Search Results for 'PDX Playwrights'

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Random favors

Steven Dietz's "This Random World," Ronald K. Brown dance, Portland Photo Month, Brett Campbell's music picks of the week, Blitzen Trapper & more

Steven Dietz is one of the most famous American playwrights Broadway’s never heard of. Last year’s This Random World is his 34th produced play, and that’s not even counting his 11 adaptations – an astonishing number, approaching the total of that fellow from Stratford. Many of them have been hits on the regional theater circuit, from the Humana Festival of New Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville (where This Random World got its start) to major companies coast to coast. Except New York, where his Fiction, to make a long story short, made it to Off-Broadway’s Roundabout in 2004.

“This Random World” opens this week at Portland Actors Conservatory.

There’s little explaining a situation like this. Dietz’s plays are smart, well-shaped, actor-friendly, and on interesting topics, although they tend not to include things like falling chandeliers or singing cats. No matter. Regional audiences like them. A lot. Many of his plays have helped shape the contemporary American theater, and they move from city to city with ease: More Fun Than Bowling, Foolin’ Around with Infinity, Ten November, God’s Country, Lonely Planet, Becky’s New Car, Rancho Mirage, and more.

This weekend, This Random Life gets its West Coast premiere at Portland Actors Conservatory, and there’s reason to believe it’ll be worth a visit. This year’s class at the professional acting school has some very good talent, and it’s coming off a knockout production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ In the Blood. PAC’s talented Beth Harper is directing, and the fine veteran actor Kathleen Worley is a guest artist. Plus, it’s a secret you can keep from the Great White Way while it’s busy reliving Groundhog Day.


ArtsWatch Weekly: enemies of the people

Plus: ceramics shows all over town, Brontës and Carnage onstage, Shakespeare on Avenue Q, madrigals and music from the Holocaust

I’ve been thinking about my new status as an enemy of the people, which, because I am a longtime member of the press, the leader of the nation has declared I am. I’m not sure what this means (Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic has a few ideas), but I suspect that while we’re all getting hot and bothered about the president’s use of the term “enemy” – a word that, in this construction, implies the harsher “traitor” – we might also be thinking long and hard about what he means when he says “people.”

As I have never considered myself an enemy of the many categories of people who make up this nation (although I have certainly resisted the ideas and actions of some, particularly those of an autocratic, opportunistic, violent, or rigidly ideological bent) I inevitably wonder which people these are to whom I am an enemy. And the conclusion I draw, at least tentatively, is that they must be the people who adamantly declare “my country (or my president) right or wrong,” those whose modes of thought and belief are primarily binary, who see a white and a black in every situation with no recognition of the vast shadings and illuminations between. And although I don’t deny I am not fond of their hard-line ideas, it is less true that I am their enemy than that they consider me theirs.

In Ibsen’s play the newspaper editor is a collaborator and the “enemy” is a whistleblower.

This is a far, far smaller definition of the American people than my own old-fashioned idea of a populace enriched by its multitude of backgrounds, talents, experiences, expressions, and beliefs. The president’s declaration, it seems to me, is a siren song to know-nothing insularity, a constricted, self-defeating, fear-driven, and exclusivist view of the American ideal of what a “people” is (or are). Under its sway a belief in a middle ground of understanding over ideology, even when the understanding must come by asking hard questions and seeking answers from alternative sources when the primary ones hide or lie about what they know, becomes a ground of treason. It is thinking that divides the country into “real” Americans – the true believers – and, well, enemies. Including those members of the press who point such things out.


Let’s see, now, where were we? Big inauguration, American carnage, big threats, bellicose speech. Bigger protest, millions of women, pink hats, sea to shining sea. Twitter wars unabated. Health care on the skids. War on reporters. Alternative facts.

And, oh, yes, tucked away there in the corner: a vow to kill the National Endowment for the Arts. And kill the National Endowment for the Humanities. And “privatize” the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has mostly been privatized already, anyway. Cost-cutting. Getting tough on the budget. Victory for the taxpayers. (NEA 2016 budget: $148 million. NEH 2016 budget: $148 million. Percentage of total federal budget, each: 0.003. CPB 2016 funding via federal government: $445 million. Percentage of total federal budget, all three agencies: less than 0.02. Federal budget 2015 for military marching bands, $437 million. Taxpayer expense to build or renovate National Football League stadiums, past 20 years, mostly through local and regional taxes: more than $7 billion.)

