Grant Turner

News & Notes: Turner shakes things up; weekend dance & theater

Dance at Conduit, Northwest Dance Project, and Polaris; a short double feature at Imago; 'Invasion! returns

When Grant Turner accepted his Special Achievement Award at the Drammy ceremonies Monday night, he advised the theater crowd to keep its ears tuned for an announcement “soon” about his future.

It didn’t take long.



On Tuesday morning, Portland Shakespeare Project announced that Turner will join the company as co-artistic director with co-founder Michael Mendelson. Turner founded Northwest Classical Theatre Company in 1998, and is resigning from that post because he’s moving to LaGrande in eastern Oregon, where his wife has taken a job, and Northwest Classical needs a full-time artistic leader in Portland. But he wanted to continue to do projects in Portland, and the Shakespeare Project, which Mendelson founded with Karen Rathje in 2011 as a summer program in the Artists Rep complex, seems a good fit.

Mendelson, who is also a core company member at Artists Rep, continues to be one of the busiest actors in town. And he credits Turner with some of the inspiration for founding his own company. “His inviting me to play Shylock in 2009 was a re-awakening of my passion for classic work and I have Grant to thank for that,” Mendelson said in a statement. “We have like minds in our faith in the words and the power of the text, and our different approaches to the material complement one another beautifully.”

Turner will help Northwest Classical make its transition to new leadership through the end of this year.


Which came first, the dancer or the choreographer? Friday through Sunday, Conduit Dance will host Co/Mission, an intriguing program of dance that flips the tables on the ordinary way of doing things. Four soloists will present a new work each – and each soloist chose a choreographer to set the piece on her, rather than the usual other way around. The show is produced by dancers Suzanne Chi and Jamuna Chiarini (a contributing writer to ArtsWatch), who’ll be joined by dancers Jen Hackworth and Rachel Slater. Choreographers taking up the challenge include veteran contemporary dance makers Linda Austin and Linda K. Johnson, plus Lindsey Matheis and Franco Nieto, performing mainstays at Northwest Dance Project. Will the flip-flopped nature of the dancer/choreographer relationships make a difference? Let’s find out.


Matheis and Nieto, meanwhile, will be busy performing in the final weekend of Northwest Dance Project’s appealing and very strong season-ending program, Summer Splendors, at the company’s Mississippi District studios. If all goes as planned, it’ll be the company’s last program in that space before a projected move to a much bigger home on the close-in East Side. Final performances are Wednesday through Sunday; Saturday night’s show is sold out. I reviewed the program after last weekend’s opening.


"Homegrown" at Polaris. Photo: Troy Butcher

“Homegrown” at Polaris. Photo: Troy Butcher

Also finishing its two-weekend run will be Polaris Dance Theatre’s choreographers’ showcase, Homegrown. Artistic director Robert Guitron wanted to emphasize the work of local artists, so he charged each of his choreographers – himself, Gerard Regot, former Oregon Ballet Theatre star and interim artistic director Anne Mueller, and company dancers Kiera Brinkley, Briley Neugebauer, M’Liss Stephenson, and Blake Seidel – with finding a Portland musician or sound designer to create work for his or her new dance. In some cases, the search stopped close to home. Guitron wrote his own music, an easygoing, danceable piece called Moot. Regot wrote music for his own piece, and also for Brinkley’s nervous, edgy Post-Op, a down-in-the-trenches dance punctuated with hospital beeps. The most interesting soundtrack on the program may well be playwright Claire Willet’s memoir-like taped monologue One of Everything, for Neugebauer’s dance of the same name. Choreography and story are about growing up in a family of four siblings, and the attendant pleasures and pains of wherever you happen to land in the chronology. It made me think of Sibling Revelry, the sweet but pointed cabaret act of the singing sisters Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway: all things equal, much better to have a sister than not.

