DramaWatch Weekly: Bedsheets and Bongos

Start clicking those links: It's time to play The YouTube Theater Research Game

You play, I play, we all on-the-sly play …The YouTube Theater Research Game!

A.L. Adams

Admit it, Kids: When you see that a show is starring So-and-So, or that it’s from Such-and-Such company, you probably can’t slap those names in a search window fast enough. What comes up may or may not be relevant to their latest work. It may or may not be what their PR people would prefer to show you. But it comes up in a flash, and it at least answers a few who-and-whats, and soon you’re making a slightly more informed showgoing decision.

Shall we?

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Rose City Shakespeare actors append “Lysistrata” in rehearsal. Photo: Jeremy Gardels

The Rose City Shakespeare Company’s current offering at Alberta Rose promises “burlesque, aerial dance and giant paper maché dongs,” but all they brought to this rehearsal video were some bedsheets and bongos. Is Lysistrata holding out on us? Ah. Right. I see what they did there.

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I thought maybe serial theater had died off with Action/Adventure…but no [cue Frankenstein organ music]…IT’S ALIIIIVE! In this video, it sounds like Theatre Vertigo is reanimating the form for its October offering, Joel Patrick Durham’s Nesting: Vacancy. Three things I like about this: 1) Joel Patrick Durham’s been acting-about-town and seems to have a steady hand. 2) Watching several episodes of a play is the perfect TV/theater hybrid. 3) The cast has some strong players and seems gung-ho. One caution: Vertigo does not mess around when they cry “horror.” They’ve mounted some horror there before (in their tiny Shoebox Theatre space) that legit made me want to kill or die. Hopefully in this series, the horror will be cut with the hint of comedy that Durham’s general demeanor suggests.

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Triangle’s “Pageant” crowd at Darcelle XV Showplace

Triangle Productions, in cooperation with Darcelle XV, has uploaded a glittering preview video of their current drag-stravagant audience-interactive musical, Pageant. Going a little off-script, here’s a profile of one of the show’s most charismatic queens, Poison Waters.

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Finally, let’s misbehave and watch a video that PR people would deem flagrantly off-topic, but I’d say permanently pertains to the career of Portland actor Isaac Lamb. Lamb stars in Every Brilliant Thing, which opens at The Armory this Friday, but never mind that. He also perma-stars on the internet as a trailblazer of The Lip Sync Performance Proposal. Enjoy.

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Oh! And ICYMI:

Barry Johnson caught Imago’s take on Raymond Carver, Human Noise, which runs one more weekend, and Brett Campbell got the last word on Bag&Baggage’s Spinning Into Butter, which just closed.

‘Human Noise’: Music in Carver Land

Imago Theatre's choreographed take on Raymond Carver short stories may activate your interpretive juices

“Bill and Arlene Miller were a happy couple. But now and then they felt they alone among their circle had been passed by somehow.”

That’s how Raymond Carver’s 1970 story “Neighbors” begins, and that’s exactly how Imago’s version of the story in “Human Noise” begins, too, with the narration. Also with Nathan Wonder, Danielle Vermette, Michael Streeter and Carol Triffle on stage, the bare outlines of two apartments, and a percussive score (Kyle Delamarter is the sound designer) in the background.

Michael Streeter and Carol Triffle in “Human Noise” at Imago Theatre/Photo by Jerry Mouawad

Streeter and Triffle take over the narration and dialogue after their neighbors in the story, Wonder and Vermette, leave on vacation, reciting Carver’s words, punctuated by the odd fling of the arm when a sudden, loud percussion cue demands it. The story turns weird: Bill goes over to his neighbors’ apartment to feed their cat, and alone in that space, he starts to explore. “The air was already heavy and it was vaguely sweet.” He tends to kitty, then opens the liquor cabinet and takes a couple of pulls from a bottle of Chivas Regal (an imaginary bottle, actually). When he returns to Arlene, he finds himself in an amorous mood.

“What kept you?” Arlene said. She sat with her legs turned under her, watching television.

“Nothing. Playing with Kitty,” he said, and went over to her and touched her breasts.

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‘Notes of a Native Song’ review: beguiled by Baldwin

In admiring yet refusing to canonize James Baldwin, Stew and The Negro Problem's music theater work reveals the writer's legacy of resistance to simple definition

“This ain’t your mama’s Baldwin country,” Stew glowered at the audience at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall at the outset of his September 2017 Time Based Arts Festival performance. Actually, even before the performance technically started, he’d warned us that “this is not a safe space,” and asked those who might be easily offended by art to move close to the aisles so they could flee if necessary.

