Articles about Portland

Clearer from a Distance: Themes of Belonging in Middletown, Frankenstein and the Life of a Mentee

by Joellen Sweeney

I’ve been thinking a lot about belonging recently. It’s something that’s been on my mind since May when I graduated college, but it wasn’t until I watched Third Rail’s production of Will Eno’s play Middletown that I was able to finally put a definition to it the feeling: Belonging is the sense of being woven into the fabric of your environment—threads stitching person to person and heart to heart. The Middletowners spend the majority of the play desperately seeking these connections as they round-peg-square-hole-it through their daily lives. Eno makes a convincing case that the sense of belonging is most clearly understood when it is absent from our lives. Early in the play, the Astronaut views his hometown from space and discovers the profound in the mediocre. In Act II, the Mechanic finds he feels most connected as he revisits a dance from his childhood. In each case, it is the distance that allows these characters to examine the connections that once made them part of a whole.

This outside-looking-in perspective on belonging was evident again at last weekend’s National Theatre Live performance of Frankenstein. The creature cries out, “I am the one who stands outside the door. I see inside. But I daren’t go in.” Like the Middletowners the Creature strives to make meaningful connections with others; in nearly every case he is violently rebuffed. He eventually opts out of society, choosing instead to commission Frankenstein to build him a sense of belonging, corpse-by-corpse, organ-by-organ. The play never gives us a chance to find out if it works, but the idea is certainly intriguing. Can belonging be crafted? Can you will yourself to feel it? Can others create it for you?

I’m finding many opportunities to examine these questions as I transition haltingly into my adult life. As an approval-hungry overachiever, I found it easy to belong in college; affirmations and accolades abounded. My graduating class of theatre majors numbered only five, so we got to know each other well over four years of collaborating. I was a known quantity with them, and that’s how I liked it. Then came May with all its pomp and circumstance, and suddenly I was unknown again in a world that seemed to have little interest in a friendly meet-and-greet. I never realized how much I belonged at college until I left.

I returned home to Portland, only to find that things had shifted in my absence. Like the Astronaut, I viewed home from a new perspective and found that I could no longer relax into the worn-in routines of childhood. Like the Creature, I spent the summer peering in doorways, seeking belonging in new places with new people.

These days I’m a mentee at Third Rail and I’m testing the waters of belonging again just a toe at a time. My fellow mentees are a lively bunch and we’re already cooking up mischief together. The Core Company members each have their own mystique; from the warm and wise to the gruff and grumbling to the sharp and sassy—each one personifying the cool cousin you want to be like when you grow up. It’s inviting to imagine belonging to this zany, noisy, loving family of artists, and with each passing day of rehearsal observation, scene study and office hours, it feels more and more possible. We’ll see what the future holds. For now, we remain—the Creature, the Middletowners and I—huddled on the doorstep, not quite daring to go in.

24 Days of Giving Campaign

Joshua Theresa Jennifer Lin

Meet Joshua Ayodiipo Ayo-Adeusi, a theatre major from Portland State University, and a recipient of a Third Rail Subscription Sponsorship which allows him to see all of this season’s Third Rail Main Stage plays, plus free study guides, and $10 additional tickets to bring friends and family.

Meet Theresa Park, one of the 14 members of this year’s Third Rail Mentorship Company, designed specifically for emerging young artists.

Meet Angela, who took advantage of our RUSH ticket program for Main Stage plays. For those 25 and under we offer free tickets 15 minutes before a production for the best remaining seats in the house.

Meet Melanie, Jill, and Alex, a family exposed to the wonders of National Theatre Live screenings that we make affordable and accessible in order to broaden the experience of theatre lovers.

Meet Company Member Jenn Lin, who works behind the scenes to light up the stage during Third Rail performances and brings the world of the play to life.

These are just some of the people you help when you give to Third Rail.

As a lover of the arts, you know that it takes resources to deliver the high-quality performances and quality theatre programs to the community. Today we ask you to support Third Rail Repertory Theatre so we may continue to offer the kind of theatre you have come to love. That’s the reason behind our 24 Days of Giving Campaign.

Since 2003 we have been committed to an artist-driven, collaborative model—producing professional, locally grown, handcrafted theatre with excellence and consistency; approaching the work without compromise, and always with a willingness to take creative risks. Third Rail continues to seek out ways to invite you into a personal artistic home. Now we are setting the course for our next evolution, and your support is needed to make it happen.

Third Rail is an exotic and endangered species; a company truly run by the artists who inhabit it. This creates a crucible for high-stakes work, where all aspects of the production from performers to designers to director are dedicated to the value of the whole. It also is a space that encourages and creates dialogue—which makes us better artists who grow because we push against each other in a way that is not possible outside of a company.

Third Rail also feels unsettled (in a good way), the group is never satisfied and is always sniffing out the next idea, a way to push the work farther and make it better. That kind of risk-taking should not be underestimated—it is rare and extremely valuable.

In an increasingly disengaged world, theatre reminds us that we have the power to affect each other. It’s an excellent way to practice being human together.

Please help support our creative endeavors as we continue to grow Third Rail Repertory Theatre’s impact in the arts community.
Thank you for giving and being a member of the Third Rail family.