The level of dancing at Polaris is less sophisticated than what you’ll find at the likes of BodyVox, Oregon Ballet Theatre, or Northwest Dance Project. But the company’s developed a true sense of community (in addition to a lot of work: Guitron says it’s introduced 304 new works, including pieces by 37 guest choreographers) and ways to connect with its audiences that other companies might emulate. Part of it is Guitron’s low-key, genuine friendliness in his brief talks with the audience. Another is the company’s simple acceptance, with utterly no sensationalizing, of all sorts of people as dancers. I first saw the terrific and wheelchair-using Yulia Arekelyan and Erik Ferguson of Wobbly Dance at a Polaris show. Current Polaris dancer Brinkley is a quadruple amputee, and she can be an electrifying performer. Another plus: Homegrown demystifies the dance process and pulls audience members into the company fold highly effectively by screening short video interviews (by Mike Dawson/Soulplay) with each choreographer before her or his dance takes the stage. It’s a humanizing, stress-relieving technique: audience members get to know a little bit about the dance makers and the dances, and it helps them relax and enjoy what follows.

Homegrown finishes its run with performances Friday through Sunday, June 13-15. Ticket and schedule information here.


Carol Triffle and Mark Mullaney in "Pimento" at Imago. Photo: Jerry Mouawad

Carol Triffle and Mark Mullaney in “Pimento” at Imago. Photo: Jerry Mouawad

What are Jerry Mouawad and Imago Theatre up to these days? Fresh off of Allen Nause’s best-actor win at the Drammys for his Mouawad-directed performance in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, Imago’s unveiling a very short run of an intriguing-looking double feature: Thornton Wilder’s rarely performed one-act metaphysical comedy Pullman Car Hiawatha; and Mouawad’s own Pimento, which features, in his words, “three clowns in innocent yet ‘accidentally’ lewd encounters.” We can only imagine – or catch the show, which runs Thursday through Sunday, June 12-15. One way or another, Mouawad’s experiments tend to be highly interesting. Ticket and schedule information here.


One of last year’s most audacious shows, Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s satiric political comedy Invasion!, reopens Wednesday night right where it left off, onstage at Miracle Theatre. Director Antonio Sonera and his original cast – Gilberto Del Campo, Chantal DeGroat, John San Nicolas, and Nicole Accuardi – are back in the saddle, rocking the horse of expectation until it darned near tips over. Invasion! was the debut show of Badass Theatre Company, and as word of mouth grew it became a hit. A.L. Adams reviewed last year’s production for ArtsWatch, declaring, “I went from wanting to punch the actors, to wanting to hug them.” That’s quite an arc. The run continues through June 27. Ticket and schedule information here.

Del Camp, DeGroat, San Nicolas, Accuardi in "Inasion!" last year. Russell J Young Photography

Del Campo, DeGroat, San Nicolas, Accuardi in “Invasion!” last year. Russell J Young Photography




Great shakes: a Drammy tribute to Grant Turner

NW Classical Theatre's departing leader will take home a special award from Monday's Drammy ceremony

Grant Turner’s career epiphany came during his freshman year of college, but not within the halls of Eastern Oregon University in La Grande. Instead it was at the movies. While back in his native Portland for the winter break, Turner went to Cinema 21 to see Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film version of Shakespeare’s Henry V.

And Turner had no idea what was going on.

He’d encountered the Bard before. In grade school, he’d seen the famous Franco Zeffirelli film of Romeo and Juliet. He’d even faked his way through a small part in a middle-school Hamlet and, a few years later at Centennial High, a class about Shakespeare. He says he never understood a word of it.

Turner (left) as Iachimo in "Cymbeline," with Tom Walton

Turner (left) as Iachimo in “Cymbeline,” with Tom Walton

Soon, the young theater major switched his focus from musical theater to classics. In the years since Branagh turned the light of understanding on for him, Turner’s become so adept at illuminating Shakespeare for others — actors and audiences alike —that he’s earned the 2014 Drammy Award for Special Achievement in Portland theater.

Turner and dozens of other theater artists will be honored Monday night at the Crystal Ballroom in the 36th annual Drammy Awards ceremony. Isaac Lamb – he of the world’s most famous marriage-proposal viral video, but more importantly a marvelous Portland actor and singer – will host the event, which starts at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m. for drinks, socializing and a slideshow of images from the 2013-’14 theater season.


The rise and fall of Richard III, American antihero

The British director and Portland star of Shakespeare's 16th-century political drama about a 15th-century king look to today's headlines

Director and star: Kyle and Turner talk about Richard. Photo: Jason Maniccia

Director and star: Kyle and Turner talk about Richard. Photo: Jason Maniccia

The humpbacked warrior-king Richard III met his doom in the Battle of Bosworth Field. But on a recent sunny morning in the courtyard garden of a Northeast Portland tea shop, Appomattox seems to be equally on Barry Kyle’s mind.

