ArtsWatch Weekly: Fire, TBA

Natural disasters, TBA springs to life, new theater season kicks into gear, Brett Campbell's musical picks, links

Bam. Just like that, it’s September. And just like that, we’re living in a disaster area. Across the metropolitan area the skies are thick with smoke, and ash is drifting like some late-summer demon snow. Fire has engulfed the Columbia Gorge, swept across Warm Springs and southern Oregon (the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland has canceled several outdoor performances), crept to the urban edges. Much of the rest of the West, from Houston to L.A., has been smacked as hard or harder.

James Lavadour, “This Good Land,” suite of two four-color lithographs. Paper size each: 30 x 39.5″; total image size: 60 x 39.5″. Edition of 20. Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts

We tend to think of art as something that engages our minds and our emotions, but here in the West we live in constant proximity to the physical, too, and somehow our art needs to engage that as well. I’m thinking of painters like James Lavadour, whose work seems hewn from the geology of the dry inland, and Michael Brophy’s scenes of human incursions into the wild, and the unromanticized gritty vistas of Sally Cleveland and Roll Hardy, and the elemental art of Sara Siestreem and Lillian Pitt and the late Betty Feves and Morris Graves, and so many others. Their refusal to abandon the idea of the physical is not caution but a recognition that we live in Place, and can’t live outside of it. Call them regionalists if you want. We are all regional, all physical, and our best artists show us how the physical, the intellectual, and the emotional are interwoven. Floods mean something. Fire means something. Wasted waters mean something. We can see it, through the smoke and mirrors of denial. Our storytellers can’t live simply inside their heads. Engage. Engage with the world. Including the physical world that is part of us, and we of it.


Meanwhile, the cultural season’s steaming down the track like a freight train that’s behind schedule and racing to catch up. Lots and lots going on this week, so let’s just do a quick stop, look, and listen.



Takahiro Yamamoto’s “Direct Path to Detour, Single Focus” premieres with performances Friday through Sept. 16 in PICA’s TBA Festival.

Out on the edge, Vol. 15: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s TBA Festival kicks off Thursday and keeps on kicking in venues around the city through Sept. 17. TBA stands for Time Based Art, which is another way to say performance – dance, theater, music, works of art that exist in real time. It’s PICA’s 15th annual race around this track, which likes to bring in fresh faces and exploratory works from near and far, usually with avant-garde cred and often with a sharp cultural edge. From Takahiro Yamamoto (above) to Pepper Pepper’s Critical Mascara and the likes of musician Tanya Tagaq’s Retribution, Saudie Arabian video artist/performer Sara AbuAbdallah’s ZeroZero, and Demian DenaYazhi’s celebration of “indigenous and brown punk energy” Death Dance, there’ll be something on the order of 30 acts (many with multiple performances), plus dialogues with the artists, and lots and lots of partying. See and be seen on the scene.

Check here for the full schedule and details.





“Hand to God”: The puppet problem. Triangle Productions photo.

Hand to God. Triangle Productions opens its 28th season with this 2015 multiple Tony nominee, about a guy who travels to the Christian Puppet Ministry in Texas and has his life turned upside down when his puppet, Tyrone, flexes a mind of his own. Thursday-Sept. 30.

Spinning into Butter. Bag&Baggage opens its new home at The Vault in downtown Hillsboro with Rebecca Gilman’s scathing look at race and political correctness on a college campus. Saturday-Sept. 24.

Tigers Be Still. Recent art-therapy masters grad Sherry’s many problems in Kim Rosenstock’s contemporary comedy include the tiger that’s escaped from the local zoo. And that might not be the worst of it. Clackamas Rep, Friday-Oct. 1

… like nobody’s watching. Jake Simonds began working on this solo show last spring at PETE’s Institute for Contemporary Performance, and is premiering it at Craftsman Theatre Company’s Montavilla neighborhood studio, 437 N.E. 79th Ave. Simonds has a basketball named Spalding (like Tom Hanks’s volleyball named Wilson) and looks both to the late, great monologist Spalding Gray and Hanks’s movie Cast Away for inspiration. Friday-Saturday and Sept. 15-16.

The Crackwalkers. Sowelu Ensemble returns to the stage with Canadian playwright Judith Thompson’s play about the “permanently unemployable” and the hard choices they make, often while being manipulated. It’s about degradation and innocence, and was first produced 30 years ago, but its issues haven’t gone away. Barry Hunt directs and Lorraine Bahr stars. Friday-Sunday and Sept. 14-16 at Performance Works Northwest, then Sept. 22-24 and 28-30 at Sunnyside Community House.

