Interview with Patrick Walsh

By D. Elizabeth Cohen
July 2017

The Tempest Cast with Co-directors

The Tempest Cast with Co-directors

Since 2014 Patrick Walsh has been a co-facilitator of the theater program at Two Rivers Correctional Institute where he co-directed Shakespeare’s Hamlet in 2015 and Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphosis in 2016. This year (2017) he co-directed The Tempest. He also occasionally co-facilitates the prison arts program at Columbia River Correctional Institution. He is a member of the Open Hearts Open Minds’ board of directors.

Q: How did you get your start in theater?

Patrick: When I was in the second grade I found a book of plays in my school library, and I somehow convinced my second school teacher to give me class time to put them on – to rehearse them and present them.

Q: So this has been kind of a life-long thing for you.

Patrick: Yes, this has been my thing that I love and that really fulfills me too.

Q: So how does community fit into your work as a director? Is it something that’s important to you?

Patrick: Community is a cornerstone of my work and my life in general. When I was a small kid I didn’t have a lot of friends, and I was always searching for my community, searching for my people. And then I found that group in theater.

I always feel that what I’m striving for with every production is to create a little mini-community within the larger community. And it’s always important to engage with the larger community that is interested in the arts and to engage them in open dialogue with the work that they’re seeing on stage. I think with theater, more than with any other art form, there’s the possibility of building a bridge of empathy with the audience and to make them bigger people. There’s always the possibility to enlarge the worldview of anyone who works on a play or sees a production. I think theater is the best, most immediate medium for that.

Q: What insights have you gained through your work at Two Rivers?

Patrick: That art actually matters is probably the biggest thing that I’ve taken away from it, that theater has a transformative power. On a weekly basis I see the transcendent effect of theater on 15 – 20 people – I see that it has the ability to create change, enabling people to be the people they were supposed to be before they encountered conviction, or a really awful family situation, or abuse. As a result of my work with Open Hearts Open Minds I’ve been convinced that the arts – and specifically theater – really has the ability to create change in a human being, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.

Q: What are your hopes for the future of Open Hearts Open Minds?

Patrick: I would hope that these programs continue after this generation of people that are now taking responsibility for it. I would hope that there’s always a theater program at Two Rivers Correctional Institution as long as Two Rivers is in existence. For the guys who participate, it not only offers a bond in what is otherwise a living hell, but it also provides a great experience to the people around them. And if we ever became solvent enough, I’d like to see us branch out to additional correctional facilities. We currently have programs in three out of the fourteen correctional facilities in Oregon, and I’d like to see us in fourteen out of the fourteen. I hope the program goes on for a long time because it does a lot of good for a lot of people.

Q: What are your future plans?

Patrick: I’m currently in rehearsals for Troilus and Cressida with Portland Actors Ensemble and I have a few smaller projects. Then later on in the year I’m planning to travel internationally for a few months to South Africa and Prague and Berlin and Brugge and New Zealand if I can. I’d like to be ensconced in some other cultures for a while.

Q: How would you characterize the Portland theater scene and what part would you say Open Hearts Open Minds plays in it?

Patrick: The theater scene in Portland is very supportive. It feels very close and tight. It’s a smaller market – it’s not New York or Chicago. People are willing to take chances here that I think people in other places are scared of. They’re willing to look at different materials – including hyper-non-naturalistic texts – that I think are really interesting. The people here are just so kind. There’s a really nice youthful energy to the scene. And there’s a large contingent of people that includes myself who are concerned with social justice and being able to change the world through art and through the conversation with the art that you’re making. And I feel like Open Hearts Open Minds fits very well into that. It’s grown out of that tradition – Johnny was part of the larger Portland theater scene for a long time. Open Hearts Open Minds is aligned with that part of the Portland theater scene in terms of its concern with restorative justice and social justice issues and how that interplays with the arts.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

Patrick: I’d like to talk about The Tempest which we just closed which will be the last one I’ll do at Two Rivers for a while. The Tempest was my favorite of the three productions that I’ve done there. It was a beautiful process to build that with the 16 guys that we had in the group. The guys worked really hard. You could feel everybody grow through it and really take ownership of their parts. We had a lot of fun, we laughed a lot, and in a medium security prison there’s not a lot of opportunities to laugh like that and to transcend the area that you’re in. It was a wonderful experience for everybody. It’s not something I’m going to forget any time soon.

Q: Do you think that some of the magic had to do with the play itself? The Tempest is one of my favorites.

Patrick: It was Shakespeare’s last play. The fantastical elements actually seem to make a lot of sense in that play. There’s so much in the play about forgiveness and the importance of being able to live as oneself and not under the dictates of society and being able to accept people for who they are. And I think that that’s so much what the group is, what everyone in the group is striving for. Everyone in the group I think is striving to be a better man. And to transcend the things that they have done before. It was an awesome production and an awesome experience.

The Tempest Photos Now Live