Kyle, the visiting British director of Northwest Classical Theatre Company’s soon-to-open production of Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” has been looking for parallels, and he finds them in roughly equivalent layers of time: 107 years between Richard’s battlefield death in 1485 and the play’s first production in 1592 (a consensus best guess); 148 years between the end of the American Civil War in 1865 and now. In both cases, Kyle asserts, the wounds of the respective wars are still fresh.

“This is an American ‘Richard III,’” he says. “That is to say, it’s as much about America now as it is about England in 1485.” Or 1592.

And he asserts that the America of today—a place he calls “the Disunited States of America”—is as obsessed with the unquiet ghosts of its own past as Elizabethan England was with the decades of war that unseated one royal line and established another in its place. Kyle has observed a “quite shocking decline in the political discourse of this country. … There are still elements of the Civil War being fought, which you see every four years in the red/blue images of the country.” Under such circumstances, Congressional deadlock is only a natural symptom of a much deeper national malaise.

Earliest known surviving portrait of Richard III, ca. 1520, after lost original. Paint on panel, Society of Antiquaries, London/Wikimedia Commons

Earliest known surviving portrait of Richard III, ca. 1520, after lost original. Paint on panel, Society of Antiquaries, London/Wikimedia Commons

Kyle, 65, is a veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he’s directed more than 30 productions (he was the first artistic director of the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon), and he’s still an honorary associate director there. But he’s spent much of his time in America since 1991, allowing him an insider/outsider view of life in these United States. He was founding artistic director of Swine Palace Productions in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and has directed on such prestigious American stages as Actor’s Theatre of Louisville and the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. For several years he’s been on the theater faculty of the University of Missouri/Kansas City. He’s also stayed busy working around the world, from Moscow to Melbourne and spots between, including a Czech-language “King Lear” in Prague and a “Midsummer Night’s Dream” that sprawled across five acres on a hill overlooking Singapore. He’s directed such major British stars as Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart, Kenneth Branagh, and Ben Kingsley, and an all-female “Richard III” in 2003 at the Globe in London, with Kathryn Hunter as the villainous usurper.

For all of that, Kyle’s a relaxed and affable fellow, with a humorist’s uptick to his rounded, lived-in face and a pint-sized porkpie hat that tops his appearance with understated jauntiness. He speaks in elocutionary yet clipped tones that reflect both his university training and his working-class background: “My Dad was a docker, when the docks were still in East London; my Mom was a factory worker.” That upbringing, in a gritty part of London that’s seen wave after wave of immigrants, may account at least partly for the political underpinnings that he brings to his theatrical understanding of the life and works of Shakespeare.

Kyle in rehearsal. Photo: Jason Maniccia

Kyle in rehearsal. Photo: Jason Maniccia

“Shakespeare’s plays are always written in a double time period,” Kyle notes – his own time, and the historical time in which they’re set. Add the time of any subsequent performances – in this case, 2013 – and you’re dealing with historical and political circumstances at least in triplicate. With “Richard III,” the playwright was deeply aware that he was writing about the last of the Plantagenet kings for an audience that would include Elizabeth, heir to the Tudor line that seized the throne. “Shakespeare was brilliant,” Kyle remarks drily, “at not getting himself arrested.”

Northwest Classical Theatre’s production will begin, Kyle says, “in what feels like a museum. A living museum of Richard III. It’s like an architectural dig.” Most of the players, the king excepted, will be in modern dress, and the people who come in to see the exhibition are political conservative types. Putin comes up in the conversation as the sort of person who rises when people are looking for a strong leader. Kyle thinks of the character of Buckingham as something like Karl Rove, not in personality but as the kingmaker who wants to be king – “an incredibly smooth, silky operator.”

Just how much the American twist on the Elizabethan play will remain in the background and how much it will be evident to the audience will come clear when this production opens Friday night. “I would say certainly it’s the driving force for us as the actors,” says Grant Turner, Northwest Classical Theatre’s artistic director, who is also playing the title role.