Cabaret. Ron Daum directs the latest production of the classic Kander/Ebb musical for Lakewood Theatre, with Kayla Dixon as Sally Bowles and Chuck Ketter as the Emcee. Friday-Oct. 15.

An Octoroon. This could become one of the most talked-about shows of the new season. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ race satire looks at contemporary racial attitudes through the lens of a Dion Boucicault 19th century melodrama set on a Louisiana plantation, updating the action and considering what’s new and what’s still old. Lava Alapai and Dámaso Rodríguez direct an all-star cast. Artists Rep Alder Stage, Saturday-Oct. 1.





Hunter Noack’s “In a Landscape” Oregon tour is scheduled to land at Pendleton’s Tamastslikt Cultural Center on Sept. 28.

“In a Landscape”

Portland pianist Hunter Noack has embarked on a second September series of outdoor performances around Oregon. (Read my ArtsWatch story about the first one.) This time, he’s put a nine-foot Steinway on a trailer, and is toting it to Astoria, Pendleton, Eugene, and ten other towns from the coast to the Steens. He’s also bringing wireless headphones to distribute to listeners so they can experience the music without alfresco acoustical limitations, and various guest artists, from singer and former Miss America Katie Harman Ebner, Pink Martini founder/pianist Thomas Lauderdale and members of various Oregon orchestras. Check the website for who’s playing what and where and other details on individual performances (and probably fire/weather related updates) through September 30. Tuesday, Astoria Column; Saturday, Fort Rock State Natural Area; Monday, Crater Lake National Park.


Stew and The Negro Problem consider James Baldwin at TBA.

“Notes of a Native Song”

The great LA/NYC songwriter Stew’s latest music theater project (after the hit Passing Strange and others) revives his duo The Negro Problem to provide a musical response to the life and art one of his primary influences: legendary 20th century American writer James Baldwin.
TBA Festival, Friday and Saturday, Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University, 1620 S.W. Park Ave.


“Two Yosemites”

Portland / Eugene composer Justin Ralls (like Noack, a native Oregonian and SF Conservatory alum who combines a love of classical music and nature) has created an original opera chronicling “the most famous camping trip ever”: Theodore Roosevelt’s journey with Sierra Club founder John Muir that might have inspired the President to create the National Park system that protected Yosemite and so many other American treasures. Read ArtsWatch’s stories about Ralls, singer Nicholas Meyer (who plays Muir; coming Wednesday) and the making of the opera. Friday and September 15-16. Opera Theater Oregon at Lewis & Clark College.


Dave King Trucking Company & Blue Cranes

Best-known as the drummer who brings a rock sensibility to the jazz trio The Bad Plus, King here leads another quintet of fellow current or ex-Minnesotans, plus the superb Brooklyn saxophonist Chris Speed. Portland’s own rock-influenced jazz stars Blue Cranes open, with some new music. Sunday, Mississippi Studios.




After 10 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Governor’s Arts Awards have returned, with five new picks – painter Arvie Smith, storyteller Esther Stutzman, Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, Portland Opera, the James F. and Marion Miller Foundation – announced by Gov. Kate Brown. And, September’s First Thursday gallery shows are about to open in spaces across the city. Get the word on both here, at Governor’s Arts Awards, revived.

Carl Hall, “I Went Walking,” 1948, gouache on illustration board, gift of Mrs. Henry Failing Cabell. Part of “Picturing Oregon” at the Portland Art Museum.




ArtsWatch links


“Upside Down World,” from Cirque du Soleil’s “Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities,” through Oct. 8 at Portland Expo Center.

Dance: Looking ahead, way ahead. In her latest DanceWatch Weekly, Jamuna Chiarini offers readers a calendar of dance events through June 2018. That’s a lot of dance – including Cirque du Soleil’s continuing Kurios, above.

Byrd Festival finale: sumptuous beauty. Despite some acoustic hurdles, Bruce Browne writes, Portland’s 20th annual William Byrd Festival once again proved itself an event of “gravitas, sumptuous beauty, and dedication to one of the real geniuses of the Elizabethan age.”

“Britney Spears,” by Dawn Westover, colored pencil and pen on paper, in the Self-Taught Artist Fair.

Artists who fly like rocks. Hannah Krafcik gets the inside story on the Self-Taught Artist Fair, which opens Thursday at Pacific Northwest College of Art.

Saving the seas with art. In Bandon on the southern Oregon coast, the innovative Washed Ashore Project is turning trash from the ocean into giant works of art, and highlighting a big environmental issue in the process. David Goldstein reports for ArtsWatch.

Flowering from the ocean debris. Photo: The Washed Ashore Project


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