Ampersand LIVE 2020: Restoring the Land

A Q&A with event curator Tomo Nakayama

October 29 is Ampersand LIVE — Forterra’s annual showcase of Pacific Northwest talent and a celebration of creation and land, activism, and restoration. Tomo Nakayama returns as producer and curator. Nakayama is a singer-songwriter and producer whose music ranges from folk and orchestral rock to electronic synthpop, an eclecticism and depth that are reflected in this year’s lineup of artists and thinkers.

Let’s hear from Nakayama, who like the Ampersand performers is reckoning with the truths of our time.

Tomo Nakayama
Ampersand LIVE 2020 curator

You have participated in Ampersand LIVE twice as a performer and twice as a curator. What is it about Forterra more generally and this event specifically that keeps you coming back year after year?

It was a tremendous honor to inherit the role of curating Ampersand LIVE from Florangela Davila, who created the show to celebrate the talented and diverse community of artists and thinkers who live in the Pacific Northwest. I love that in the process of performing and curating the show, I get to meet so many different people from so many different disciplines. For me, it takes hours and hours of research, reading, watching videos, and listening to put together a show. I love that it’s forced me out of my comfort zone to learn and consider so many different points of view, and I love that I get to introduce all these talented people to each other, and to Forterra’s work.

In light of COVID-19, this year’s production is obviously going to look much different than in years past. So much of what is special and powerful about Ampersand LIVE is the coming together of artists and audience in a dynamic live event held at the Moore Theater. But this year’s production will happen through video. How have you tried to replicate that sense of connection and immediacy? How did taking the show out of the theater create new opportunities for creativity for the artists and for you as a producer?

It’s been a challenge, for sure, to try to organize and present this show in a meaningful way, while always keeping in mind the state of the world and the health and safety of everyone involved. The team from Forterra and I have been meeting every week on Zoom since the beginning of COVID, and I really appreciate all of their encouragement and enthusiasm and hard work throughout this process. We are collaborating with filmmaker Ryan McMackin and animator Clyde Petersen, two incredibly unique and gifted artists, to put this year’s show together in a digital format. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and I’m really excited by the artistic potential of what this moment in history represents for us. We’ve got a spectacular lineup, and we are filming each performer individually and editing it into one beautiful and entertaining program. The goal is to really lean in to the cinematic possibility of the format, while staying true to the lively, spontaneous spirit of past Ampersands.

To me, restoring the land goes hand in hand with restoring our society, to addressing the systemic issues that have put us where we are as a country.
Tomo Nakayama

Share a bit about your selection process and how you make Ampersand LIVE more than a variety show but a cohesive experience. Specifically, how did you discover these artists and what about them struck you as being suited to the event — to this year’s theme of restoring the land, to Forterra’s work, and to the other artists?

To me, restoring the land goes hand in hand with restoring our society, to addressing the systemic issues that have put us where we are as a country. This moment in history with its dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism has opened our eyes to the root problems that we must address in order to heal and restore our nation and our planet. I wanted to bring diversity to the forefront, to look for people who are forging unique paths in their respective fields. But this is not simply about representation. I specifically sought people out for their passion and curiosity and knowledge — amazing and fun people who simply by doing and talking about what they love I find super inspiring! Love, to me, is the unifying thread in all of their work. Music, art, language, science, they’re all different ways we all try to name the ineffable, to understand our world, to connect ourselves to each other. They represent the best of what our society can be.

Can you highlight two or three artists and their projects that are particularly compelling to you?

I’m excited about every single person we’ve got in this program! We’re especially honored and delighted to have Amanda Morgan, the only Black member of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, who is choreographing an original dance piece set in Morse Wildlife Preserve, which is jointly managed by Forterra and Tahoma Audubon Society. Degenerate Art Ensemble is also debuting a new multimedia piece at Morse, and I am super excited to see what they do, mostly because I have no idea what it’s going to be! Anyone who has seen their theatrical dance/music/visual production knows that every piece they produce is utterly unique and different from the last, spectacular in the best sense of the word. Etta Cosey will be another incredible speaker, a member of the Audubon Society who has traveled all over the world to find rare birds. Again, every single performer is so special and compelling. I can’t wait to share their work with everybody!

How have you as an artist been changed by these months of isolation and concern brought on by COVID-19? How did curating Ampersand LIVE affect this experience?

It’s honestly been an incredibly difficult year, as I’m sure it has been for everyone. Being an independent artist, the stress of trying to keep my head above water while releasing a new album, performing online, and staying creative has been tremendous. Working on Ampersand LIVE gave me focus and a purpose and something to feel hopeful for through these crazy few months, and I’m very grateful for it. I feel people watching this show will feel inspired and encouraged to pursue their passions, to make their own voices heard, to ask the difficult questions of ourselves, and to do the work together to take care of our land and our communities.