A fiscal conservative or libertarian can make an honest argument for eliminating the NEA and NEH on grounds that they’re simply not an appropriate use of taxpayer funding; culture should be funded privately. Here at ArtsWatch we don’t agree with that analysis. We believe there are many valid reasons for government financial aid to culture, and that the payoffs to taxpayers are many, from economic – in healthy cities, the arts are job and money multipliers – to educational and much more. Historically, consider the continuing dividends of the WPA and other cultural projects underwritten by the federal government during the Great Depression of the 1930s: In Oregon, for instance, Timberline Lodge.

But there’s much more to this move than a courteous philosophical/economic disagreement. The move to defund the NEA has a long and embattled history, dating at least to the so-called “culture wars” of the 1980s and ’90s, when a resurgent right-wing political movement convinced that artists were mostly a pack of degenerate liberals discovered that attacking the arts was a splendid red-meat issue for its base. They didn’t succeed in killing off the national endowments, but they did weaken them. The new administration seems to think it can finally finish them off. That would weaken state agencies such as the Oregon Arts Commission, which gets funding from the NEA, and in turn weaken arts organizations across the state, which get money from the OAC and, often more importantly, a stamp of approval that helps them raise private donations. Killing the endowments would be a rash move that would save hardly anything in the national budget and cause deep mischief to the nation’s well-being. It strikes us as petty and vindictive and, frankly, foolish.

It’s also a reach that might fail. Republicans like culture, too, and understand its value, and often support it generously. Traditionally, that has included Republican politicians. Will they fall in line with the new administration, or will they quietly scuttle its gambit? Keep your eye on this thing. We will, too.



Duffy Epstein and Dana Green in the premiere of the D.B. Cooper play “db.” Photo: Owen Carey

THE FERTILE GROUND FESTIVAL, Portland’s sprawling celebration of new works in theater, dance, solo performance, circus arts, musical theater, comedy, and other things that ordinarily happen on a stage, continues through January 29. ArtsWatch writers have been out and about, writing their impressions. You can catch up with some of them below:


ArtsWatch Weekly: popcorn time

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

What does ArtsWatch watch? Pretty much, the culture in and around Portland: plays, dance, art, music, ideas that interest us and interest you. In other words, we’re local: What’s going on here and now that’s worth seeing and thinking about?

Still, local means a very different thing in 2016 than it did in 1816 or 1416, when travel was difficult and the idea of place was much more isolated. Today, ideas and influences arrive from everywhere. We’re hooked into a global culture whether we like it or not. Portland is an open city. It might have a bubble, but it doesn’t have a wall. Culturally, that means that much of what we think of as local – what we read and see and hear and even eat – is arriving from somewhere else, influencing the ways we live and think and sometimes, in turn, being influenced by what it encounters here. “Local” is an extremely fluid, and often arbitrary, concept.

A Japanese snow monkey in the widescreen visual poem "Baraka."

A Japanese snow monkey in the widescreen visual poem “Baraka.”

So this week, let’s go to the movies.

Actually, we go to quite a few of these vivid interlopers from the “outside” world, and we’ve been writing about them, insightfully and entertainingly, as a vital part of our local culture. Our expanded film coverage, under the expert eye of critic and editor Marc Mohan, includes reviews, interviews, and now, a weekly film newsletter, FilmWatch Weekly, in which Mohan spotlights a few fresh films (in his first letter, it was the made-in-Portland Green Room, starring the legendary Patrick Stewart) and keeps you up-to-date on all the movies we think you’ll find of interest: not the mainstream blockbusters, usually, but the genuinely interesting, challenging, and sometimes risky stuff.


ArtsWatch Weekly: The ground is fertile. The age is golden.