With a challenge like that, it was a little disappointing to encounter nothing so scary in the singer-songwriter’s James Baldwin-inspired Notes of a Native Song. No doubt the line, and Stew’s (probably tongue in cheek) concern, stemmed from the show’s debut last year in Baldwin’s old home territory of Harlem, in front of people who knew the great mid-20th century American writer.

Stew and The Negro Problem performed ‘Notes of a Native Song’ at TBA ’17.

When his teenage daughter encountered Baldwin’s landmark semi-autobiographical novel Go Tell It on the Mountain in school, Stew re-read it for the first time since he was also a young adolescent — and suddenly realized how deeply Baldwin’s life had affected his own creative path since then. When a coincident opportunity arose to produce a show at a Harlem theater space as part of a Baldwin celebration, Stew and his longtime creative (and one-time personal) partner Heidi Rodewald created Notes on a Native Song, punning on the title of Baldwin’s celebrated essay collection Notes of a Native Son.

As he was careful to promise well in advance, the performance turned out to be more about Stew than Baldwin, more current events than history. And there’s never anything wrong with that, but actually, I left the show wanting to know more about Stew’s own Baldwin inspiration, as well as more about Baldwin himself.

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Colin Manning: more is more

Oregon filmmaker's expansive visions, explored in a recent retrospective, need no apology

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

At the Northwest Film Center’s most recent installment of its ongoing independent Pacific Northwest filmmaker project Northwest Tracking,  the notorious Portland-based underground imagemaker Colin Manning gave us a taste of his special brand of film collage and animation: a retrospective of his earlier work plus a live performance of his signature projection art. After the performance and screening, Manning took the stage at Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium for a conversation with NWFC’s Ben Popp.

His first words: “Sorry about that.”

Manning talked about his mad process, and how his tastes and techniques have evolved over time. “I have a capacity for overindulgence, too much all at once; sometimes it works, sometimes more is more, sometimes less is more. It’s different every time. The way I work, I don’t plan…it happens in the moment.”

More was definitely more at this event. Even before it commenced, as I hummed along with the Balanescu Quartet’s Kraftwerk covers playing on the house sound system, I noticed that the audients whose visual style most strongly signaled “artist” all positioned themselves (as I had, being an “artist” myself) behind Manning’s bank of projectors, which were set up not in the projector room but out in the audience, about five rows from the back. I counted four film projectors, two—no, three—slide projectors, and one of those overhead-transparency projectors like you used to see in schools, plus a DJ-crate full of reels. Manning was there early, testing his gear, talking to fans and former collaborators (I recognized Erin Laroue of local gothic doom pop group Jamais Jamais), and wearing a sweet vintage shirt printed with a pattern that looks like those sedimentary cross-sections you see in geology textbooks and science museums. Already it was one of the most Portland things I’ve ever seen.

Colin Manning’s first priority before getting into his “analog projection magick” was to introduce his supporting musicians, Disxiple 113 and Andrew Tomasello. “I usually do this in music settings: night clubs, someone’s basement,” Manning joked. We soon saw why.

I always like to go into these things without having a clue about what I’m getting into, so the live projection caught me totally off guard: a super-rich overabundance of wildly varied images, projected together all at once onto different planes of Whitsell’s screen, sometimes split by pieces of glass and mirrored on either side of the screen, sometimes densely superposed, usually flipped backwards or upside-down or both, film running in reverse, slides overlapping, colors and text washing out beyond the edges of meaning into some sort of trashily transcendent hyper-meaning.

For all the chaos, though, there was a clear artistic vision behind it all, a singular taste driving the selection and combination of images drawn from old nature films, safety catalogs, MST3K-worthy science fiction (I’m sure I saw some clips from the Heinlein classic Destination Moon), documentary footage from the last several decades, and gods only know what all else. I don’t think I’ve ever felt a cinematic experience so deeply in the avant-garde reaches of my lusty, psychedelic, extravagance-addicted gut. It can’t have lasted more than about 20 minutes but it felt like several hours. I’m always searching for art that’s big enough, full enough, and crazy enough to really scratch that itch, the one that demands More More More, and it’s not too often that I feel like I’m really getting good and properly fucked (aesthetically speaking, of course). For me, more was more.

