Search Results for 'PDX Playwrights'

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Speed-dating in a Fertile Ground

Before FG14 begins, participants and press check each other out. The result: controlled pandemonium

UPDATE: A.L. Adams tells all about her own speed-dating experience, adding another dozen or so stories to the Fertile Ground mix, from Polaris Dance’s “Groovin’ Greenhouse” series to a bluegrass/folkie/evangelistic musical. Her stories form Act II below. Yes, we cover the waterfront!



By Bob Hicks

Whoa, Nellie.

Last week A.L. Adams and I went speed-dating. We sat next to each other at a big table, and the lines were so long we didn’t say a word to each other or even make eye contact until the whole sweaty ordeal was over. So many potential relationships. So little time.

"4x4=Musicals": a festival favorite returns.

“4×4=Musicals”: a festival favorite returns.

The setup sprawled across the upper lobby and bar of Artists Repertory Theatre, and my ArtsWatch pal A.L. and I weren’t the only objects of fleeting affection. The Oregonian’s David Stabler and the new kid on the Oregonian block, Jamie Hale, were holding down the next table. Holly Johnson of Oregon Music News was around the corner. Writers from the weekly papers, so I heard (I never actually got in there) were stationed in the bar: perfect for a serial blind date. I even caught a glimpse off in the distance of a radio reporter, taping goodness knows what evidence of what sort of attempted tryst. And I’m sure somebody somewhere was tweeting away, thumbs flying in little bursts of snarkiness and enthusiasm.

It was controlled pandemonium.

And that was just about right, because this whole speed-dating thing was about controlled pandemonium: producers and performers and directors in the sixth annual Fertile Ground festival of new works, pitching their stories to members of the media. Five minutes for an elevator speech (“I like cozy fireplaces and long walks on the beach”), then hit the next prospect. In and out. The scene was so chaotic I have no idea how many people actually showed up, but think busy lunchtime intersection in Midtown Manhattan, with pedestrians rushing in every direction, jostling to break in front of the pack and get to the hot dog cart.

In the midst of it all, like a traffic cop with nothing but a piercing whistle to keep everyone in line, was festival director Nicole Lane, making sure everything went tick-tock. Tweet. Switch partners. Tweet. Switch partners. Tweet. Switch partners.

This year’s festival, scattered in about 30 venues all over town, has more than a hundred acts, including theater, dance, comedy, musical theater, solo shows, and other variations on the performance theme. (For the straight scoop on who’s doing what, where, and when, check the Fertile Ground homepage.) It runs officially from Thursday, January 23, through Sunday, February 2, but a few shows have jumped the gun and opened already: the popular 4×4=Musicals, for instance, and Theatre Vertigo’s world premiere of Craig Jessen’s The End of Sex.

Don Wilson Glenn's new play at Ethos/IFCC

Don Wilson Glenn’s new play at Ethos/IFCC.

Further complicating matters is the festival’s all-comers embrace. Shows at almost every stage of development are here, from workshops and simple readings to staged readings and full productions. Some are by prominent practitioners. Others are by people you might never have heard of, hoping to get noticed by a producer or a critic, or maybe just get a little honest feedback. Unlike the summer JAW new-plays festival at Portland Center Stage, which has a small number of slots and fills them through national competition, Fertile Ground pretty much throws the doors wide open. In that sense it’s a little closer to the energizing chaos of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, though it’s more strictly local in scope. At the top of the heap are full-fledged productions such as Artists Rep’s world premiere of The Monster-Builder, by Amy Freed (The Beard of Avon, Freedomland, The Ghoul of Amherst, Restoration Comedy), with Oregon Shakespeare Festival vets Michael Elich and Robin Nordli leading the cast. But who knows what gems might be lurking at the lower levels?

And so they came, elevator-ready, and pitched and pitched and pitched.


ArtsWatch Weekly: Eugene shocker

The Oregon Bach Fest fires its musical leader. Plus: arts for kids, the symphony at the zoo, peoples' art show in Milwaukie, skinny dipping.

