TJ Acena

 

Boom update: hold the choir

New York's The Team drops "Failed Superpower" and its community choir from its Boom Arts run in Portland, substitutes a new show

The last show in Boom Arts’ season of “festive revolutions” was set to be New York-based the TEAM’s Primer for a Failed Super Power. But last week Boom announced in a press release that while the TEAM still will be the final artist of the 2018-19 season, Primer for a Failed Super Power will no longer be the show they present. Instead the Team will perform Tomorrow Will Be…, an “interactive evening of song-sharing and community celebration inspired by the TEAM’s choral concert project Primer for a Failed Superpower.”

The Team’s “Primer for a Failed Superpower” in New York. Set to be recreated in Portland with a community choir, it’s being replaced by a new work. The Team photo

The largest difference between the two shows is that Tomorrow Will Be… does not feature a community choir the way Primer for a Failed Super Power did. The new production will debut in Portland, and still involves Portland-based musician and choir director Ben Landsverk. Different guest artists and activists are slated to appear in each of the performances and be followed by a social justice fair.


BOOM ARTS: THE SEASON: UPDATE


As part of our ongoing series on Boom’s season, we’ll talk with the TEAM about this new project and how it’s different from Primer for a Failed Super Power. The performance dates and venue remain unchanged, May 10 & 11 at The Old Church, and tickets are available at Boom’s website.

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TJ Acena has been covering Boom Arts’ 2018-19 season from inside and out for Oregon ArtsWatch. His previous pieces in the series:

  1. Boom Arts’ festive revolution. Embarking on a new season of theatrical celebration and social change.
  2. Boom Arts: Puppets from Kiev. From Ukraine, a 10-day dash of song, theater, puppetry and culture.
  3. Penny Arcade, back in town. Boom Arts brings the celebrated performance artist to town for the second time in a year with an old favorite and some new projects.
  4. Boom Arts: the executive chair. New executive director Kamla Hurst talks about planning, risk, and growth.
  5. Boom Arts: The halftime report. Acena looks back on the first half of the 2018-19 season and ahead to what’s still to come.
  6. Boom goes fishing with puppets. “Puppetry is a way of looking at acting,” Dominga Gutiérrez, co-founder of the Chilean troupe Silencio Blanca, tells Acena.

Silencio Blanco understands that you can do a lot with a little. The Chilean theater group works with silent puppets, simple constructs of paper, chopsticks, and masking tape to tell deeply empathetic stories. Portland audiences will be able to see its work Pescador/Fisherman at Imago Theatre the first two weekends of February as part of Boom Arts’ “Festive Revolutions” season.

Fisherman at work in “Pescador.” Silencio Blanco photo

The group didn’t set out to do puppetry. Co-founders Dominga Gutiérrez and Santiago Tobar were students at the Theater School of the University of Chile and interested in questions of acting and expression. Puppets, they discovered, provided a good way to explore the questions.

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Boom Arts: the halftime report

In the fifth chapter of his season-long look at the world-performance company, TJ Acena takes the midseason temperature and looks ahead

Boom Arts is halfway through its 2018-2019 season, and so far it’s been a season of growth. Kamla Hurst became the risk-taking Portland performance presenter’s very first executive director. The company, which calls itself “a boutique presenter and producer of contemporary theatre and performance from around the world,” brought Teatr-Pralnia, a 10-person performance group from Ukraine, to Portland. And it brought back Penny Arcade, one of America’s most respected performance artists, for an encore show.

The Ukrainian performance troupe Teatr-Pralnia raised the roof. Photo: Friderike Heuer

So far, so good. “Pralnia delighted us with a fabulous show,” says producer Ruth Wikler. “Word of mouth traveled over the week they were in town and our audiences literally quadrupled between the first and second weekends.” She was also pleased with the community-engagement programming: a workshop with students of theater and of Russian language and literature at Salem’s Willamette University; a program at Central Library; and a visit to Art & Learning Studios, where the artists made connections with adults with developmental disabilities, including native Ukrainian speakers.

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Boom Arts: the executive chair

As the Portland presenter of innovative world performance grows, Kamla Hurst steps from the board into the executive-director post

Kamla Hurst’s first exposure to Boom Arts, the innovative Portland presenting company for which she is now the first executive director, was Adrienne Truscott’s show Asking For It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy & Little Else! in October 2015. It wasn’t like anything else Hurst had seen in Portland. The show stuck with her and she started following Boom more closely. “A lot of stuff that’s brought by presenters is very finished polished work with large budgets,” she said. “Boom has a more grassroots feel. It’s not a spectacle.”

Hurst saw an organization bringing interesting voices and stories to Portland and leveraging them in the community in meaningful ways. Her belief in the company’s work lead her to approach Ruth Wikler, producer of the company, to join the board.

Kamla Hurst, Boom Arts executive director. Photo: Friderike Heuer

Last year Wikler came to the board and suggested creating an executive director position. “The board has known for a while that Boom Arts’ path to sustainability includes hiring full time leadership/management staff,” said Wikler. Thanks to some funds from capacity-building grants Boom had received from Oregon Community Foundation and Oregon Cultural Trust, the organization was ready to make that move.


