PORT TOWNSEND — Freedom of expression, darkness and light, dance and paint: They’re all ingredients for an experiment opening this weekend downtown.
“Visions in Motion 2020,” a multimedia production, starts with a visual art display — free to the public — in the Key City Public Theatre lobby at 419 Washington St. The art-curious can visit during Port Townsend’s first Saturday gallery walk from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; then they can choose to go further.
Inside the theater, artist and director Andrea K. Lawson, granddaughter of blacklisted screenwriter John Howard Lawson (1894-1977), will have a few surprises waiting. They’re about struggle, springtime and renewal, as is “Visions in Motion,” which stirs together theater, poetry, visual art and dance.
“We had a lot of ideas for this, and I’m pretty much doing all of them,” Lawson said of the show to take the stage at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday both this weekend and next.
Tickets are $15 for students, $20 for adults and $40 for patrons at www.keycitypublictheatre.org. As always, reservations can also be made via 360-385-5278; remaining seats are sold in the lobby bar up to an hour before curtain time.
A painter who usually makes two-dimensional pieces, she gathered an ensemble of actors, dancers and family members to build a four-dimensional performance inside the snug playhouse.
The underpinning of it all: her grandfather’s life as an uncompromising artist.
John Howard Lawson was one of the Hollywood Ten, film professionals who appeared before Congress during investigations of Communist influence on their industry.
After refusing to name names of people he knew in Communist circles, he was found in contempt of Congress and sent to prison, where he served a year behind bars.
He later wrote the screenplay — under a pseudonym — of the 1951 movie “Cry, the Beloved Country,” one of the first pictures critical of South Africa’s apartheid.
Andrea Lawson draws strong inspiration from such work.
Last year, in Key City Public Theatre’s CoLab program, she conceived “Visions in Motion” as a look at free speech, history, contemporary problems and the possibility of a better future.
She’s also inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” an early 20th-century ballet score whose premiere scandalized its Parisian audience. Shades of “Spring” can be seen in “Visions,” but not in ballet moves.
Heather Hamilton, a recent graduate of Whitman, the liberal arts college in Walla Walla, has choreographed a distinctly modern dance piece for the show. Its five performers brought a variety of skills to the set, she said, and they jumped directly into the experiment.
“Through the whole process, the dancers have been eager to explore strange ideas [and] odd physical tasks,” said Hamilton.
She’s is one of three members of Lawson’s family involved in “Visions.” Hamilton is Lawson’s daughter, and her sister Daphne Hamilton and father Michael Hamilton are also crew members.
Heather calls the show immersive art, an experience that touches on ideas about damage and regeneration both environmental and social. It looks back over the past century of threats to free speech. And, she said, it tells a story “not only of what is, but what can be.”
Lawson, for her part, wants “Visions in Motion” to impart a sense of hope. Humans have renewed themselves throughout history, and she’s seeking to remind us of that.
“I hope people will be thinking about freedom of expression,” she added, “and how important it is.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.