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

It started, as so many things do, with a casual conversation. “You know what this town needs?” “What if?” “What we really ought to do is …”

The very first Fertile Ground festival of new performance works, in January 2009, featured singer McKinley’s musical Gracie and the Atom; the Algonquin Round Table play Vitriol and Violets, with music by jazz wit Dave Frishberg; and new plays by the likes of William S. Gregory, Sandra De Helen, Eleanor O’Brien, Steve Patterson, Matt Zrebski, and others.

This week the eighth annual Fertile Ground opens for an eleven-day run, Thursday through January 31. And it’s not fooling around. This year’s festival will include more than 160 performances on more than 30 stages across the metropolitan area. What began mostly as a theater showcase has expanded to embrace dance, performance art, aerial and acrobatic acts, new-vaudeville, clowning, even film animation, which has a lively presence in Oregon. Offerings range from the biggest theaters in town to pop-up projects, and cover just about every step in the process, from readings to full-blown world premieres.

Echo Theatre will be the hub for circus and aerial acts at this year's Fertile Ground.

Echo Theatre will be the hub for circus and aerial acts at Fertile Ground. Photo: Renata Kosina

A couple of weeks ago three ArtsWatch writers joined the mob at Artists Repertory Theatre for Fertile Ground’s big media kickoff, a “speed-dating” evening in which producers, performers, and playwrights lined up to spend five minutes with a writer or reporter, pitching their project. What we gathered in these assembly-line interviews, we compiled in Fertile Ground: Let the fest begin. Among the things we learned: When a woman comes after you with a hatchet, she’s not after your scalp, she just wants to tell you about her play Grimm Northwest. Faith Helma hates positive thinking so much that she wrote a solo show about it. And playwright Patterson, who was in the original Fertile Ground, is back with another, a play he describes as “kinda like a feminist Huck Finn on acid.” We’re pretty much sold on that.



Solid Gold Cadillac. All right, not a Cadillac. Brett Campbell’s talking about serious contemporary music. “We may be entering a golden age for Oregon contemporary classical music, he writes for ArtsWatch. “This past fall might have brought Oregon music lovers more new music by Oregon classical composers than any season in history.” That includes, among many other projects, a fresh performance of Portland pianist and composer Darrell Grant’s The Territory. Of Grant, who teaches at Portland State University and is a leading figure on the city’s jazz scene, Campbell says that if Oregon had a most-valuable player award for musicians, “I’d nominate Darrell Grant.”

Darrell Grant: MVP?

Darrell Grant: MVP?



A few things to consider on this week’s calendar:

  • Celestial Carnaval. As Portland’s suburbs and surrounding communities grow bigger, the art scene expands, too. Out west, the Valley Art Association‘s been at it a long time. This party and fundraiser Saturday night celebrates fifty years for the association, which operates a gallery in Forest Grove and presents events including an annual sidewalk chalk festival. Saturday night in downtown Forest Grove, with the ever-excellent 3 Leg Torso providing the tunes.
  • Great Expectations. After a week of previews, Portland Center Stage’s adaptation of the Dickens classic opens Friday night, with Stephen Stocking as Pip, Dana Green as Miss Havisham, and a solid supporting cast. It anticipates yet another adaptation opening in late February at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.
  • Beethoven-Bartok Festival. The admirable Jerusalem Quartet returns to town to show some classical flexibility at Friends of Chamber Music in four concerts at Lincoln Performance Hall, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, and next Tuesday.
  • Dido and Aeneas. Baroque opera doesn’t get performed much in Portland, but The Ensemble is on hand to help correct the oversight with performances Saturday in Eugene and Sunday in Portland of Henry Purcell’s lovely first opera, along with excerpts from John Blow’s even earlier version.



ArtsWatch links

Tabitha Trosen and Ty Boice: cruising for a bruising. Lakewood Theatre photo.

Tabitha Trosen and Ty Boice: cruising for a bruising. Lakewood Theatre photo.

Upstart: Lakewood’s Golden Boy. Christa Morletti McIntyre considers Ty Boice’s knockout performance in Clifford Odets’s heavyweight role, and the links between Odets’s conflicted boxer and his own career.

In search of the great white .. leg. Barry Johnson follows Portland Experimental Theatre Company’s next stop in its quest to deconstruct Moby-Dick, this one called [or, the whale]. Sometimes what isn’t there is what’s there.

