do all of that.
What other projects are you invested in currently?
Since June, I’ve been working with Theatre Vertigo and Matt Zrebski in the
development process of Matt’s new play CARNIVORA. It’s been such a treat
to have four workshops with the playwright and the actors, and I cannot
wait to see this visceral little beast onstage in January. I’m also the
“official” dramaturg for Playwrights West, a ridiculously talented
collective of Portland-area writers.