Artpunk Clubbers will no doubt recognize Elizabeth Jackson from Tragedy: A Tragedy, one of our very first-ever published show picks. Her Constance was a comedic powerhouse, cycling through accents and epiphanies in a desperate attempt to stave off the manic paranoia of the seemingly never-ending night. She has been a fixture at Defunkt since 2016, producing and costuming behind the scenes, with pitch-perfect comic timing on stage. She’s a “visual artist, seamstress, musician, voice actor, and lover of just about everything,” so when we learned she was not only starring in but now also directing Brilliant Traces—Defunkt’s final show of the 2018/2019 season—we had to reach out. She was gracious enough to discuss her artistic growth, Brilliant Traces’ complicated road to Defunkt, and of course her three genie wishes for the Portland theater scene.
Elizabeth Jackson: Defunkt is the first theatre in Portland which really believed in me and gave me a shot. Having these people in my corner has encouraged and buoyed me forward as an artist. Since my first involvement during Blasted in 2016 Defunkt has allowed me to explore the fact that my input is valuable; whether it’s acting, costuming, producing, and now, directing.
AC: What challenges are involved in directing Brilliant Traces?
EJ: This has been an unconventional process in a number of ways. When we planned this season we intended to produce a completely different script, which didn’t work out. And then we had to go back to the drawing board to decide what we wanted to produce. My role in Brilliant Traces changed from actor to actor/director, which has come with its own particular difficulties. Thankfully we are a tight-knit, supportive group, and I’ve been able to rely on everyone within Defunkt, as well as our guest artists, for really stellar support, and invaluable input.
The other actor in Brilliant Traces is Matt Smith, a fabulous actor, as well as my partner. That has brought with it so much joy and fulfillment, but also very specific challenges when it comes to devising our relationship within the piece, separate from our actual relationship. It’s been immensely rewarding to be back on the stage with my favorite person
AC: What do you love most about theatre?
EJ: The collaborative nature of this work is where I thrive. Surrounding myself with a top-notch team of trustworthy people, with whom I can tell stories is my actual favorite thing.
I love giving an audience a new perspective of life that perhaps they had never considered before. Storytelling is so incredibly important in every culture, and theatre is paramount to that endeavor. Let’s keep it alive!
AC: What’s next for Defunkt?
EJ: Next up is our 20th season!! We plan on announcing very soon, and we will hold general auditions this summer. Please keep your eyes on our social media and pdxbackstage [editor’s note: and Artpunk Club!!!!] for dates.
AC: If you had Three Wishes for the Portland theatre scene, what would they be?
EJ: We are losing playing spaces at an alarming rate. Our city is thriving, and with that growth, many theaters are unable to keep up with the rising cost of rent. We need to ensure that companies have a place to live, or we will not be able to endure.
Attendance! I wish the general public would get their butts to the theatre; once they experience the magic, I am confident they will be hooked.
We need to pay our artists a living wage. Just about every theatre artist I know is busting their ass just to make ends meet while continuing to pursue their passion. This results in burnout, exhaustion, and hungry bellies. Defunkt strives to pay our artists as much as humanly possible, but it’s still not enough. Unfortunately, our culture does not value art as much as we need it to. We have really fabulous artists in this town, and they deserve to be remunerated for their efforts.
Brilliant Traces has come to an end, but the lovely folks at Defunkt never stop!