Theater notes: TCG and the Tonys

The national theater scene parties down in Portland. Oregonians grab the hardware at the Tonys. The Drammys and PAMTAs are on the way.

The bright-red-lettered lanyards bobbed and weaved and scooted around the lobbies and meeting rooms and stairwells and elevator shafts of the downtown Portland Hilton and Duniway hotels for four days last week, swinging in perpetual motion from hundreds of chests as conventioneers at the Theatre Communications Group‘s annual national conference scurried around the place like cattle on the brink of a stampede. TCG, a sort of think tank and clearing house for the people who run and work in theater companies across the nation (among many other things, it publishes American Theatre magazine, the bible of the nonprofit theater biz), was in town from Wednesday through Saturday, taking in the sights, seeing Portland shows, meeting and greeting and eating and gossiping, and gathering in small and large groups to hash out the issues of the day. Those ranged from matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion – the conference’s major themes – to such crucial behind-the-curtain issues as raising money, adapting to new technologies, producing in small or isolated markets, and how to create or refine a brand.

Regan Linton with Joseph Anthony Foronda in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 production of “Secret Love in Peach Blossom Time.” Photo: Jenny Graham

Out of dozens of possibilities on Friday afternoon, I wandered at random into a large room where a breakout session titled “Creative Access: Accommodations for Professional Performers with Disabilities” was going on. It was crowded: a lot of people were interested in the issue. This wasn’t about wheelchair access or seating arrangements for audience members, though those are important matters. It was about, are theater companies creating roles for blind or deaf or limited-mobility actors, and what do those performers need to do their jobs, and what challenges do they face in auditioning, and are there stairs to deal with backstage or bathrooms that aren’t upstairs or downstairs, and if a performer is dyslexic can she get a copy of the script early for auditioning, or if he’s visually impaired can you supply a reader, and is there a dressing room on stage level, and if not, what can you do to create a temporary one? “When I roll into a room,” the veteran actor Regan Linton said, “I’m trying to get across not only that  I’m the best person for the role, but also that I’m a human being who deserves to live.” She laughed to ease the sting, but the point was made.

Linton is artistic director of Phamaly Theatre Company in Denver, which produces plays and musicals performed entirely by actors with disabilities across the spectrum. She’s also a professional actor: she spent the 2015 season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, playing Don John in Much Ado About Nothing and performing in the U.S. premiere of the Chinese fable Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land. And because of a spinal injury, she uses a wheelchair. “Let me just say,” she commented, “the landscape of disability theater in America … the cohesiveness is still developing.” Even with companies that are open to hiring actors with disabilities, she said, money is a factor: Do they have the budget to hire an interpreter? Social media pipelines are helping to create a network of information, she added: Audition notices for the recent Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie that starred a disabled Laura “went everywhere. I was very impressed.” Actors need to tell theater companies what they need, she said, and theater companies need to be open with disabled potential performers about working conditions: “If you’ve got a space that’s not 100 percent ADA, be totally honest about it. … Make things possible rather than perfect.”

ArtsWatch will have much more coverage from inside the TCG conference: Watch for our reports from Dmae Roberts and Hailey Bachrach.

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OREGON IN TONY LAND. Most TCG conventioneers from out of town presumably hit the road again on Sunday, beating the Rose Festival fleet to the punch, and maybe getting home in time for Sunday evening’s Tony Award broadcast. A few Oregonians were on hand at the Tonys in New York, too. Rachel Harry, a longtime high school theater teacher in Hood River, showed up at Radio City Music Hall to accept the 2017 award for Excellence in Theatre Education, an honor that included a free trip to the ceremony and a $10,000 prize.

And the Portland/New York producing team of Corey Brunish and Jessica Rose scored big, with pieces of the action in four nominated shows that walked off with a total of twelve Tony Awards. Half of those were for the evening’s big winner, the musical Dear Evan Hansen. One came from the season’s other most prominent new musical, Come From Away (in which Portland actor Rodney Hicks is in the cast), one for the comedy The Play That Goes Wrong, and four for the Bette Midler box-office bonanza revival of Hello, Dolly. Christmas morning should be so good.

Jessica Rose and Corey Brunish: Big night at the Tonys.

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PORTLAND AWARDS SEASON. Brunish is also producer of the PAMTAs, the Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards, which will be June 25 at the Winningstad Theatre with Darius Pierce as host. This is usually an entertaining, upbeat, well-produced event, and this year’s promises to keep the string going: Pierce is a dab and dapper hand at this sort of thing. Here’s a full list of the nominees in sixteen categories.

And this year’s Drammy Awards, the 39th edition of the all-theater awards ceremony, will be the following night, June 26, in the Smith Memorial Center of Portland State University. Here’s a full list of the nominees in twenty-seven categories. The celebration will include a lifetime achievement award for the notable set designer and visual artist Tim Stapleton, who also was the honoree at a celebratory bash Sunday evening at Shaking the Tree, which drew a who’s-who of Portland theater peeps (and a couple of songs sung to Stapleton by the notable chanteuses Susannah Mars and Michele Mariana). This will be the first Drammy year in which work at the city’s two biggest theater companies won’t be considered: Portland Center Stage and Artists Repertory Theatre opted out. What will that mean to the awards’ impact and attendance at the ceremony? Good question: Turn up and see.

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