Pointing to a study in which 1,000 different categories for gender are recognized, Eric Braman speculates it might be better to do away with labels altogether. That idea seems to correspond to Braman’s approach to work, too. Restrictive labels need not apply — Braman is an artist as well as arts administrator.
The 33-year-old Braman, originally from Michigan, earned a BA in creative writing and theater from Western Michigan University, then an MA in nonprofit management from the University of Oregon. They also trained with the Mandala Center for Change, an arts education organization in Washington dedicated to social justice, and Second City Chicago, the famous comedy improv group.
Braman’s resume reflects this multidisciplinary education, with multiple simultaneous career paths as administrator, educator and artist. They have ongoing working relationships with faculty and staff at the University of Oregon and Lane Community College, as well as with Oregon Contemporary Theatre and the poetry group Dead Parrots Society.
All these partnerships — and multiple individual endeavors, too — are done apart from Braman’s full-time job as program director at Lane Arts Council.
“Where do you find the time for all this extracurricular work?” I ask.
“I do tend to overstretch myself,” Braman answers. They are easy to talk to, not rushed as you might expect from someone juggling so many different pursuits at once.
They add, “I don’t think I’d be my best self at work if I wasn’t creative.”
Braman has worked with LAC since 2017, though not always in their current position. They were the manager of arts education for a number of years. Now they supervise all the programs at LAC, including those managed by other LAC team members, such as the Artist Residency Program, Fiesta Cultural, First Friday ArtWalk and the Arts and Culture Roundtables.
Outside of the LAC job, Braman is regularly part of the Dead Parrots Society, a poetry group they helped found. It was formed, says co-founder Mia Vance, as a way for people to “share their love of poetry.”
In 2019 the Dead Parrots Society took part in Art City’s Umbrella Project, a downtown evening event that occurs in the dark of winter. The group’s performance “Words Are My Wings” incorporated LED-treated umbrellas, as was required, and took place partly in Kesey Square. “It was so cold,” says Vance, “sometimes my voice shook while reading the poetry.” Considering the conditions outside, she was surprised so many people turned up for the event.
The poetry society also performed with Art City’s downtown summer festival Studio Without Walls. At this event people get the opportunity to see artists at work. The Dead Parrots contribution for Studio Without Walls was “prompt poetry,” a style of poetry that resembles improv comedy in that poets take suggestions from an audience. The poets invited people to drop prompts in a vase, then sat at their individual typewriters and delivered poems in response to the suggestions.
Afterwards, the poems were hung on a clothesline like they were drying, and people could stroll around the event and find their poem waiting for them when they returned.
Inspired by the spirit of prompt poetry, I asked Braman if they felt like writing a poem in response to this article. Sadly, both Braman and I had attended online memorials around the times we met on Zoom. The following lines from Braman’s poem “Interview 2.18.22” speak to people trying to communicate such experiences while using technology that doesn’t always work:
It’s so nice to meet.
Sorry, you broke up there?
He wasn’t doing well near the…
I can’t wait to meet in person.
Wish we could hug rather than —
Mia Vance first met Braman through her husband, Cullen Vance. He and Braman worked together on Winter Shorts, an annual theater production at Lane Community College built on the improvising process. Each performance is 10 minutes and the event is produced partly by LCC students.
Vance is a musician and composer. In 2019 he and Braman collaborated on an album. The 17 songs on By Your Side are products of an improvisational process as well, between poet and musician. The result is dramatic. The cut “As You Have Been By Mine” feels as much like a play as it does a song or a poetry reading:
“When the clouds hang low covering the treetops and mountain peaks, let me be your clear skies,” Braman begins.
Music follows as if rippling across a stage.
In 2021 Braman’s play A Blue Hydrangea, about a pink hydrangea bush suddenly flowering blue — and the reaction that produces — was produced by Ghostlight Ensemble. Also in 2021, Braman acted in a play called Tiny Beautiful Things, which opened Oregon Contemporary Theatre after a pandemic hiatus. That play was adapted for stage by Nia Vardalos and based on a book by Cheryl Strayed (of Wild fame).
Tara Wibrew is associate producer at OCT. Like Braman, she has a graduate degree in arts management from the University of Oregon and a background in theater. She tells me that Braman works with OCT in multiple capacities: as actor, instructor teaching character development, as playwright of multiple plays, and as a producer for NW10 Festival, which is a production of 10-minute plays by Pacific Northwest playwrights.
Braman has found unique opportunities uniting interests in theater, education and social justice, particularly at the University of Oregon working with Abigail Leeder, director of Experiential Education and Prevention Initiatives at the Office of the Dean of Students.
Leeder has a background in theater and counseling and was introduced to Braman when they worked with University Housing. Leeder and Braman collaborated on theatrical pieces that encouraged discussion about sexual assault prevention. Then, when Braman attended graduate school, they worked with Leeder again as part of Rehearsals for Life, a theatrical troupe that focuses on matters related to diversity. Braman worked with Leeder a third time on Intertwined, an annual personal storytelling event.
Faculty and staff who share their stories create a community at the college, Leeder says.
Intertwined, now in its sixth year, is “sort of “Braman’s brainchild.” This year the theme for Intertwined was “lost and found” and took place May 3 and 4 at the UO’s Global Scholars Hall. Leeder calls on Braman every year to facilitate a workshop for the event.
“This year,” she says, “Eric is a story coach, too.”
Throughout my two meetings with Braman, I get the sense they are fascinated with the idea a person can be more than one thing. Indeed, on their website they make the following introduction: “I am inspired by the dualities of myself and the communities I have called home.”
Braman seems to work nonstop, and their latest efforts illustrate the variety of their creative projects. In April, they performed their original piece “To Myself, To Myself, To You, To Myself” at the 2022 Oregon Fringe Festival at Southern Oregon University. The performance piece was described by the Fringe Festival as “a journey back to self through the radically queer act of self love, self acceptance, and forgiveness using poetry, story and metaphor.”
Their play A Blue Hydrangea runs through July at the Ghostlight Ensemble’s Make/Believe Festival in Chicago.
In Eugene, Braman collaborated with poet Melissa Rose and visual artist Alex Ever on Queer Ancestries, Self-Prophesies and Horse Girl Fantasies, a windowfront Installation at 833 Willamette Street through August 21.