NEWS & NOTES

Wordstock 2: The new comics, the unwanted book, donuts & dystopias

After Lit Crawl, the main event: Literary Arts' annual festival of writers and writing packs the Park Blocks with ideas and words

Despite a late night (for me) at Lit Crawl the night before, I managed to arrive at the Portland Art Museum last Saturday right as this year’s Wordstock literary festival opened. I had spent hours crafting my schedule for the day, weighing various panels and readings against each other, and realized the morning would be the only time I’d have to check out the Book Fair.

Yes, you can buy books there, but you can also: Get information on MFA programs, learn how to self-publish a book, buy literary-themed gifts, discover literary magazines, find writing retreats, join literary organizations, and sign up to volunteer in the community. It’s an amazing reminder of how vibrant the literary scene is in Portland and the Northwest. There’s also a lot of free pens there.

Sometimes you listen. Sometimes you look. And Wordstock offers plenty to browse through. Photo courtesy Literary Arts

A note on Lit Crawl: If you haven’t been to this pre-Wordstock event it’s a great way to get to know local writers. I went to readings organized by Incite, Perfect Day Publishing, and Pie & Whiskey.

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Wordstock 1: stuffed grandmothers, E.B. White, and collective desires

This year, Portland's literary extravaganza has the fervor of an evangelical revival. In fractious times, maybe that's a good thing.

In a Paris Review interview in 1969, when asked about the role of the writer, E.B. White famously answered: “A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge.” Despite his use of the male-centric pronoun, Mr. White’s sentiment seems to hit on something vital and true, and might also explain the 10,000 or so people lined up at various venues around the Park Blocks last Saturday for Portland’s annual book festival, Wordstock. This turnout, larger than in years past, felt hopeful somehow. Our collective desire to enter into those conversations between reader and writer, particularly on Veterans Day, to examine the role of narrative and history and words— that our curiosity is so intact— went a little way toward fortifying against what recently feels like a never-ending assault of troubling news.

E.B. White, with his dog Minnie: a spirit, hovering over Wordstock. Photo: Tilbury House Publishers

And, really, there’s no denying that times are troubling. This came up repeatedly in discussions throughout the day. What also came up is that times have always been troubling for somebody, depending on the happenstance of your birth. Given the peril of our planet, the unearthing in recent days of the uglier sides of human nature, and the anxiety that still lingers after last year’s election, maybe we can just agree that times are even more troubling for more people. Perhaps this can account for the size of the crowd and the quite-audible fervor that emanated from it as people stood in line for one of the headlining events, Ta-Nehisi Coates in conversation with Jenna Worthman of the New York Times Magazine at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Everyone and your mother

Here come the "Humans"; "Hamilton" tix; "Belfast Girls" hit town; Chris Coleman says goodbye; "Psychic Utopia"; Lauren Modica returns

An extended family meets for a holiday meal in a space too small to comfortably contain them all.

A.L. Adams

The forced intimacy sparks spats, reveals secrets, and heightens the whole group’s awareness of their fragile humanity. It’s Thanksgiving Dinner. And it’s also The Humans, the play that opens at Artists Rep this week. (Preview performances are mostly sold out, but the rest of the run is fair game.)

Speaking of hard-to-get tickets, Hamilton‘s coming to Portland, and ticket sales open on Friday. (Everyone and your mother, sync your watches and watch the calendar.)

“Hamilton” tickets go on sale Friday. Photo: Joan Marcus

Remember a few weeks ago when I suggested you lend Hand2Mouth your houseplants? That was for Psychic Utopia, a well-researched and likely insightful homage to cults and communes created with contributing writer Andrea Stolowitz. It opens Thursday, and should be worth your time, whether or not your ficus is set to make a cameo.

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DramaWatch Weekly: Encore!

What goes around comes around: Portland performances ArtsWatch is happy to see again.

This week, let’s give it up for encore performances, from racially significant statements to heartwarming Christmas traditions. Turns out there are plenty of kinds of performances that make you go, “Hey. Let me see that again.”

The August Wilson Red Door Project’s “Hands Up” returns for two performances.

Here’s a serious one: This weekend, the August Wilson Red Door Project re-presents Hands Up for two nights only at Wieden + Kennedy. This collection of monologues features seven playwrights’ insightful, individual takes on a sadly recurring theme: police violence against Black people. Hands Up plans another (longer/wider) run in 2018, and your support now can help make that happen. Hopefully as the message reverberates, the atrocities that make it so necessary will abate. But even the best theater can only change a few minds at a time, so realistically, this may be the beginning of a long run.