Richard, physically twisted and deviously ambitious and so ruthlessly out front about his lust for power that he becomes almost a sex symbol, is such a self-congratulatory and over-the-top villain as Shakespeare writes him that many actors have played him broadly, as a cynically comic character. “One of the first things Barry said to me was, ‘He’s not a comedian, but he’s very aware of the concept of irony. And not afraid to use it,” Turner says. “He can be a bit anarchic. Barry keeps pushing me to let go of my head. I’m pushing to find out how dangerous he can be.”

Kyle elaborates. Richard II, he notes, wrote a book on French cookery (“no wonder the warlords despised him”). “If Richard III had written a book, it would have been the masterpiece of political incorrectness.”

The play begins, Kyle also stresses, in the present tense – the famous, and less famously satirical, “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer” speech. Plenty of fighting is to come. But as the play opens, those long decades of war that began with the Hundred Years’ War and moved on to the Wars of the Roses have ended. It’s peacetime. And the warriors are disgruntled.

Sensing opportunity, Richard makes his play, and triumphs, and then falls. And as with modern global politics, Turner suggests, the situation is far from black and white: “Even if Richard isn’t the solution, the person behind him isn’t necessarily the solution, either.”

Kyle has directed in huge spaces and small ones, but possibly none quite so intimate as the Shoe Box Theatre, which Northwest Classical Theatre Company calls home. The little theater holds 36 seats, which for this show are arranged in a couple of rows along either side of a traverse stage, which means essentially a runway down the middle.

What does the director feel about that? “I love it. Absolutely love it. I’ve no interest in putting Shakespeare in public auditoria. I’ve done that.” The Shoebox, he adds, “greatly resembles The Other Place in Stratford. And that space was a revelation when it came to doing Shakespeare. It fundamentally changed the way the Royal Shakespeare Company did Shakespeare. The Shoebox, like The Other Place, is like a lens. The camera is on you. You’ve got to tell the truth. And if you don’t, the audience will know.”

Turner in rehearsal. Photo: Jason Maniccia

Turner in rehearsal. Photo: Jason Maniccia

Or, as Turner puts it: “In that arena, the audience cannot be passive. It has to be active. And as an actor it’s your job to keep them active.”

Northwest Classical Theatre’s production arrives, serendipitously, as interest in Richard III is cresting thanks to the recent discovery of his bones beneath a city car park in Leicester. (The discovery has set off a new mini-civil war between Leicester, eager to capitalize on the tourist dollars bound to follow the notorious king’s bones, and the wealthier city of York, which is making a play to seize the bones and bucks for itself.) Along with the discovery has come a reappraisal of Richard’s purported nastiness. Maybe he didn’t order the young princes killed, many suggest. Maybe he was a forceful man in a forceful age; a strong leader who ruled fairly within the understandings of his time. In fact, the rehabilitation of Richard’s reputation has been going on at least since 1951, when Josephine Tey published her popular detective novel “The Daughter of Time,” in which her bed-ridden detective hero makes the case that Richard was mostly the victim of a Tudor propaganda campaign.

Tey’s conclusion is a far cry from the view of Holinshed’s Chronicles, from which Shakespeare drew the outlines of his play: “(L)ittle of stature, ill-featured of limbs, crookbacked, his left shoulder much higher than his right, hard-favored of visage, and such as in states is called ‘warly,’ in other men otherwise; he was malicious, wrathful, envious, and from afore his birth ever froward. … He was close and secret, a deep dissembler, lowly of countenance, arrogant of heart, outwardly companionable where he inwardly hated, not letting to kiss whom he thought to kill; despitious and cruel, not for evil will alway, but ofter of ambition and either for the surety or increase of his estate. Friend and foe was much what indifferent, where his advantage grew; he spared no man’s death whose life withstood his purpose.”

Of course, Raphael Holinshed and his collaborators were writing with a political agenda, too, and no doubt to keep the noose from tightening around their own necks. The truth is a slippery enough beast even in the present, let alone five centuries after all the witnesses have died. Not to press the modern American parallels too much, but: is received history little more than dispatches from the journalistic ancestors of MSNBC and Fox News?


Northwest Classical Theatre Company’s “Richard III” opens Friday, September 20, at the Shoe Box Theatre, 2110 S.E. 10th Avenue, Portland, and continues Thursdays-Sundays through October 13. For tickets or schedule details, call 971-244-3740 or email


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