When the lights go up on PassinArt’s forthcoming production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, Josie Seid enters singing an old Fats Waller song.
“Anybody here wanna try my cabbage just step this way. Anybody here like to try my cabbage just holler hey.”
Although it might seem that Seid’s character, Louise, is singing to us from some quaint time period, her situation parallels many women’s lives today.
Back then, “Having a man seems like that’s all women could be expected to want,” Seid notes.
“It’s very modern for her not to need a man.”
Louise “has an element of wisdom,” Seid adds. She had her heart broken, once, and now “She’s over it. She’s looked at the patterns and is not going to repeat the mistakes.”
Seid’s turn in Seven Guitars will be her second time out with PassinArt. She directed Hazardous Beauty by Bonnie Ratner in 2019. Before and after that, she’s written and directed a major body of work including Petite Dames, Path of Glory, The Great God of the Dark Storm Cloud, Jordan’s Wisdom, Overdue, Stand by Me, and This is Message Number 13.
Seid made a film Being Me in Current America in 2021 about her experiences of racial profiling in Lake Oswego during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. She made another film during Covid, A Wing and a Prayer, a magical, feminist fairy tale designed to comfort us during the pandemic lockdowns.
Most recently, comfort was nowhere to be found for Seid when she played Hester in F***king A, Suzan-Lori Parks’ devastating perspective on The Scarlet Letter: the A here representing abortionist.
Shaking the Tree’s production was Seid’s first-ever leading role. It was a singing role. Part of the script in a made-up language. (With subtitles.) She’s raped. There’s frontal nudity.
“It was a big stack of work that I carried in my body,” Seid recalls. Outside of giving birth to her son, who’s now 18, “it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Seid knows she’s not working alone. Her mom, Ms O; her grandmother, Lula; King David from the Bible, and Viola Davis, would be her ideal dinner guests. They all share an intense spirituality that Seid finds resonant and supportive.
“I tell people I’m Christian because I need supervision,” she laughs. Although Ms O passed 18 years ago, to this day she’s delivering messages about perseverance to her daughter, as she creates moments of beauty and truth on Portland’s stages.
If you ask Josie Seid about her proudest moment, in a heartbeat she replies Fezziwig’s Fortune, co-written with Sara Jean Accuardi and performed with Anonymous Theatre, a local company that specializes in one-time-only performances where the first time the actors interact with each other is on stage during the show itself.
“People got it,” she says. “They laughed at the right moments. People were crying at the end, sniffling.” Observing from her seat in the house, Seid was struck. She surprised herself. “It’s actually a good play!”
Not at all surprising, really, for a woman who likes to quote Neil Gaiman: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”