Name & Age: Claire Willett, 30
Current Neighborhood: Cully
How do you pay the rent and what is your slash? I’m the Manager of Communications, Grants & Social Media for Oregon Ballet Theatre, and I’m also a playwright. I think it’s a very Portland thing to go to work every day at an office full of hilarious, brilliant artists and arts lovers, who are incredibly supportive of my “other life” as a writer; they always want to know what I’m working on, they all come see my shows, and they were totally on board with me taking a month off work for an artists’ residency in Connecticut. That vibe is a lot more rare in other cities.
What do you create? Things made out of words. Fabulous dinner parties with custom cocktails. Music. Spicy mole brownies. Great conversation. Christmas magic.
How did you land in Portland? We’re natives; my brothers actually still live in the Laurelhurst house where I was born. My dad grew up in The Dalles, where his dad worked for Union Pacific. My mom was born in Texas but moved here as a kid; her dad was a migrant worker who fell in love with the Willamette Valley when he used to come through to pick fruit. Apples and the railroad. Is that, like, the most Oregon thing you’ve ever heard?
What is the last book you read? Working my way through the Game of Thrones series.
Name your favorite tattoo. I’m getting my first one in January! My friend Jenn and I wanted to do it when we were studying abroad in Ireland, but the one night we got up the nerve the place was closed. (I wanted a Cross of St. Brendan, my patron saint, since Brendan was my Confirmation name; Jenn wanted a knot from the Book of Kells.) But this January will be the 10-year anniversary of that trip, and I figure, if ten years later you still want it, that’s a pretty good sign that you won’t regret it ten years from now.
What was the last thing you ate at a food cart? All right, now, I know this isn’t a cart, but I ate it outside while standing up, so I’m going to count the loukoumades (life-changingly delicious honey-glazed Greek doughnuts) I enjoyed last night at the Portland Greek Festival. Best street food in the city. I crave it year-round and then pretty much live there the three days they’re open.
Oregonian, Willamette Week, or Mercury? The Mercury has really sharp, funny writers (if you’re not following Alison Hallett on Twitter you really ought to). The Oregonian remains my go-to for comprehensive arts coverage, both in print and at OregonLive; I’m a big fan of performing arts critic Marty Hughley. Arts Dispatch and Oregon ArtsWatch are other fantastic arts & culture must-reads, and I get my national news from my celebrity crush-of-all-crushes, Rachel Maddow.
What is your favorite bridge and why? Burnside. When I was little I thought it looked like a castle, or a lighthouse. I wanted to live inside one of those little green turrets.
Stumptown Coffee or _________? Jim & Patty’s Coffee on Fremont. They are the loveliest people you will ever meet and everything they make is delicious (especially the Pig Newtons, an endless variety of cheddar-chive biscuits wrapped around breakfast sausage or other fillings). If you’re a Portland old-timer you’ll remember them as the original founders of Coffee People; those were their faces on the old logo. The classic Coffee People drinks aren’t all on the menu, but they’ll totally make them for you if you ask, so remember that next time you’re jonesing for a Velvet Hammer.
Coast or Mountains? Coast. My family has a house in Rockaway, so the Oregon Coast is a huge part of my childhood. And I prefer it windy and gray and borderline deserted, where you can take a long, quiet walk by yourself, or sit around a bonfire with sweaters and Irish coffee, or curl up by the fire with your mom and read mystery novels. That’s how the Willetts roll. Sunny, touristy beaches freak me out. Although, that said, speaking of tourists, I must cop to a shameful obsession with Flamingo Jim’s.
Only in Portland moment? Okay. Picture this. So the Fertile Ground Festival of New Work is like an annual week of performing arts for cultural locavores (PORTLAND THING #1) – egalitarian and uncurated and open to any artist in the city. Last year was my 3rd year in the festival, and we did a reading of a play I wrote with my writing partner who is also an actor-slash-chef (PORTLAND THING #2). We produced it ourselves (#3) and performed it in the warehouse space (#4) of what is now ADX, though at the time it was just a huge open warehouse space – like, the actors hung out “offstage” over with the table saws. They had two retro camper trailers in the warehouse and that was our set. (#5) To save costs, we shared the space with some OBT dancers who created their own experimental work for the festival (#6) accompanied by a live performance from Sean Flinn and the Royal We (#7). For the closing night, we did a double-bill of both shows with local wine, beer and food (#8). And since that was the night most of our friends came, the audience was like hundreds of actors, dancers, writers, musicians and artists (#9), drinking beer while they watched the show (#10). GOD, I love this town.
A favorite local business? I’m obsessed with earrings by Plume, the Palm Beach Cooler at Pambiche (best happy hour in town!), antique shopping at Found (I just bought a pink vintage Samsonite luggage set there for like $30!), the Frenchies at Pastrygirl, and everything at New Seasons. My dad and stepmom also live in Cully, near me, and Concordia Ale House on Killingsworth is our family hangout. Arts & culture stuff you should check out: right now I’m listening to a lot of Brave Chandeliers, Portland Cello Project, and Sean Flinn & the Royal We, plus I can’t get enough of seeing shows at Miracle Theatre, CoHo, and Artists Rep, and I love what Literary Arts and Wordstock do to support writers. And none of us could do what we do without the amazing work of the Regional Arts & Culture Council.
Are you a car person or a bike person? Neither. Tri-Met all the way, baby.
If you could change one thing about Portland, what would it be? It kills me how many of our school kids don’t have regular arts programming.