Community Spotlight: Alison Hallett

Part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing people in the Portland creative community.

Alison Hallett is a writer and editor. She currently lends her talents to Sheepscot Creative. Her tweet from Brian Hall’s talk caught our attention.

See Ashley Courter’s photos in all their glory on Flickr and check the interview below.

You were the arts editor at the Mercury for a good number of years. What was your favorite part of the beat?

First I’ll tell you my least favorite part, which was having to have an opinion about everything all the time. Newspaper critics are still marginally more credible than Yelp reviewers, but nothing is living or dying on the strength of a review in a local alt weekly. What I really liked and found rewarding was the discovery aspect of the job: Every once in a while I’d write about a book or a performance that no one else had really noticed yet, and I’d get to feel like I’d measurably improved local culture by bringing attention to something deserving. That was gratifying—I liked being able to use my megaphone for something constructive. I also liked getting free books in the mail.

What prompted you and Erik Henriksen to produce Comics Underground?

At its core, it was that we knew how many ridiculously talented comics creators live in Portland, and thought it was weird that no live event showcased their work. So we made one. Beyond that, though, Erik and I both feel like comics fit in really naturally alongside the rest of the art and entertainment we consume—novels, TV, plays, essays, movies, whatever. Not everyone feels that way! So our goal with Comics Underground was to create an accessible event where people who don’t read comics could enjoy themselves even though they’d never heard of anyone on the bill. And people who DO like comics would lose their minds because we had Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction and Greg Rucka giving these really intimate, one-of-a-kind performances for $5 on a Thursday in a bar basement.

What’s the most interesting thing about taking a 2-dimensional medium into a live event?

Seeing artists address that very question—how to translate their work from the page to the stage. (Sorry for rhyming.) Everyone approached it differently. As producers, we provided a general framework, marketing, and tech support. The rest was up to the presenter. Some people narrated stories they’d written, some walked us through thumbnail sketches of their art, some brought music or sound effects, some created original work. One of our favorite regular guests, Ben Dewey—he writes a web comic called the Tragedy Series (READ IT)—basically turned every appearance into a standup set, he’d just show his comics and read the tag lines and it killed every time. We never knew quite what was going to happen.

What are you working on now?

Personal writing projects that I think it’d be bad luck to talk about in public. I can’t really complain about my time at the Mercury, but I will say that after 10 years of going to tons of shows and writing about other people’s work all the time, it’s really gratifying to stay home on Friday nights and work on something of my own. And I’m thinking about joining an adult marching band.

What’s your dream project?

I miss producing Comics Underground. If a similar situation came up—where there was some gap in the entertainment landscape that I thought maybe I could help fill—I’d be all over that.