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Bedroom puts inner demons to rest

Moody, sometimes graphic production challenges audience
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Poeina Suddarth’s new autobiographical musical, “The Bedroom Show,” premiers this week at the Alberta Rose Theatre.

The last thing 'The Bedroom Show' will do is put you to sleep.

Don't be fooled by the promotional posters depicting lingerie-clad women. This is not some lighthearted burlesque romp, it's a serious examination of fear, rape, double standards and despair.

Singer-guitarist Poeina E. Suddarth has put together a multimedia folk-rock opera that uses classical, modern and pop influenced dance choreography along with silent film, and a full band, to explore her inner child and outer experiences.

The show runs Thursday, May 19, and Friday, May 20, at the Alberta Rose Theatre.

Suddarth's new autobiographical musical, which premieres this week, is not just one long descent into hell, though, it's also a story of hope and resurrection, and contains some downright great music from her seventh CD 'Happy Whore,' including songs that range from intricate rock to bouncy country.

'I decided to put on 'The Bedroom Show' to invite the audience into my room, to truly bare my soul, and share my story of how I came to where I am today,' Suddarth says.

On her own

'The Bedroom Show' began after Suddarth, 29, ended a longtime musical and romantic partnership last year. Suddarth has been on the Northwest music scene for well over a decade, having made her professional debut on a side stage at the Lilith Fair (along with schoolmate-who-became-famous-singer Brandi Carlisle) back in 1996.

Suddarth has played in various groups, including Bicycle, Redfish Bluefish, Felina's Arrow and Dark Time Sunshine. Her years of making connections in the business have paid off, as she's assembled a stellar Portland musical cast to accompany her, including The Shook Twins, Jenni and Amanda Price of Acoustic Minds and vocalist-violist Teri Untalan, who's worked with Buckethead, among many others.

'Most everyone in the show I have performed with over the years,' Suddarth says. 'The few new recruits are friends who I've known through other musical adventures. Everyone in the show at some point has said to me that they weren't aware of what they were signing up for but now are happy to be a part of this big adventure. I just smile apologetically and say that I didn't know what I was getting us all into either but thank you for sticking it out!'

The show has stretched her limited budget and used all her talents.

'I choreographed three of the five dance numbers, designed the costumes and have been sewing them myself, wrote and directed the film, wrote the show storyline, all music in the show is original, and have been doing most of the production work for this show without a budget,' she adds before catching her breath.

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Tribune Photo: Christopher Onstott • Poeina Suddarth performs live at the Alberta Rose Theater, where she debuts her new performance, 'The Bedroom Show,' a raw and personal expression of her deepest secrets shared with the audience from inside her bedroom.

Panic attacks

Suddarth notes the show challenged her psyche.

'Around January I was having too many panic attacks and so I had to figure out how to tell my story without traumatizing myself,' she says.

'I decided to change the order of some events, condense some of the bad stuff, and try to characterize as much as I could. There is a piece in the show that is directly from a recurring nightmare that I had from ages 5 to 13. I changed what I needed to in order to keep the focus on the recurring themes I was aiming toward.'

She also struggled with filming one scene dealing with the sexual assaults she's experienced.

'I paced around yelling at myself and wondering why I put myself in the film,' she says. 'I decided that I relive all the abuse daily anyhow so what difference does it make. It was an interesting experience driving around town looking for a 'good spot' to get raped, and I think we all did a good job of using laughter as our medicine.'

She even found the whole experience of filming the assault to be somewhat healing, she says.

'I went home and took a shower the way I had so many times before - but I didn't feel dirty or sad,' she says.

Suddarth realizes there will likely be audience members for whom the film may raise painful memories, and notes that's why the film shifts to a peaceful pastoral scene featuring girls dancing in white dresses, right after the assault.

'I have tried to mix pleasure and pain so as not to overwhelm the spirit with the dark.'

Loss of faith

Ultimately, what the bedroom show is about is losing one faith's and surviving, she says, confessing to have been driven to the suicidal edge at one point when she lost her faith in everything, including 'my purpose, humanity, love.'

'I called my sisters and told them I love life but that it was just too much for me,' Suddarth adds, noting she's one of 13 children. 'I was worried that I would never actually be able to feel happiness outside of a manic frenzy. One of my sisters told me in a very nice tone that I should come visit her first before and stay with her for a while before I kill myself so she can say goodbye.'

Fortunately, her sister's gentle request was a wakeup call that drew her back from suicide.

'I didn't feel like I could abandon my siblings after everything we'd been through.'

Instead, she turned the tables on her inner demons and did what any sensible musician does - she made an album using her enemies' worst attacks to create art.

'I have been called a whore many times in my life by people I have loved and believed them,' she says. 'I believed that being a whore meant that my sexuality had no value, that I had no value as a person. I decided to stop believing this and cut out everyone in my life that was toxic. I decided to put out an album called 'Happy Whore.' '

She credits composers from Tori Amos and Utah Phillips to Bjork and Franz Shubert for influencing her music and her new theatrical production. In the end, 'Happy Whore' and 'The Bedroom Show' is about Suddarth defying the demons - thoughts as well as people - that sought to destroy her.

'It's my way of standing before my peers with everything that I am and choosing the stage instead of my death to do this.'