Friday, August 18, 2017

A Symphony For Portland—Kiggins Theater—Vancouver, WA

Cold City For Warm Hearts

This was a staged reading of a new musical play, “trying to prevent homelessness among Teens and Young Adults,” (many thanks to Dan Wyatt, General Manager) on Thursday, August 17th, 2017.  The composer of the book and score is Christina Hemphill, arranged by Cameron Jones and pianist is Angela Sun-Hong Yang.  This reading was for only this one night but she has high hopes for the future of this production and the anticipation that it will actually do some real good in the community as well.  Art is a universal conduit in which can flow the milk of human talent and compassion. (Contact information follows the interview below.)

The Journey:

I was fortunate enough to meet her and talk with her a bit about her involvement with this project.  It began when she was going to school in Indianapolis, “…a lack of vocal training kept me out of musicals in high school, my pipe organ lessons gave me enough skills to play the piano for them…I even wrote a few skits and directed musical events at church. But the moment I decided to become a playwright, was unexpected and sad.”  It was a chance meeting of a “young homeless person” that connected with her, “…I initially responded to by writing a three part symphonic piece for string orchestra, titled "A Symphony for Portland." But it wasn't enough.”

She entered a contest which was looking for a choral piece akin to “A Christmas Carol.”  So she, “…wrote the text about a young homeless girl giving birth and comparing it to Jesus' birth.”  She was writing the text for the music when a call from her daughter announced the sad news that her unborn grand-child was dead.  “So instead of celebrating a birth, we had a funeral.”  As often happens with writers, a tragic event can spurn creativity, so she continued to finish the choral piece.

Jump now in time to downtown Portland one winter night.  She met a homeless young man and was deeply troubled, “I did research on the prevalence of homeless youth in Portland. I had suspected from my old paramedic days that mental illness, addictions and domestic abuse accounted for a large part of it. I also knew that LGBT issues were part of it, but was filled with sorrow with this next fact.  While young people who identify as "not-straight" made up only 35% of the homeless youth population, they accounted for 65% of the suicides.”  And so was born a Cause, a Mission, perhaps, a reason for being.

This begs the question, then, how can she help with the Art form that she has chosen to speak for her.  As she says, “…something in a memory of my grandson, that painful loss of possible dreams, I knew I could try and prevent homelessness before it began. Yes, don't preach, but adopt the theatrical form almost as ancient as theater itself, the morality play and own it.”  And so the plan is to continue with this Dream by creating “a professional acting group who will take the musical on the road.”  Of course Broadway would be nice and, who knows, maybe even a Tony.  But, “…even a Tony will pale in comparison to the ultimate reward when someone's possible dream is wonderfully found.”

But a larger issue is at stake and that is the homeless Youth themselves and how to prevent such a loss in the first place.  If “…a parent or older sibling, is touched by the musical, maybe they'll pick up their phone right there and then, call that young person they're worried about and remind that child that they love them and aren't giving up on them. And maybe that young adult child will change their mind about running away, maybe they won't commit suicide that night and one less parent will be saved from feeling the pain of a dream painfully lost.  An outcome devoutly to be wished!

If, indeed this is something that reaches the depths of you and you can help in any way, here is some vital contact information:

“Here are two ways to donate to a full production.

1. Write a check, made payable to "Fractured Atlas." A receipt will be issued from Fractured Atlas in approximately 60 days.               

Mail this check to:

Christina Hemphill

4247 NW 12th Loop

Camas, WA 98607

2. To donate via Credit Card. This can be done by going to the play’s page with Fractured Atlas, which is found here.
(Or go to and search for "A Symphony for Portland.")
Thank you so much for being here and for your support.

A Symphony for Portland is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of A Symphony for Portland must be made payable to Fractured Atlas only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.”

The Result:

I witnessed last night what I hope is a birth of another movement, this one of an artistic nature, to help combat homelessness in the cities, Portland being her focus for this show.  Since it was a staged reading and not a full production I can only give you the sense of the story and characters.  It is more of an opera in style with some of the dialogue/thoughts/ideas of the characters sung, but there is also spoken conversations, too.

There are some beautiful voices, also, that I only hope will someday make it to a full production of this play, mostly notably, Amelia Segler, playing the lead role of Starr and Agar, the head of the choir (actor’s name not given).  Another thing that is unique about presenting such a serious subject, is that there is some humor mixed in with it, which makes them all the more human and, thus, accessible.

The story follows Starr (Segler) a young girl just entering college.  And like many young people, this new-found freedom can sweep you off your feet, especially if you have an open and giving heart, like Starr does.  Her absorbed Dad (Gary Kissel) is all business and notices little the activities of his daughter.  She on the other hand is open to all sorts of new feelings and friends, even the homeless youth, Sarah (Becca Weinberg), Brianna (Nika Nagy), Jordan (Jack Lundy) and Aaron (Dylan Hyland) that live in the park near her college.  She befriends them but also another character that hangs out there, too, as Jesse (Janos Nagy), has taken a shine to her but he is less than forthcoming about his nefarious dealings on the side.  But Starr is too trusting, and her farther too distant, and so an affair strikes up.

The story follows the unfortunate plight of these characters, as we see the darkest of this “walk on the wild side,” but also the goodness of some of the people involved.  The story twists and turns and does, for the author, partly come back home to rest, as in an early skit she alludes, in her interview, to some years before.  The songs also tell the story of early disappointments, “It’s Not Fair;” the blindness of love, “Love in the Rain;” faith, “Only in this Moment;” letting things pass, “When We Let go;” and my favorite, the ugly duckling evolving, “Swan Song.”

The whole cast needs to be commended for presenting this piece, including the ones already mentioned as well as the pianist, Yang, for her accompaniment.  The rest of the ensemble consists of Anne Kissel, Edel Verzosa, Joseph Tardio, Mary Sutter, Jeff Weston, Taylor Hudson, Francis Guevara and Deborah Redman as the Narrator.  This is a show I would recommend and hope that it will be charged with a full production at some point.  If you can contribute in any way, there is information as to how after the above interview.

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