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My Turn

by Dmae Roberts

Caught, an installation of visual art and live theatre presented by Artists Repertory Theatre, runs October 1 through 29 on the theatreís Morrison Stage in downtown Portland. (Photo courtesy of Artists Repertory Theatre)

From The Asian Reporter, V27, #18 (September 18, 2017), page 6.

Caught in Caught

Iíve spent most of the summer preparing for a life-changing adventure, one that returns me to my first love and the main reason I moved to Portland. In June I was cast in a production at Artists Repertory Theatre. Iíve been learning lines and getting into mental shape ever since. As of this writing, Iíve also lost more than 20 pounds to prepare myself physically for the hard work of being a full-time actor for two months.

This is a milestone for me. Itís been more than a dozen years since I last acted in a full production. Though I continued to produce stage productions, I quit performing in the early 2000s when my mom became ill and I decided to care for her. After being a caregiver, I concentrated on my radio career. It wasnít until 2014, when I co-founded Theatre Diaspora ó a theatre group featuring Asian-American actors ó that I found myself edging closer to wanting to be onstage again.

Theatre was my first love. Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be an actor. I studied it in school and joined the theatre community. When I moved to Portland in 1989, I worked in three or four productions per year until I stopped pursuing acting jobs. I became a playwright as well as an actor while focusing on radio documentary work. Lately, however, I started to offer myself as an actor when casting directors asked me for referrals for Asian performers. And after such a long hiatus, Artists Repertory Theatre, a professional theatre, offered me a role in Caught, a production with text by playwright Christopher Chen.

Iím not able to tell you too much about the play because Artists Rep initially wants to keep Caught somewhat of a secret. I can tell you it features Asian artists and it is an unusual comedic, genre-bending production of live theatre as well as an elaborate art installation. In this age of people trying to define "fake news," Caught brings to light themes of truth and deception in the worlds of art and journalism. The production also asks the question: "When does cultural appropriation begin?"

Iíve spent the summer learning about 30 pages of lines for the production. I found it amazing that there are now tools like apps to help run one through lines of dialogue. Still, getting back into acting is like re-learning how to ride a bicycle, as I engage my mind to remember someone elseís complex words.

We started rehearsals this month. A stellar cast of veteran Portland actors (including Sara Hennessy and Chris Harder), director Shawn Lee, and an entire creative team are taking care of every aspect of the production, even details such as putting my name on a coffee mug. This level of professionalism is the height of theatre luxury.

Iím also honored to be working with Los Angeles actor Greg Watanabe, who was involved in the Broadway production of Allegiance with George Takei. Besides impressive theatre and film/television credits, Greg performed the solo play Hold These Truths by Jeanne Sakata, which tells the story of Seattleís Gordon Hirabayashi, who was imprisoned for defying the U.S. governmentís internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Portlanders might have seen him in the starring role of The Language Archive last spring at Portland Playhouse. Itís been a thrill to be in the same rehearsal room with him as we work on the play and discuss themes of racism and cultural appropriation.

Many years ago, I was usually the only Asian-American actor in the room. The rare exceptions were when theatres produced plays Iíd written. Itís a gratifying experience to be not only acting again, but also to be involved in a theatrical production that speaks so deeply to me as an Asian-American theatre artist and journalist. The cherry on this dream sundae is also to be working with a company that respects an Asian-American playwrightís text and the large questions it asks while mind-bending the audience in its fusion of art and theatre.

I hope you can join me in the culmination of my dream of being a professional actor again. Previews for Caught begin October 1 and the show runs through October 29. For information, performance times, or to buy tickets, call (503) 241-1278 or visit <>.

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