Boom Arts

Boom Arts: A dance for freedom

"Chang(e)" tells the story of the short life of activist/artist Kathy Change, an "alarm against Armageddon"

By ELIZABETH WHELAN

“A universe full of love and wonderful possibilities would be yours if only you would reach for it. You are sitting in timid conformity… Do a dance for freedom.”—Kathy Change, 1996

Kathy Change: an activist, artist and dreamer who devoted her life to spreading her message of radical change in the name of peace, social equality, and a higher sense of global consciousness. She was born in Ohio with the name Kathy Chang, which she eventually switched to Change for performance. Her life was a culmination of misunderstood yet passionately persistent warnings of the social evils of an increasingly catastrophic world. Her vision was hopeful, but the increasing frustration and helplessness she felt led to her own self-immolation on October 22, 1996, when she doused herself with gasoline and lit a match.

Chang(e)—the third section of a trilogy of dance/theater plays that paid homage to Asian American visionaries with early deaths by NYC-based movement artist and actor Soomi Kim directed by Suzi Takahashi—depicts the life and work of a woman whose character was as vibrant as the technicolor wings she danced in while screaming words of warning against nuclear warfare, environmental degradation, the war on drugs, and every other social problem you could name. Boom Arts, a non-profit presenting organization for contemporary art, seeks out artistically adventurous and unusual work to bring to the Portland community, and this revised version of Kim and Takahashi’s 2014 original hybrid play fit in perfectly with Boom Arts’ programming.

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DramaWatch Weekly: A Dickensian Nor’wester and scattered Revels

ArtsWatch forecasts this week's holiday theater weather.

This weather, huh? What’s the forecast for this weekend and beyond?

A.L. Adams

To the southwest, there’ll be scattered Revels, with peak conditions for viewing Nordic Lights, and some precipitation rolling in from the Mediterranean will leave conditions Pericles Wet, while a family drama high pressure front builds up between Morrison and Alder. A Dickensian chill will sweep along the east river bank, building into a twister as it crosses into Northwest and breaking into gales of wry laughter as it heads for the Hils. It will miss Tigard altogether, which will experience mild enough conditions to continue its Holiday Parade already under way. Meanwhile, the Northeast will experience bursts of gospel, and as you head toward Columbia, be on the lookout for flaming radicals.

Dickensian drama is blowing in with the return of Portland Playhouse’s popular “A Christmas Carol” (above), Scott Palmer’s “Charles Dickens Writes ‘A Christmas Carol'” at Bag & Baggage in Hillsboro, Second City’s “Twist Your Dickens” at The Armory, and Phillip J. Berns’s “A Christmas Carol: A One Man Ghost Story.” Photo: Portland Playhouse

As you head Southeast, expect some choppy seas, and an abrupt shift as Utopia closes at Hand2Mouth and a dystopia opens at Theatre Vertigo: Victor Mack will direct José Rivera’s Marisol, a near-contemporary of Angels in America with some similar motifs—mental illness and spiritual warfare between angelic beings—along with some surprisingly ripped-from-current-headlines themes—namely, the struggle of a Puerto Rican woman against an unjust god who is dying and “taking the rest of the universe with him.” Also the frenzied desperation of an urban hellscape where citizens driven into homelessness by debt and personal injury gnash and wail in the streets.

Langston Hughes’s “Black Nativity”: a shining star. PassinArt photo/2016

Happy holidays, y’all. Jacob Marley left a message; something about “mankind being our business?” He said he’ll try again—repeatedly throughout our city, then at Vertigo on Christmas week, when Phillip Berns reprises his solo version of the classic.

Imago’s’classic “Frogz” leaps back into the swim. Photo: Imago Theatre

But what were we talking about? Oh yes. The weather. Northwest Children’s Theater will experience spells of magic, to subside by midnight. And tell the kids next weekend’s conditions should be ideal for watching FROGZ. Til then, stay warm, from hands to heart.