The Oregon Bach Festival dropped a bombshell on Sunday, announcing a complete shakeup that includes the firing of Matthew Halls, its young and extremely talented artistic director. Journalist Bob Keefer broke the news for the Eugene Weekly, and it spread quickly throughout the classical music world, met by varying expressions of shock, dismay, and anger, with a smattering of cautious praise.

Matthew Halls: Out in Eugene.

The Oregon Bach Festival is one of the state’s premiere artistic institutions, with an international following. It was founded by the German conductor Helmuth Rilling, who led it and set its tone for decades before retiring in 2013 and being replaced by Hall. It’s always difficult following a legend – as Rilling was, at least in Oregon – and Halls’s position in Eugene and among festival followers was made more complicated by his turn toward historically informed performance, an extreme, if historically more accurate, switch from the big Romantic rafter-rattling sound that Rilling espoused.


ArtsWatch Weekly: Banging the can

David Lang's "Match Girl" opera, JAW snaps open, Chamber Music Northwest's race to the finish, Brian Cox chats, art and science meet

Poor little match girl, and chamber music too: David Lang, cofounder of the effusive Bang On a Can and 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winner for The Little Match Girl Passion, is all over the Portland cultural calendar this week.

Damien Geter, Cree Carrico, and Nicole Mitchell in David Lang’s “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field” at Portland Opera. Photo: Cory Weaver

Portland Opera’s shift to a mainly summer season concludes with a double bill of Lang’s contemporary one-acts Match Girl and The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, opening Friday in the intimate Newmark Theatre. And his music will be on the bill Thursday and Friday at Chamber Music Northwest. Get the lowdown on Lang and his fascinating career from ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell in his profile David Lang: From iconoclast to eminence.


ArtsWatch Weekly: a Persian R&J

Outdoor Shakespeare with a twist; more music festivals; Mozart & Bach; an ArtsWatch apology; a profusion of prints

Summer and Shakespeare seem to go together like Abbott and Costello, or toast and jam: You can have one without the other, but somehow they’d feel incomplete. Little danger of that in Oregon, where we get our summer Shakespeare aplenty, often with a twist.


Nicholas Granato as Romeo/Majnun in Bag&Baggage’s “Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun).” Casey Campbell Photography

Consider Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun), an interweaving of Shakespeare’s romance and the 12th century Persian poet Nizami’s epic tale of a feud between families. Bag&Baggage’s premiere opens Thursday on the outdoor stage of the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza in downtown Hillsboro, in a production that B&B artistic director Scott Palmer believes blends R&J with one of its primary sources. “When you read the texts side by side, the parallels between the two tales are really astounding,” Palmer tells ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell. “There’s no smoking gun, but we do know (Shakespeare) was reading Italian sources and those were heavily influenced by Persian masterpieces from the 11th and 12 centuries. There is just no question that Layla and Majnun had a powerful, although indirect, influence on Romeo and Juliet.” Read Campbell’s full story here.


ArtsWatch Weekly: Sweet Lou

A Lou Harrison celebration, invasion of the theater hatchers, Jewish museum's new home, shrinking Bach Fest, more

It’s been a busy seven days in Portland and Oregon, with all sorts of notable cultural events going on. The Astoria Music Festival, after an opening recital Sunday by Metropolitan Opera star and Northwest favorite (she grew up in Centralia, Wash.) Angela Meade, is in full swing. Portland Opera continues its latest foray into musical-theater waters with Man of La Mancha (two more performances, Thursday and Saturday in Keller Auditorium).

Among the past week’s many other highlights:


Detail from Russian artist Grisha Bruskin’s tapestry series “ALEFBET: The Alphabet of Memory,” opening exhibit of the Oregon Jewish Museum in its new home. Photo: Oregon ArtsWatch

JEWISH MUSEUM’S BIG MOVE. The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education opened its doors in its new, much bigger, home in a prime gallery row location, the former space of the late lamented Museum of Contemporary Craft. Its new home opens up fresh possibilities for OJMCHE. You can read our take: A bigger, bolder Jewish Museum.