The music fit right in there, noisy and dissonant and atmospheric, supporting the film and overwhelming the ears even as Manning overwhelmed the eyes. After each musician’s segment ended, Manning briefly flipped on that overhead projector as a sort of applause (I guess), broadcasting a ribbed ring of metal surrounding what looked almost like a bunch of teeth. Wild applause from the enthusiastic audience (who presumably also can’t get enough of this kind of art) and lights up for a quick stretch. We sure needed it.

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DanceWatch Weekly: A very large nutshell

The week in dance wanders from drag to Tiny Dances to solos to a book about older dancers

Two drag performances, a musical based on a graphic novel, a book release party, some solos and not solos, and a fundraiser performance featuring Ten Tiny Dances: your dance weekend in a nutshell.

Jamuna Chiarini

On Thursday night at Performance Works NW in Southeast Portland, dance writer Emmaly Wiederholt and photographer Gregory Bartning will unveil their new book, Beauty is Experience: Dancing 50 and Beyond. A gorgeous, 9×12, hardcover book, Beauty is Experience contains 210 pages of interviews and photos of 54 West Coast dance artists over the age of 50. Out of the 54 artists, 19 are from Portland. The book is for sale on Amazon.com and on Wiederholt’s website, Stance on Dance. I highly recommend checking it out.

Within its pages you will find intimate portraits of Portland dance artists Linda Austin, Susan Banyas, Mike Barber, Gregg Bielemeier, Nancy Davis and Jim Lane, Tracey Durbin, Patrick Gracewood, Jamey Hampton, Laurel and Gene Leverton, Carla Mann, Tere Mathern, Jim McGinn, Josie Moseley, Jayanthi Raman, Eric Skinner, Melissa St. Clair and Carolyn Stuart, plus 35 more dancers from up and down the coast.

Why is this book important? By simply acknowledging dancers over the age of 50, the book subverts the patriarchal dance orthodoxy that says, “younger is better.” Showing everyone, everywhere, how beautiful and amazing dancers are at any age (and that you can’t actually age out of dancing) can change the dance world as we know it and how audiences see dancers. So buy the book, support the cause, subvert patriarchy, and keep dancing.

Performances this week

Portland dancer Mike Barber photographed by Gregory Bartning for his new collaborative book project with Emmaly Wiederholt called Beauty is Experience: Dancing 50 and Beyond.

Beauty is Experience: Dancing 50 and Beyond-Book Launch Party
Emmaly Wiederholt and Gregory Bartning
7 pm September 21
Performance Works Northwest, 4625 SE 67th Avenue
See above.

Drag artist Lahore Vagistan in Lessons in Drag with Lawhore Vagistan. Photo courtesy of Reed College Performing Arts.

Lessons in Drag with Lawhore Vagistan
A Lecture Demonstration by Kareem Khubchandani
Presented by Reed College Performing Arts
6:30 pm September 21
Reed College Performing Arts Building, Performance Lab 128, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.
FREE
Combining his research in dance studies, queer nightlife, South Asian diaspora, global queer politics, performance ethnography, critical race studies, masculinity, femininity, and drag, Khubchandani brings to life his drag persona LaWhore Vagistan, “your favorite desi drag aunty,” to enable “conversations about dance cultures, Third World feminisms, globalization, and queer pleasures.”

Kareem holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University, and is working on a book titled Ishtyle: Improvising Gay South Asian Nightlife, a performance ethnography of gay nightlife spaces in Bangalore and Chicago.

Check out Khubchandani’s interview with by Rajit Singh in 2016 and his music video Sari. You won’t be sorry.

The musical Fun Home featuring actors Aida Valentine as Small Alison, Karsten George as Christian Bechdel, and Theo Curl as John Bechdel at The Armory. Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

Fun Home
Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, directed by Chris Coleman
September 16-October 22
Portland Center Stage at The Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave.
The winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2015, Fun Home, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, allows the audience into the intimate world of the author at three different stages of her life as she tries to make sense of her closeted and distant father, his death, her family, growing up in a funeral home, and coming out as an adult.

Photo of dancer/choreographer Carlyn Hudson. Photo courtesy of Carlny Hudson.

Solos, and Not-Solos…(But Mostly Solos)
Carlyn Hudson
September 22-24
Performance Works Northwest, 4625 SE 67th Avenue
SubRosa Dance Collective co-founder Carlyn Hudson presents her first independent evening of choreographic works, Solos, and Not Solos…(But Mostly Solos). The program includes six solos, a duet, and a quartet that effortlessly slip between contemporary dance styles, ballet and vaudeville, and weave together stories of love, loss, and beauty in whimsical and sometimes not so whimsical ways.

