Tales of Pacific City fishermen inspire play

The fishermen brave the Pacific Ocean in small dory boats. The dory boats are 26 feet long, and six feet across and hold four to six fishermen.

Photos courtsey of Tyrone Marshall

The Department of Theater and Communications is putting together a play after two years of interviewing and researching a fleet of fishermen in Pacific City, Ore.
“Kickin’ Sand and Tellin’ Lies” is a fictional story of someone who goes to Pacific City in 1978 to learn to fish and soon finds his place in the community. Professors and students worked together to interview fishermen and turn their stories into content for the play.
“We’ve borrowed heavily from the interviews. A lot of stories and experiences that the characters have are versions of the stories that we heard in our interviews,” said Jackson Miller, associate professor of communication arts and co-writer of the play.
The Pacific City Dory Fleet is a group of men and women who fish primarily for salmon off of the Oregon Coast. They launch small boats, called dories, into the Pacific Ocean. There is no harbor in Pacific City, so they launch straight out from the flat, sandy beach. At different tides it’s easy to push the boat off the sand and into the water.
“They drop the boats from trailers without any sort of boat ramp or harbor,” Miller said. “They’re fishing on the open ocean on some of the smallest vessels anyone dares take out on the Pacific.”
Senior Chris Forrer helped Miller develop a script for the play.
“In the beginning of spring semester my sophomore year, Brenda Marshall approached me and told me about the collaborative research grant,” Forrer said.
Miller has written numerous plays before, and Forrer knew it would be an opportunity to learn from him. Miller also has an interest in interview techniques and oral history.
“People who fish always have great stories. We’ve met a lot of wonderful storytellers,” he said.
Brenda and Ty Marshall, both professors of theater and communication arts, thought the project would be an interesting collaboration because they are familiar with the culture and have a house in the town.
“The first summer was entirely oral history. This summer Jackson and I exclusively worked on the play,” Forrer said. “A lot of people don’t know about this, and I think that’s the point of why we’re doing this. It is an intriguing piece of Oregon culture.”
Of the total 78 interviews, Miller has been to about 30 of them.
“It struck me for almost every interview we sat down for, how much fishing has impacted these people and how deeply personal some of their experiences are,” Miller said. “We had the privilege of hearing a particular story about when they went out on boats and spread the ashes of a friend who had died the season before. When you hear those kinds of stories it’s impossible not to be moved by them.”
The small boats are nearly impossible to sink. In the history of their fleet, there are only three records of these dory fishermen being lost at sea. The power of the fleet and their boats impressed those involved.
“30 or 40 years ago they were one of the top fishing ports on the West Coast. You think of these big fishing boats, but dory boats are 21 feet long and about six feet across,” Forrer said. “They’re out there catching so many fish that when they run the boat into the sand they just sink because it is so heavy.”
Miller said that being a dory fisherman is no easy task.
“They’re all very mindful of the risk when they go out to sea. They’ve all had experiences where they felt fearful for their lives,” he said. “Almost everyone says yes and has a story about a big storm or mechanical problem or even seeing a shark.”
Forrer and Miller came up with ideas they knew would make good scenes and then started categorizing them by emotional content, whether it be a humorous scene or a more serious one.
“We were able to start to find an order in things. We started seeing common threads of characters, one young guy and two older guys, and those three sort of became the nexus for us to start writing the play around,” Forrer said.
“Kickin’ Sand and Tellin’ Lies” will be performed Nov. 1 through 10 in the Marshall Theater. A special performance will be held November 17 at the Kiawanda Community Center in Pacific City, Ore.

Kelsey Sutton
Managing editor

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