BOOM ARTS: THE SEASON: 4


It was decided that the position needed to be established by the start of the 2018-19 season in fall. Because of the short timeline the process was fast-tracked and the board decided the first director would be an interim. Hurst was invited to apply, and was eventually accepted.

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Penny Arcade, back in town

The performance artist, a hit in Portland a year ago, brings her gentrification show and a pair of new works for a three-day Boom Arts run

Ruth Wikler first met Penny Arcade in Melbourne, Australia, in 2016 where Arcade was participating in a panel on political theater. “We got to talking and I learned that she had never performed in Portland despite touring for five decades,” says Wikler, producer and curator of the presenting company Boom Arts. “I offered to rectify that!” She was thrilled to get the legendary performance artist to Portland the next season.

Watching the audience reactions to Arcade’s February 2018 show Longing Lasts Longer, a critique of New York’s gentrification, Wikler knew that Portland hadn’t gotten enough of the Arcade. “Sometimes we see audiences leaping to their feet for standing ovations the minute the show ends, night after night,” says Wikler. “That’s when we realize that the one- or two-weekend run we planned just wasn’t enough.” So Wikler has asked Arcade back this season for an “encore performance.”

Penny Arcade, in a Boom Arts performance in February. Photo: Friderike Heuer

The last artist Boom Arts brought back was dancer/acrobat/comedian Adrienne Truscott, in 2016. “The pleasure for me as a curator making that kind of invitation to an artist was that it signaled an evolution in our presenter/artist relationship, in which I could engage with her oeuvre, her body of work, not just with the show with which she had had significant touring success,” says Wikler. “Our invitation to Penny is very similar. It’s an invitation for her to evolve with us; it’s a gesture of faith, support, and championship.”


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Boom Arts: puppets from Kiev

The Portland producing company brings Ukraine's Teatr-Pralnia to town for a 10-day dash of innovative song, theater, puppetry and culture

In the Paris Theatre in Portland, Oregon, voices break through the darkness in a traditional Ukrainian arrangement. The lights come up on the five members of Teatr-Pralnia, all dressed in mustardy overalls. Next to each of them is a small faceless puppet dressed in the same outfit. A kick drum thumps, the group grabs their instruments, and the stage becomes a whirling machine of music.

The song has the driving force of a dance number but the lyrics feel discordant. “Hello everybody,” shouts one of the performers. “Hello from Kiev. Breaking news, 17 people were killed by Hurricane Michael!” A string of unrelated tragic and benign news stories is presented with smiling faces. “Let’s dance!” she shouts. The constant terrors of the world we live in and the desire to go numb. Which is how it feels a lot of the time.

From left: Kateryna Petrashova, Nadiia Golubtsova, Marichka Shtyrbulova, Marusia Ionova of Teatr-Pralnia at the Paris Theatre. Photo: Friderike Heuer

This show, part of Boom Arts‘ 2018-2019 season of international performance themed “a festive revolution,” ran in Portland for two weekends in October. During the company’s 10 days here its members also presented an event at Multnomah County Central Library and did workshops in the community. A young company, Teatr-Pralnia (in English, “Laundry Theater”) was formed when five friends (Igor Mytalnykov, Kateryna Petrashova, Nadiia Golubtsova, Marusia Ionova, and Marichka Shtyrbulova) graduated from Kyiv Theatre University in 2015. Though they all came from different parts of Ukraine the group had become close through their schooling, where the studied puppetry. After graduation they saw two options: Go to grad school and try to do professional theater in the state-run theaters, or make their own art on their own terms. They chose the latter, much to the consternation of their parents.


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“Small Mouth Sounds”: Things left unsaid

Bess Wohl's play about folks seeking transformation at a silent retreat draws you in but leaves a vague impression.

Quiet has always been a refuge for making sense of our lives. Whether with a short walk, a weekend in the woods, or a meditation practice, it’s sometimes easiest to find ourselves through purposeful stillness. But for some people that’s not enough. They need a lot more quiet; a week’s worth. And those are the people you’ll meet in Artists Rep’s production of Bess Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds, which leans into the silence — though perhaps a bit too much.

Set at a nameless silent retreat, Small Mouth Sounds follows six participants as they attempt to find personal enlightenment, guided only by the ostentatious voice of an unseen guru and their own exasperated gesturing to each other. There’s not much in the way of an introduction to these characters, a few ticks and some simple costuming get across the shorthand of it: There’s a lesbian odd-couple, a swaggering yoga teacher, an anxious underdog, a religious older gentleman, and the standard stereotypical millennial white woman.

A peaceful, not-so-easy feeling: Susannah Mars (from left), Ayanna Berkshire, John San Nicolas, Michael Mendelson, Kelly Godell and Darius Pierce retreat into silence in “Small Mouth Sounds” at Artists Rep. Photo: David Kinder

The retreat environment imposes an intriguing restriction on the show: While there are moments of dialogue, much of Small Mouth Sounds does actually take place in silence. We tend to think of theater as a visual medium, but it’s easy to forget how much heavy lifting dialogue does until its stripped back. As an audience member, this is a show you have to lean into, literally, to make sure you don’t miss any subtle change in countenance or a lingering finger. And a lot happens in these silent moments. It’s a nice reminder of how meaningful touch is between humans and how much vulnerability it takes.

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