Hudson is originally from New York, attained her BFA from SUNY Purchase, performed with Connecticut Ballet and co-founded SubRosa Dance Collective in 2011 with Cerrin Lathrop, Jessica Evans, Kailee McMurran, Lena Traenkenschuh, Tia Palomino and Zahra Banzi.

Photo of Wayne Bund by Wayne Bund.

Critical Engagement Series: Wayne Bund / Feyonce
8:30pm September 22
Flock Dance Center in the Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, 8371 N Interstate Ave., Studio 4
In this month’s Critical Engagement Series at Flock Dance Center, multidisciplinary artist Wayne Bund presents Feyonce, an evolving performance piece that uses comedy, theater, music, dance and drag to discusses the power of femininity and sass – more succinctly put as “genderfuck,” as Feyonce says in her performance.

The Critical Engagement Series is curated by dance artist Tahni Holt, and “brings together audiences and choreographers in hopes to reveal some of the mystery surrounding the languages around dance and the unique practices of individual choreographers. We start with the question: What does the choreographer need at this particular moment in their process and how might this also serve the wider community.”

The Ten Tiny stage used for Ten Tiny Dances establish by Mike Barber in 2002. Photo courtesy of Ten Tiny Dances.

Inspiring Amity: A Ten Tiny Dances Fundraiser for New Expressive Works
5:30 pm September 23
810 SE Belmont (corner of SE 8th & Belmont)
Join Ten Tiny Dances in a performance fundraiser for New Expressive Works (N.E.W.). N.E.W., established in 2013 and directed by Subashini Ganesan, is home to a diverse dance community and provides space and support to contemporary dance and arts of all kinds. DanceWatch featured New Expressive Works in several previous stories which you can read here and here. The evening will be catered by Art Fortuna & Vibrant Table Catering and Division Wines, and will feature performances by Unit Souzou, Natya Leela, members of Obo Addy Legacy Project’s Okropong, Raul Gómez-Rojas (artistic director of Metropolitan Youth Symphony), Oluyinka Akinjiola (artistic director of Rejoice: Diaspora Dance Theater), Jessica Hightower, Shaun Keylock, Stephanie Lanckton, Ruth Nelson and Luke Matter.

Upcoming Performances

September
September 29-30, Diphylleia Grayi (Skeleton Flower) + Matriarch, Degenerate Art Ensemble and Mizu Desierto, presented by Mizu Desierto and Water In The Desert
September 29-30, Episode III, jin camou, Julia Calabrese, Mary Sutton, Leah Brown, a PWNW Alembic Co-Production
September 30, Katha – A Thematic Classical Dance Presentation w/ Live Music, presented by Kalakendra

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DramaWatch Weekly: A test, a lull, lean prose

On Portland stages, it's a week for "Fun Home," Raymond Carver, catching up with "An Octoroon," and checking the horizon

Let there be more than one female character.

Let them talk to each other.

Let them have a conversation that’s less than 100 percent about men.

A.L. Adams

That’s The Bechdel Test, a set of guidelines Graphic Novelist Alison Bechdel sensibly suggested in 1985 as a way to vet narratives for basic fairness. In my theater reviews, I’ve used it—not because it’s a buzzword, I could give a rip—but because when I find myself already bothered by a 2-D plot, applying this test gives me an impartial reason why. #notallmen. See what I did there? Never mind.

Here’s something extraordinary: Alison Bechdel has an autobiographical musical, Fun Home.

What’s more, it’s won a Tony, and I bet it passes the Test. It opens this week at Portland Center Stage at The Armory.

Aida Valentine (left), Karsten George (center), and Theo Curl in “Fun Home.” Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

Think-piece brinksmen on Bechdel’s level, those whose theories have become common knowledge, rarely produce their own art. Malcolm Gladwell, for instance, rode “The Tipping Point” to the edge, but not to Broadway. Richard Florida, who championed and later renounced “The Creative Class,” never made a musical about it (arguably, The Music Man scooped him). Yet here comes Alison Bechdel—the mind behind the pen that’s pinpointed exactly what was wrong with so many others’ stories—striding into the spotlight* to answer a dare critics-who-are-also-artists hear daily: “Let’s see you try it.”

Okay. Bam. Tony.

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