(PORTLAND, OR)—Portland, Oregon playwright Rachel Tusler is producing a staged reading of her world premiere musical SHANGHAIED! on September 27 and 28, 2017 at Portland’s Siren Theater. SHANGHAIED! follows Ruth, a young Native American woman, in her quest to learn who has shanghaied her brother in Portland, Oregon in 1894. Based on historical research, Tusler’s world is populated by the corrupt and desperate characters of the historic North End district, including sex workers, sailors, madams, and johns. Music composed and directed by Rory Stitt enhances the irreverent rollicks of brothel bars and underscores the blatant brutality of an era prior to the notion of civil rights or social equality. Directed by John Oules with casting collaboration by Darcy White, tickets are $10 and are on sale at http://www.merctickets.com/events/45696328/shanghaied-staged-reading.
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Contribute to the development of new work through the SHANGHAIED! Go Fund Me: https://www.gofundme.com/shanghaied-staged-reading.
Of the project, her first musical, Tusler says:
The idea for Shanghaied! occurred to me in an instant. I knew the title and the setting—Portland in the 1890s. I knew it would be bawdy, provocative, and dark—not family-friendly fare. And, I knew it would be a musical.
I dove into research about Portland during the time period, particularly focusing on the intersections of gender, race, class, and power. I read about historical figures like Joseph “Bunko” Kelly and Larry Sullivan, who made their way into the story. I read about the corrupt political system, the disreputable North End neighborhood, and the experiences of women, people of color, and itinerant workers in Portland. I was interested to learn that brothels and saloons were typically less segregated than other establishments at the time and that the sex work industry provided some women—especially the madams—some access to power.
In the late 1800's, the system of indentured servitude that supplied labor for many ships at the time was not generally illegal (the courts had determined that the 13th Amendment didn't apply to sailors). However, there was an exception: the men who supplied sailors for ships tried not to shanghai Native Americans. This wasn't an issue of human rights, but one of government control—kidnapping a Native American would attract the Federal Government's attention. I hadn't read much about Natives in Portland—by the 1890s, many Oregon Indians were on reservations. This fact led me to imagine...what if—as was not uncommon—a Native American escaped from a boarding school? What if he was shanghaied? What if he had a sister who was living in Portland, isolated from Native culture, and determined to discover what happened to her brother?
That is the premise on which the musical is based.
I am generally drawn toward stories that disrupt predominant narratives, and as a Lakota and Osage woman, I was especially intrigued by the opportunity to put a Native American woman at the center of the story. In Western culture (and in the culture of movie Westerns), Native women have often been sexualized, objectified, and rendered voiceless, and I am interested in exploring and subverting those practices. Throughout the writing and casting process, I have been intentional about putting people of color, female-identified people, and other underrepresented groups at the center of the story.
As I developed the book, the language of Shanghaied! evolved as irreverent and, at times, brutal. I want to surprise audiences, make them laugh, challenge them, and subvert their expectations. And, I want to put on a damn good show. When Rory Stitt and I began to collaborate on the songs, an entirely new language developed. Rory created music that is complex, inventive, beautiful, and alternatively raucous and achingly lovely.
The next step in our process is to invite performers to breathe life into the words and music and to invite audiences to be part of the process so that we can continue the process of bringing Shanghaied! to life.
ABOUT PLAYWRIGHT RACHEL TUSLER
Rachel Tusler studied English and Comparative Literary Studies and theater at Occidental College. While there, a staged reading of her play, CHANGE ANYTHING, was produced in the New Play Festival, and Tusler produced a workshop of her play, THE BORGIA SISTERS. In Portland, PDX Playwrights produced a staged reading of her play, THE DARK THINGS, as part of the 2011 Fertile Ground Festival. In addition to plays, Tusler writes short fiction and a travel blog.
ABOUT COMPOSER RORY STITT
Rory Stitt is a composer, sound designer, and performing artist. Known outside the theater community predominantly as a singer-songwriter, his solo work has been seen at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theatre and the Kennedy Center. For his interdisciplinary work with Perseverance Theatre in his hometown of Juneau, AK he received an Andrew W. Mellon Artistic Fellowship. He is regularly commissioned as a composer for opera, musical theater, and incidental music.
Kim Morris, Vespertine Works