When Portland Playhouse opens Idris Goodwin’s How We Got On on Saturday night, the city’s theater audiences will get a rare glimpse inside the history and politics of rap, which began as an underground movement before it transformed into a pop-cultural economic powerhouse. Goodwin’s play is set in the late 1980s, a golden age for rap and hip-hop culture, and captures some of the freshness and enthusiasm of the moment.
Portland artist, MC, KBOO radio co-station manager and political activist Mic Crenshaw is music director for How We Got On, an essential role for a production that explores how music shapes and defines people’s lives, and delving into the music in the play has been like taking a trip through his own life. He sat down the other day for a free-ranging conversation with ArtsWatch’s Christa Morletti McIntyre about rap, race, black culture, politics, and the music, from pioneer Gil Scott-Heron to NWA, and Kanye West, touching on topics from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Straight Outta Compton. It’s a fascinating conversation, and good preparation for what could be one of the fall season’s most intriguing stage offerings.
Thursday is the first day of October, which means it’s also First Thursday in many of Portland’s art galleries, and this month’s openings of new exhibitions arrives at a time of landmarks and shakeups.
Waterstone Gallery, one of the city’s more interesting cooperative galleries, has moved down the street and around a couple of corners to the space at 124 Northwest Ninth Avenue vacated recently by the late and deeply lamented Quintana Gallery. Opening show: Earth Works, with paintings by Sue-Del McCulloch and sculpture by Stuart Jacobson.
The nearby Froelick Gallery celebrates its 20th anniversary with a group show by Susan Seubert, Matthew Dennison, Rick Bartow and many other gallery artists, plus a peek at classical geometry through Seattle painter Michael Schultheis‘s Pythagorean Eyes.
A few storefronts away, Blue Sky doubles the pleasure with 40/40, a celebration of the gallery’s 40 years as a center of photographic art. More than 300 works have been donated to Blue Sky by artists who’ve shown there during the past four decades, and each print will be on sale for $40 during October. Yes, that’s a bargain.
Other shows to keep an eye on: Tips for Artists Who Don’t Want To Sell, by the provocateur Jim Riswold, whose work teeters on a fine line between politics and his advertising background, at Augen; James Allen’s intricate Book Excavations, plus new work by Eric Stotik, at Laura Russo; and photographer Larry Kwik‘s The Far North: Portrait of the Arctic at Portland Community College Sylvania’s Northview Gallery. Kwik’s photos of the far northland seem particularly pertinent in light of Shell Oil’s announcement this week that it’s abandoning its controversial drilling expedition in the Arctic. They also fit intriguingly with Blue Sky’s other October show, Thomas Alleman’s documentation of a rapidly industrializing Inner Mongolia.
A few things to look for on stage and screen this week:
- Gaining Ground. Veteran Portland documentary filmmakers Barbara Bernstein and Elaine Velasquez unveil their newest, an 80-minute look at the challenges of community food supply through two rural farms in Oregon and an inner-city farm in Richmond, California, that are drastically changing what and why they do. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at Cinema 21.
- India Arts Fest 2015. Rasika‘s festival of music and dance begins Thursday and runs through Sunday, with early action at the Walters Cultural Center in Hillsboro and weekend attractions at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall. Performers come from India and the United States. A prospective highlight will be Friday night’s Anubhava, a traditional Bharatha Natyam dance, featuring Jayanthi Raman.
- The Turn of the Screw. Yes, it’s Portland Shakespeare Project, and no, it’s not The Taming of the Shrew. It’s Jeffrey Hatcher‘s two-person stage adaptation of Henry James‘s classic ghost story, and the thing looks promising: a smart director, JoAnn Johnson, joins two talented actors, Chris Harder and Dana Millican. Opens Friday, PSP at Artists Rep.
Eugene Symphony at 50: looking back, moving forward. The symphony orchestra down the valley, ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell writes, has long been one of the country’s more innovative programmers. Now, at the half-century mark, it’s picking up the pace on contemporary music again.
Colin Currie’s passion for percussion. Then again, the Oregon Symphony is beginning to bang the drums for contemporary music, too. Campbell sets the table for young percussionist Kaleb Davies’ conversation with Currie, the Scottish percussion star who’s been beating the bushes all around the town at the beginning of his three-year residency with the Portland orchestra.
Over the hills, to Portland’s multicultural present. Pianist and writer Maria Choban goes looking for the cultural flowering of vibrant immigrant communities and finds it in her own back yard, where a recent Sri Lankan festival was typical of what goes on: “I live in a Bermuda Triangle, an incorporated area at the intersection of Hillsboro, Beaverton and Portland. I now share this once all white farming community (where I was the Greek minority growing up) with communities of Indian-, Pakistani-, Bangladeshi-, Sri Lankan-, Korean-, Chinese-, Japanese-, and African-Americans. For variety, add Mormons.”
The further adventures of Sabina Poole. Photographer and writer Poole has been traveling across Oregon in search of artists and the places where they work. It’s all in pursuit of a soon-to-be-published book, excerpts from which have been running on ArtsWatch. Latest to join the party: clay artist Ryan LaBar, who until recently worked in a studio in the remote Wallowas; and Eugene/New York artist Julia Oldham, who collects roadkill, can bleat like a goat, and “has been professionally trained as a snake handler.”
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