‘Spin’ review: women on wheels

Boom Arts hosts Evalyn Parry's musical theater piece chronicling connections between the women's movement and bicycling

Want to control women? Limit their freedom to get around. There are many places in the world  — even in our country — where women are virtual prisoners in their own homes, forbidden freedom by law, religion, custom, or just plain male domination.

When America’s late 19th century suffragists challenged this stultifying situation and started a social revolution, they were aided by a concurrent technological revolution. “I believe the bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in history,” said someone who should know.

Evalyn Parry performed “Spin” in Portland. Photo: Frederike Heuer.

That connection between two revolutions is the subject of Spin, Toronto singer/songwriter/spoken word artist Evalyn Parry’s entertaining theatrical song cycle that Boom Arts wheeled into northeast Portland’s The Sanctuary earlier this month. It was a fun if wobbly ride that didn’t quite find the right balance between between two important stories: a quick history of the historical connection between women’s equality and bicycling, and a fascinating, too-little known story of one of the early female pioneers of both.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Encore!

What goes around comes around: Portland performances ArtsWatch is happy to see again.

This week, let’s give it up for encore performances, from racially significant statements to heartwarming Christmas traditions. Turns out there are plenty of kinds of performances that make you go, “Hey. Let me see that again.”

The August Wilson Red Door Project’s “Hands Up” returns for two performances.

Here’s a serious one: This weekend, the August Wilson Red Door Project re-presents Hands Up for two nights only at Wieden + Kennedy. This collection of monologues features seven playwrights’ insightful, individual takes on a sadly recurring theme: police violence against Black people. Hands Up plans another (longer/wider) run in 2018, and your support now can help make that happen. Hopefully as the message reverberates, the atrocities that make it so necessary will abate. But even the best theater can only change a few minds at a time, so realistically, this may be the beginning of a long run.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Puzzles and Cults

From "Caught" to Reverend Billy to storytelling to "Chalk Circle" to readings and "You in Midair," a weekful of openings

Happy glacially gradual onset of fall. Let’s talk theatre … er, theater.

A.L. Adams

Here at ArtsWatch, some new reviews are in.

Bob Hicks is smitten with Every Brilliant Thing and Matthew Andrews seems impressed by Fun Home, putting the Armory 2-for-2.

Artists Rep’s An Octoroon, which closed last weekend, left Maria Choban in metaphorical therapy, and NWCT’s Starlings delighted DeAnn Welker. Onward.

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Artists Rep is prepared to ensnare you with Caught, a “sly philosophical puzzle” presented as a multimedia work with both gallery installation and performance components. I wonder if the growing popularity of “escape rooms” is conversant with this kind of theater. I also wonder how the habituation of video game play informs the escape rooms that may or may not have tripped the wire on a seeming explosion of this type of theater. Discuss.

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Reverend Billy drops in at Boom Arts to revive us again.

Here’s another puzzler: why does “protest” within performance art get so much more respect than protest on the street? Sure, sometimes it’s a quality standard, but many street protest efforts also pass artistic muster. From the businessman-satirizing Yes Men, to these butoh-esque “zombies” in Hamburg, to these stoic Michiganders sitting in grim solidarity with oil-soaked birds, performative protestors who bring fringe-fest-worthy confrontations to the public sphere deserve a little more applause. In this mood, Boom Arts brings performance protest figurehead Reverend Billy to The Old Church this weekend. The Reverend, who’s been dramatically preaching the gospel of “Stop Shopping” for many years—often to hostile audiences during direct action—has earned a weekend preaching to the choir. Additional ways to find religion this week include the opening of a ritualistic-looking Caucasian Chalk Circle at Shaking the Tree, and Siren Theater storytelling showcase Cult Status. (Rumor has it they’ll be serving actual Kool-Aid.)

