Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

College of Liberal Arts News

Amanda Washko '10 gives acting lessons to WU theatre students

Before attending Willamette University, Amanda Washko ’10 had no idea she would study theatre.

But after taking a class, she grew hungry for more.

She majored in theatre and later earned her Master of Fine Arts from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Los Angeles.

Now she’s back in Portland, focused on starting her own theatre and dance company.

Earlier this month, Washko visited Willamette to share some of the skills she's learned with senior thesis students.

“I am trying to give them tools to access different ways of acting,” says Washko, who is also a trained dancer. “It is storytelling that is movement based and more authentic.”

Becoming an Actress

While a Willamette student, Washko played various roles, including the matriarch and grandmother in “The Autumn Garden” her senior year. But in CalArts’ recent production of “Prometheus Bound,” she was one of the 12 female chorus members that helped propel the play's narrative forward.

The play — about a man chained to a rock for eternity after giving humans the gift of fire — has received glowing reviews by USA Today, LA Times and The Hollywood Reporter. It’s also been featured in American Theatre Magazine, a national theatrical publication.

Travis Preston, who directed the show, says Washko was one of the few actresses he felt could handle the part.

"I needed the strongest actors I could find, with singing and dancing ability as well,” Preston says. "It's a fierce group of women, let me assure you."

Washko says theatre professors Susan Coromel and Chris Harris each had a hand in guiding her. Her art history minor also played a role in her development.

“The arts carry our culture,” Washko says. “We have to look outside of ourselves and seek to understand the world that is constantly evolving.”

Teaching at her Alma Mater

Knowing of the alumnae’s recent successes, Coromel invited Washko back to Willamette to teach a class. Washko spent the time leading students through a series of exercises to help them find new ways of understanding and conveying their emotions through movement.  

“My hope is to allow students a chance to get to know an alumna who went on to graduate school in acting. Perhaps she will inspire and guide them,” Coromel says. “She is a very talented, intelligent and generous theatre artist, and we are proud she is one of ours.”

After taking her class, theatre and Spanish major Joellen Sweeney ’14 says Washko had many interesting and fresh ideas on approaching the material.

“Almost everything we did was new to me. The workshop certainly got me thinking in a new way about how I will approach my thesis project in December.” Sweeney says.

“Learning from a Willamette alumna is great. It gives us hope for whatever is next after graduation.”

• Story by Natalie Pate '15, politics major

Nord exhibits improvisation skills in "The Music of Noru Ka Soru Ka”

Mike Nord, associate professor of musicMike Nord, associate professor of music


Sample Recording

"Yeah, Yep!" 

Mike Nord never knows what to expect when he performs improvisations on stage.

He has nothing memorized, no sheet music to follow. Instead, he relies on his instincts.

“It’s scary,” says Nord, an associate professor of music technology, improvisation and music education at Willamette University. “I have no idea what we are going to play. It’s take a leap, sink or swim, bend or break. You just go.”

Nord’s improvisational jazz music — which blends a mixture of Eastern and Western styles — can be heard through his ensemble’s new CD, “The Music of Noru Ka Soru Ka.”

Comprised of nine song excerpts recorded during live performances in Europe last year, the CD was produced by Leo Records and released in September. It’s available in venues around the globe, including the Willamette Store.

“We intend a performance to be thought provoking. That it offers the opportunity to discover new meanings, to get in touch with feelings or perceptions,” Nord says. “We hope we’re bringing people an experience that’s meaningful to them.”

Noru Ka Soru Ka emerged in 2006, when Nord visited Japan through the Willamette-Tokyo International University of America (TIUA) faculty exchange program and was first introduced to his now collaborators.

The ensemble consists of both music and dance theatre. It features Nord on guitar and electronics, Swiss percussionist Georg Hoffmann and Tokyo dancers Makoto Matsushima and Mao Arata. Matsushima also provides voice.

“Our work is the best when we are very in tune with each other,” Nord says. “It’s like a conversation. You get four people in the same room and begin to talk. We push ourselves to grow, to expand our vocabulary. We attend to each other and let our instincts take over.”

The ensemble most recently performed on a four-city tour in Switzerland, followed by performances at Willamette University and Chemawa Indian School in September. Later this fall, it will perform at The Peoples’ Fringe Festival in Hong Kong.

“It’s all exciting,” Nord says. “Ultimately, we want to do something unique. Our music is off the grid. It’s experimental. Our plans are to keep going and look for opportunities to develop and disseminate the work.”

To learn more about Noru Ka Soru Ka, check out an interview Nord gave with CCTV.