What happens when a revolution becomes a regularly scheduled event? When PICA, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, started its TBA fest fourteen years ago it felt like a bracing broadside, a refreshing slap across the face to the city’s art scene as usual. “TBA” stood then, as it does now, for “time-based art,” a fancy way of saying art in real time, art by the clock: performance, whether dance or theater or music or monologue or performance art or anything slipping through the cracks of standard categories.
The idea wasn’t new. Portland State University had run a successful international performance festival for several years, and between 1972 and 1987 the legendary PCVA, the Portland Center for the Visual Arts, made performance a major part of its mission. TBA picked up the idea, aimed for the outer circles and exploratory corners of the national and international performance world, and brought it all home. TBA quickly became the hot ticket, the party everybody had to be at, the talk of the town.
Now, TBA is an institution, an august organizer of the avante-garde. Every fall it arrives and spreads its tentacles across the city, creating an avant-garde hothouse for a week and a half and then disappearing again until the next year. It’s not just performance: visual art has been part of the mix for a long time. And locals are mixed liberally (or radically) into a brew of controlled pandemonium and surprise. This year’s festival opens Thursday and runs pretty much nonstop through Sunday, September 18. A lot of the action will be at PICA at Hancock, PICA’s new Near East Side permanent digs at 15 Northeast Hancock Street. Check the schedule, and also take a look at Jamuna Chiarini’s DanceWatch Weekly, which includes a good rundown on the festival’s many dance options. Fill out your dance card soon: some of these shows are going to sell out early.
ENCHANTMENT IN EDINBURGH. One day Rene Denfeld, bestselling Portland author of the novel The Enchanted, got a message from her agent: a playwright and theater company in the UK wanted to adapt her novel as a play. So began a journey that took her, not long ago, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to see her story unfold on stage – puppets and human actors and all. In Places of Enchantment, page to stage, Denfeld writes about the experience, and what the theater has taught her as a writer: “It was from theater I learned that the foundation of every story is voice. It doesn’t have to be spoken—in a novel you shouldn’t have too much dialogue—but it is that voice in a story, whether through movement and gesture or dance or word, that brings it to life. I learned that all good writing is language, emotive, feeling, connecting, and it is the actors who embody it, just as characters do on the page. In both instances what is important is that the dialogue feel alive, spontaneous and yet potent. We breathe into each other—not just the characters, but us. In good story we interact with the characters. Story is not inert. It is alive, interactive.”
PORTLAND’S THEATER SEASON kicks off in earnest this week (although for Artists Rep’s The Importance of Being Earnest you’ll have to wait until next May). Lots and lots to choose from as the city’s actors and producers double down:
Antigone Project. Subtitled A Play in Five Parts, Profile Theatre’s fall festival show runs just Wednesday through Sunday on Artists Rep’s Alder Stage and features five short plays by prominent writers reimagining the Antigone myth: Karen Hartman, Tanya Barfield, Caridad Svitch, Lynn Nottage, and Chiori Miyagawa. It’s part of Profile’s continuing season of Barfield plays, and the cast looks good.
The Graduate. Based partly on the 1967 movie and partly on the 1963 novel, the stage version (Buck Henry is one of the writers) emerges as its own thing. Benjamin, Elaine, Mrs. Robinson and the gang get things cooking starting Thursday at Bag&Baggage in Hillsboro. Thinks plastics.
Steel Magnolias. Robert Harling’s evergreen dark-tinged comedy set in a Southern small-town hair salon brings out the grit and laughter starting Thursday at Clackamas Repertory Theatre.
The Gun Show. E.M. Lewis’s play has been popping up across the country – it’s been a hit in Chicago, L.A., and elsewhere – and comes home with this production opening Friday at CoHo Theatre. Lewis, who grew up in rural Oregon and “learned to shoot on a date,” sits in the audience while the excellent actor Vin Shambry tells five of her tales about guns and America.
1776. Just in time for the presidential campaign hysteria, this Tony-winning 1969 Broadway musical goes all the way back to the start, to the struggle to persuade the fractious original colonies to get together and sign the Declaration of Independence. The ever-intriguing Darius Pierce stars as John Adams, who’s at the center of things, and his son Mark Pierce plays Ben Franklin. This was Hamilton before Hamilton, Fiorello! ten years after Fiorello! Opens Friday at Lakewood Theatre in Lake Oswego.
A Coward’s Guide to Humor. Readers Theatre Rep, the little company that presents well-rehearsed readings of interesting short plays for just eight bucks surrounded by the art at Blackfish Gallery, opens its sixteenth season with a selection of short comedies including Noel Coward’s Hands Across the Sea, from Tonight at 8:30. A promising cast, and you’re out to continue your evening after about an hour. Friday and Saturday only.
A Language of Their Own. The Asian American/Pacific Islander company Theatre Diaspora presents two staged readings of Chay Yew’s drama about love, sex, and AIDS. Yew is a fine playwright, and this is an interesting project by an important young company. Saturday at Portland Center Stage, September 18 at Portland Actors Conservatory.
Trevor. Jon San Nicolas stars as Trevor, a 200-pound showbiz chimp, in the Northwest premiere of Orange Is the New Black writer Nick Jones’ comedy at Artists Rep. Along for the fun are Sarah Lucht, Michael Mendelson, Vonessa Martin, Jason Glick, Joseph Gibson, plus Jana Lee Hamblin playing – can it be? – Morgan Fairchild, an old costar of Trevor’s: Trevor is a class act. In previews; opens Saturday.
Raul Midón: uncontainable talent. Angela Allen introduces the “badass and blind” New Mexico singer, who’ll play a pair of shows Friday night at the jazz club Jimmy Mak’s.
Landscape music. The hills are alive with the sound of music – and the mountains, forests, and streams. Composer Christina Rusnak lends her ear to an avalanche of recent music in Oregon and discovers a landscape of inspirations.
An interview with Joshua Marston. Marc Mohan talks with the Maria, Full of Grace director, whose new indie movie, Complete Unknown, features Rachel Reisz and Michael Shannon in a tale of renewed connections. His next project, about a Pentecostal preacher who is declared a heretic after announcing that Hell doesn’t exist, will costar Robert Redford as the televangelist Oral Roberts.
A new Snow Queen: fairy tale beginning. Arts journalist Bob Keefer of Eugene Art Talk is following the development of a new Snow Queen at Eugene Ballet that will premiere next spring with a score by Kenji Bunch. ArtsWatch will be reprinting his dispatches from now until opening. Here’s the first, featuring choreographer Toni Pimble.
Like Janet, plan it, Bomb-itty’s at it. Christa Morletti McIntyre reviews The Bomb-itty of Errors, Post5 Theatre’s hip-hop “add-rap-tation” of The Comedy of Errors. With a wink and a nod to MC Paul Barman, she concludes: “This production is iller than The Illiad, and that’s a record.”
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