ArtsWatch Weekly: Vanport Mosaic

Remembering the destruction of a city and its culture, Brett Campbell's music picks, arts in Wilsonville, kabuki, and more

Sixty-nine years ago today, on May 30, 1948, a 200-foot section of dike burst in the lowlands south of the Columbia River and north of Portland, and the untamed river’s waters burst in, inundating the city of Vanport and killing 15 people. Almost overnight what had been the second-largest city in Oregon, with a population of about 40,000 at its peak, was no more. People fled in a panic, a more orderly evacuation made impossible because up to the last moment the Army Corps of Engineers and the Housing Authority of Portland had assured the city’s residents – many of them black or Japanese American, almost all of them working-class – that the dike was safe, and there was no need to worry.

Shipyard workers and Vanport residents, with their paychecks. City of Portland Archives.

Today there is little evidence of Vanport, which in its six brief years of existence had been a thriving “instant” community built to house wartime workers in the Kaiser shipyards and their families. Up to 40 percent of the population was African American, and although the neighborhoods were segregated, the schools and after-hours social life were not. Vanport was hardly a Utopia of cultural and racial harmony, but at the time it might have been the most socially progressive community in an almost completely white state.

All of that ended with the floodwaters, almost in a blink. But the memory lingers on. People who lived there or were born there are still alive; others are their children and remember the family stories. And the annual Vanport Mosaic Festival, a four-day event that this year ended Monday and marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the city’s birth, helps keep the flame alive.

On Sunday afternoon I went to the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, where much of the action took place (the center’s upstairs galleries hold a nice exhibition on Vanport’s history and culture) to see staged readings of two plays that were central attractions of the festival: Michael A. Jones’s Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water and Don W. Glenn’s American Summer Squash. Both are by African American playwrights, and both are about the displacement and trauma and readjustment of people caught in the disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the 2005 flooding of vast African American neighborhoods of New Orleans, an event that echoed the Vanport flood in both its environmental and its cultural effects.

Overturned cars and other devastation after the Vanport deluge of 1948. City of Portland Archives

There was, in spite of the tracing of vibrant African American cultures being shattered at least temporarily, and the lingering cultural and political questions about exactly why and how that happened, a feeling of hopefulness in the dramas and a sense of joy in the event itself. These are our stories. They are good to tell, and good to hear. That two stories of New Orleans were told in a celebration of the legacy of Vanport seemed fitting, somehow: the widely known disaster of Katrina, which cost at least 1,200 lives across the hurricane’s broad path, and the smaller, lesser-known destruction of Vanport seem like intimate cousins, forever linked. The texture of the tales also seemed to bleed into Portland’s ugly current events, in particular the murder of two men and serious wounding of a third in a racially charged crime on a MAX light-rail train, allegedly by a white supremacist who was threatening two young women, one of whom was wearing a hijab. There are the floods – the flashpoints – and the long-simmering circumstances in which they strike. Performances of the two plays repeat this weekend, at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at IFCC. Catch a slice of important history, and some engaging theater, if you can.


It’s another busy week on Portland stages, so let’s just jump into the thicket:

Oye Oyá at Milagro. With a book by Rebecca Martinez based on a treatment by Rodolfo Ortega, who also wrote the music and lyrics, the world premiere of Milagro’s new Spanish-language musical play has good bloodlines. Estafanía Fadul directs this tale about a boat, a storm, and the beaches of Cuba, based loosely on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Thursday through May 27.

“Oye Oyá” at Milagro: a world premiere. Photo: Russell J Young

Contact Dance Film Festival. The Northwest Film Center and BodyVox collaborate on this cinematic exploration of the world of dance, with screenings at both locations. Thursday-Saturday.

The Talented Ones at Artists Rep. The world premiere of a dark comedy by Yussef El Guindi, whose last show in town, Portland Center Stage’s co-premiere of Threesome, went on to a successful Off-Broadway run. Saturday through May 21.


Oregon ArtsWatch Archives