Katie Taylor leaves Opera Theater Oregon

Taylor emcees OTO's first show, "Will Kill for Vaudeville" at Someday Lounge (2007)

In a blow to the city’s music scene, one of Portland’s artistic visionaries, Katie Taylor, has stepped down as Opera Theater Oregon’s artistic director.

“After five years on the pony – the zesty, prancing pony that is OTO — I’ve decided it’s time for me to step down. I was going to invent a sex scandal (not involving ponies) to explain my departure, but then I remembered that this is Portland, and no one would be likely to care, even if ponies were involved,” Taylor wrote on the innovative company’s website. “So…I’ll just say straight out that it’s been an amazing ride, and I feel lucky to have met and worked with so many amazing people, but it’s time for me to say goodbye.”

Taking the Tarnhelm (redubbed the Tan-helm in OTO’s Baywatch-style version of Wagner’s The Rheingold) at OTO will be the alternative opera company’s musical director, Erica Melton, and film division director Jen Wechsler.

The company will throw a farewell party for Taylor at one of OTO’s original venues, Someday Lounge, on June July 24, which will include a short film and “opera karaoke.”

During her half-decade at the helm, OTO distinguished itself as one of Portland’s most creative performing arts companies, with ambitions inversely proportional to its budgets. A bastion of the city’s burgeoning alt-classical scene, the company used humor, pop culture references, a fun, informal atmosphere, and especially beer (at venues such as Someday Lounge, Alberta Rose Theater and Clinton Street Theater) to lure enthusiastic younger audiences to modern, sometimes wacky productions of classic operas, including producing a Portland-centric version of John Gay’s play The Beggar’s Opera (also the inspiration for Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera).

Taylor directed a spooky, Twilight Zonish version of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium at Someday and co-commissioned a new score for Filmusik’s Hercules vs. Vampires. Although they winked at some of opera’s stuffy pretensions, OTO’s productions always took the music itself seriously in the quest to “make opera safe for America.”

OTO has also been celebrated for partnering with other alt-classical outfits, including Electric Opera Company, Filmusik, and Classical Revolution. Taylor and Dark Horse comic artist Dan Schaefer (Batman, Spiderman, et al.), created a “singing comic book” for this year’s production of Massenet’s Werther called Out of Eden.

Taylor’s departure comes just weeks after she shepherded the organization to a stable  home at McMenamin’s Mission Theater. That somewhat eased the sting of Taylor’s heroic, close-but-no-candy-cigar efforts to obtain downtown’s Guild Theater as a home and performance venue for several of the city’s other alternative classical organizations.

All that work apparently came at a price, however. The company is run by volunteers, and Taylor has had to pick up work to recover her finances.

“Running the organization left me with little time for the actual writing that was the most important part of the work for me,” Taylor says. “I will miss it very much, but it was definitely time to move on. I’m also excited to see where Erica and Jen take OTO.” She told OAW she’s “working on a cross-genre book of short stories whose protagonists all have psoriasis and a sci fi novel about a new weight loss gimmick with hideously complicated side effects, raising the question of how much of who we are is our bodies and how much is our minds.”

Let’s hope we’ll see more of Taylor’s prodigious talent, inclusive attitude, and artistic ambition on Portland stages soon. And let’s hope OTO thrives without her leadership.

Taylor’s farewell note recaps her career at OTO pretty well.

A lot has happened since I joined OTO in 2006. We moved into our beloved Someday Lounge, where we were resident from 2007 through 2009 (thank you Eric Robison) – making us one of the first opera companies in the U.S. to run our entire season out of a bar. We went from founder Amy Russell’s basement in Johnson Creek to office space in the downtown Cultural District to a residency at the beautiful Mission Theatre (thank you Cory, Jimi, Larry, Mike and everyone at McMenamins). We went from audiences of 20 and a spinet (thanks Ruth and Jerry) to audiences of 400 and the 15-piece OTO Technicolor Orchestra. We fielded the largest crew in Portland 48 Hour Film Project history (85 people!) to create our first original opera film short, ‘Game Night’ in 2009, launching a new mission to bring opera closer to people through the universal medium of film. We fought (and lost) the good fight to save downtown’s Guild Theatre, hoping to transform it into a mecca for mid-sized Portland arts groups and a walk-in arts and film home for Portlanders. And I finally learned how to finish writing a show.

There’s really something to be said for not having a choice. At the time we started OTO, there wasn’t much material out there that I wanted or could afford to produce, so I wrote it myself, starting with ‘Will Kill for Vaudeville’ in 2007 (what a stinker of a show! But what heart Liz, Camelia, Matt, Beth, Erik, Paul, Brian, Mark, Squish, Helena, Amy, Tyler, Megan and Alex put into it) continuing on through ‘Opera Cinema: Carmen,’ ‘Opera Cinema: Dada,’ ‘Muscle-Max’ (Donizetti’s ‘The Elixir of Love’), ‘Opera Cinema: Camille/La Traviata,’ ‘Baywatch/Das Rheingold,’ ‘Out of Eden’ (Massenet’s ‘Werther’) and, finally ‘Sordid Lives’ (co-writ w/Pat Janowski and John Dover), which is, as far as I know, the only choose-your-own-adventure opera in existence). The greatest gift I received from OTO, aside from the people I met and had the privilege of working with, was the gift of not being able to dither – of just having to, for god’s sake, finish writing something and get it out the door.

I also had the good fortune to direct my favorite opera of all time, Gian Carlo Menotti’s ‘The Medium’ with the most perfect cast and crew I could ever have imagined (thank you, Chris, Tsipa, Niq, Kevin, Wendy, Audrey, Erica, Elizaebeth, Robin, Jenn, Ian) and to produce Michael Herrmann and Stephen Marc Beaudoin’s ‘Beggar’s Opera’ with Buoy LaRue. I got to work with Filmusik’s Mr. Firecracker, Galen Huckins and Hollywood film composer Patrick Morganelli (the Irish-Italian stallion) to commission a new opera soundtracking Mario Bava’s gloriously lurid ‘Hercules vs. Vampires’ (1961). I got to help haunt a house with the excellent, always-amiable Bobby Ray and Adam Goodwin and the raucous electrified crew of Electric Opera Company.

It has been a rich, rich, rich, rich experience, and I am going to miss it so much – just as soon as I have a nice, long nap.


2 Responses.

  1. rachel taylor brown says:

    so lovely of you to do this writeup! i can testify as katie’s sister that she gave her all to OTO, and then some. i as much as anybody look forward to seeing what katie turns her mind and formidable talents to next (after i force her to take a very long nap!).

  2. Rose Barclay says:

    The farewell Party is actually JULY 24, not June 24th. Thank you. See you there.

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