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James Dixon
By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 16 March 2023

James Dixon’s portrayal of Canewell in PassinArt’s forthcoming production of Seven Guitars, will be his third role with Oregon’s longest producing Black theater company. And it will be his second written by August Wilson.

His first, playing Sterling in Two Trains Running, ” was life-changing for me,” Dixon says. “A rite of passage.”

Two Trains was the actor’s first time working with an all-Black cast on a Black play produced by a Black theater company. “It was so fulfilling,” he recalls. “There’s a lot of love at PassinArt.”

It’s a situation Dixon appreciates because “there are certain conversations you don’t have to have. Everybody in the room wants you to succeed.”

People are often surprised to learn Dixon spent four years in the US Air Force conducting electronic warfare on U2 spy planes. It just seems so out of character for this kind, soft-spoken, gentleman.

Not really. “I went to work that day,” he recalls of Sept 11, 2001. As a result, Dixon belongs to that cohort commonly understood as 911 veterans – people who continue to endure cascading physical and emotional traumas commonly understood as PTSD.

Dixon has used his own hard-won healing to underwrite his work as a volunteer in the PTSD treatment program at the Veterans Hospital.

Dixon’s lived experiences also back-up his day-job with Multnomah County, working to prevent suicides among Black youth.

He attributes his success connecting with traumatized youth and warriors to the fact he’s Black and queer. He’s all about having frank conversations.

“Words have power,” he says. “We have to talk about what’s real.”

Regular therapy, acupuncture, stress-baking sweet potato pies, and shopping all help Dixon to balance as he frequents the hard places.

“Emotions are real. They sit in your body,” Dixon says. “To pretend there’s no connection is foolish.”

This insight informs Dixon’s art. The men he’s cast to play – Rawl Cheeks in The No Play, Sterling in Two Trains and, now, Canewell in Seven Guitars – “have experienced trauma,” he says, “which is why it’s important to do these shows.”

For example, Canewell, the harmonica player in Seven Guitars, has his heart broken before our very eyes.

Dixon is prepared.

“I’ve actually said good-bye to someone I’m in love with,” he says, of a person he still occasionally crosses paths with. And it’s all good.

“I love feeling things,” Dixon says. “I love feeling emotions.”

Seven Guitars runs from March 15 through April 9 at Brunish Theater, 1111 S.W. Broadway Ave., Portland. Tickets can be purchased at passinart.org or portland5.com.

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