Engaging ears, eyes, minds. Gary Ferrington previews the creative Cascade Composers’ upcoming show in Eugene, citing concert organizer Daniel Brugh: “There’s gonna be a few lights of a variety of colors, video, some sound-induced visuals and lots and lots of darkness! This is music experienced in an alternative way.”

Golden cage, broken promises. Broken Promises, Olga Sanchez’s new play at Milagro about the child sex-trade corridor  in Oregon and along the West Coast, “straddles cultural, social, and age divides,” Christa Morltti McIntyre writes.

Woman, trapped. Sue Mach’s new stage adaptation at CoHo of the classic story The Yellow Wallpaper, Christa Morletti McIntyre writes, feels “like the pit of your stomach was ripped out and lost down a hole.”

Grace Carter, caught in the wallpaper. Photo: Holly Andres

Grace Carter, caught in the wallpaper. Photo: Holly Andres



About ArtsWatch Weekly

We send a letter like this every Tuesday to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.


And finally…

We end with a couple of requests. First, if you have friends or family members who you think would enjoy our cultural writing online, could you please forward this letter to them? The bigger our circle of friends, the more we can accomplish. Second, if you’re not already a member of ArtsWatch, may we ask you to please take a moment and sign on? What you give (and your donation is tax-deductible) makes it possible for us to continue and expand our reporting and commenting on our shared culture in Oregon. Thanks, and welcome!

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The Big 100 of 2015

ArtsWatch picks a hundred tales that helped shape the cultural year from stage to page to studio and beyond

It’s the end of the year, and the numbers game is in full swing. Top Five lists (handy to count on the fingers of one hand). Top Tens (double your digits, double your fun). The best of this, the best of that, the movies or books or songs we should feel ashamed, the drumbeat often makes us feel, if we didn’t see, read, or hear.

Here at ArtsWatch, we like to play the numbers game, too. But we see it less as a competition than as a cultural road map. What were the stories or events that gave the year 2015 its distinctive flavor in Oregon? How was the year shaped, as Oregon ArtsWatch’s writers and editors saw it?

It’s been a year when the venerable Portland Opera took its first steps toward reinventing itself as a summer-festival company (the new format kicks in fully in 2016) and the even more venerable Oregon Shakespeare Festival raised an international ruckus by commissioning contemporary “translations” from 36 playwrights of all of Shakespeare’s plays: Sacrilege!, the cries rang out. The argument between traditionalists and impatient new-music advocates sometimes seemed to drive a wedge straight into the heart of the classical/serious music world, too.

Meanwhile, the Fertile Ground festival of new works grew even bigger, filling the city’s stages with fresh theater and dance, from rough drafts to staged readings to full-blown productions; and premieres later in the year such as Artists Rep’s Cuba Libre drew enthusiastic crowds. Music festivals in places like Astoria, Jacksonville and Eugene continued to prosper, spreading the cultural wealth around the state. PICA’s TBA festival once again pumped a little outside blood into the city’s scene.


FG reviews: Staging history

Cottonwood in the Flood, Deception, and One Weekend in October dramatize racially charged moments.

This year’s Fertile Ground Festival offered several plays relating to race and history. I caught readings of three of them, each in a different stage of development. All three show promise, as well as flaws that are easier to spot once they’re actually read before an audience — a prime reason Fertile Ground is so valuable.

The terrific cast of Rubin's Cottonwood in the Flood.

The terrific cast of Cottonwood in the Flood.

Cottonwood in the Flood

The story of a mid 20th century African American family that moves from south to north and deals with the challenges of social, economic, racial and even geographical change — it sounds like an ideal set up for an August Wilson play, if the longtime Seattle based playwright had written about the Northwest he migrated to instead of the Pittsburgh he grew up in.

Wilson liked to write about how place changes over generations, and Vanport, Oregon — the site of Portland playwright Rich Rubin’s Cottonwood in the Flood and the aforementioned fictional family’s struggles — existed for only six years, before succumbing to the great flood of 1948, and becoming, along with Celilo Falls, Oregon’s Atlantis. It proved an eventful stretch, both militarily (with workers churning out important components of America’s World War II arsenal), and socially, as a de facto experimental precursor to racial integration.


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