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Correct me if I’m wrong: a staged reading is to a play what a book is to a movie. While the latter is already chock full of multi-sensory material, the former leaves more space for your own imagination. This month, Portland Playhouse’s Fall Reading Series mixes it up with three contemporary plays at various locations from Sellwood to NW. In the hands of this stah-rong batch of actors, I bet those scripts will sing. Can I say they’re by female playwrights as a “by the way”? And someday can female playwrights be so prevalent that no point need be made?

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And finally, here’s a hard one. With no joy in the pun, I call “trigger warning” on a show about a 1980s celebrity murder presented by the mother of the deceased. In You in Midair, Danna Schaeffer grapples with the 1989 death of her daughter Rebecca Schaeffer, a star of the sitcom My Sister Sam, on her front porch at the hands of a deranged gunman. Seekers of catharsis and context on this particular week may find it here.

 


 

Look for A.L. Adams’ DramaWatch Weekly every Tuesday.

ArtsWatch Weekly: full-tilt boogie

Imago tilts the action in a topsy-turvy Greek classic, Brett Campbell's best music bets, "Jersey Boys" croons into town, new theater & dance

The question echoes down the centuries from the Greek myths and Euripides’ play, which was first set on stage in 431 B.C. and just keeps coming back: was Medea balancing the scales of justice when she murdered her husband’s new wife and her own children, or was she falling off her rocker? People have been arguing the point ever since (Medea shocked its original audience, coming in dead last in that year’s City of Dionysia festival), and the question of teetering out of control remains foremost, right down to Ben Powers’ recent adaptation of Medea for the National Theatre in London.

The ups and downs of rehearsal: Imago’s tilting stage for “Medea.” Imago Theatre photo.

Enter Jerry Mouawad of Imago Theatre, whose own theories of balance reach back to his mentor Jacques Lecoq, the French mime and movement master who advocated a “balance of the stage.” In 1998 Mouawad and Imago took the advice literally, creating a large movable stage, suspended three feet above the floor, that tips and leans as the actors shift position on it. They used it for an acclaimed production of Sartre’s No Exit, in which the constantly shifting balances became a metaphor for the play itself. The show was revived several times and traveled to theaters across the country.

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Global Voices get a fair hearing

Boom Arts searched the world for an eclectic set of statement plays. Global Voices continues next weekend, and hopefully next year.

Last weekend, Boom Arts launched its first-ever Global Voices Lab for International Plays in Translation, a staged reading series that the company hopes to make annual. In defiance of the hugely overblown storm warnings, a small but earnest audience clustered into Lincoln Hall’s Studio Theater for a reading of Elfriede Jelinek’s Jackie on Friday; then a marathon on Saturday consisting of Joned Suryatmoko’s Picnic, Sedef Ecer’s At The Periphery, and Luis Alberto Leon Bacigulpo’s The Captive. An encore performance of Jackie on Sunday kicked off at the Super Bowl-friendly but otherwise unusually early hour of 11:30 a.m. (with complementary coffee and bagels).

Next weekend will bring a different selection, Lara Foot’s Fishers of Hope and Zainabu Jallo’s Onions Make Us Cry, at a different venue, the PCC Cascade campus. Wisely, Boom has chosen to present the two African plays alongside the Cascade Festival of African Films.

So how is it?

Illuminating. Diverse. Challenging to many Portlanders’ current body of knowledge and range of experience … which is to say, worthwhile.

“These are perspectives that are rarely expressed on Portland stages,” says Boom curator/producer Ruth Wikler-Luker. “These plays allow us to plop ourselves into different cultural contexts.”

“The Captive,” by Luis Alberto León Bacigalupo, with Patricia Alvitez and Romeo Recinos. Photo: Blanca Forzan

When planning Global Voices, Wikler-Luker curated via connections rather than submissions, reaching out to her network of theater producers around the world to get recommendations and find works that spoke to her. She wanted the works to be distinct from one another in tone and theme. She wanted each to feel timely. And most importantly, she wanted to choose plays that make their own statement about the world.

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