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Sitting in the packed audience at the Fremont Theater last Thursday night for Portland Story Theater’s latest Urban Tellers show was both exhilarating and disheartening. Exhilarating because this was the latest chapter in Urban Tellers’ illuminating series of tales told by immigrants in and around Portland. Disheartening because this was the next-to-last Urban Tellers show ever in this little jewel of a space on Northeast Fremont Avenue in the Sabin/Alameda/Irvington overlap.

The following night’s repeat performance would be the end. Both houses were sold out. That made no difference: The Fremont is shutting down Nov. 12, and for Portland Story Theater, this was the abrupt end of a regular monthly gig. Matthew Singer wrote about the shutdown in Willamette Week, telling an all too familiar tale. “The basic circumstances are that we just ran out of money,” co-owner David Shur told him. Shur also noted that attempts to soundproof the space to appease other tenants of the building proved too costly.

Rodrigo Aguirre, Ruiyuan Gao (center) and Marisol Batioja-Kreuzer in the final Urban Tellers at the Fremont Theater. Photo: Kelly Nissl

The Fremont was used mainly as a music space, becoming one of several halls that helped fill the gap for jazz shows after the legendary Jimmy Mak’s shut down early this year. But it was home to Portland Story Theater and a few other more theatrical presenters, too, including puppeteer Penny Walter’s daytime Penny’s Puppets family shows and the old-time radio theatrics of Tesla City Stories, whose live shows are presented as if in a radio studio, sound effects included. Penny’s Puppets has its final show at the Fremont this Friday, Nov. 10. Tesla bids its adieu to the Fremont with a show the following evening, Nov. 11.

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Train of thought. Stream of consciousness. String of significance.*

This week, I’m free-associating the latest in theater news. Hop on. We’re moving.

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FROGZ is back. (No, I don’t mean “Frogs,” and I don’t mean “are.”)

A.L. Adams

FROGZ, Imago Theatre’s 30ish-year-old world-touring original masterpiece of movement theater rumored to “retire” a couple years ago, will spring back to life this holiday season. A set of wordless vignettes performed in gorgeously realistic animal costumes, FROGZ opens on a trio of frogs trying not to look at each other. Trust me; you’ll love it. (And so do kids.)

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Imago did Medea last season (and ArtsWatch argued over it). The mythic Medea was also the inspiration for Mojada, which opens at The Armory this week. Mojada, an adaptation set in LA, comes to Portland via the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Josefina (Nancy Rodriguez, left) shares a happy moment with Tita (VIVIS) in “Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles.” Photo: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival

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Meanwhile, Pericles Wet, an adaptation of Pericles, is queued for a world premiere by the Portland Shakespeare Project. Pericles Wet will be staged at Artists Rep, as will Profile Theater’s forthcoming set of plays, Water by the Spoonful and The Happiest Song Plays Last. These shows—presented in rep in two senses of the term—open this week. Both are by Profile’s featured 2017 playwright, Quiara Alegría Hudes, and both stories center on Iraq War veterans.

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Expounding on that theme, mid-month Profile will host a reading by local veterans expressing their personal experience, as honed through a Writers Guild workshop. Community Profile: Our City’s Veterans is one-night-only and free.

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Speaking of personal experiences…is also what renowned voice coach Mary McDonald-Lewis, actor/director Pat Janowski, and select other storytellers will be doing at the next Solospeak, titled (no doubt in homage to Elizabeth Warren) Nevertheless, We Persist.

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You know who else persists? ArtsWatch. This week in theater, Maria Choban and Brett Campbell reel over Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ racially overtoned and sardonically misnomered Appropriate. Also, Bob Hicks reviews CoHo’s latest, Year of the Rooster, in which comedy and stagefight standout Sam Dinkowitz plays an actual rooster.

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Remember this one from the actors-as-animals hit parade? Jana Lee Hamblin, John San Nicolas (he’s the shirtless one, paying a chimp), Sarah Lucht, and Joseph Gibson in “Trevor” at Artists Rep. Photo: Owen Carey

Here are some other unforgettable animal performances by Portland actors in recent memory: John San Nicolas as a chimp in Trevor, Nelda Reyes as the titular monster in Feathers and Teeth, The various human stallions of Post5’s Equus and the human horses of A Civil War Christmas…aaand…I’m blanking. Who else? Feel free to shout out your favorite local animal acting in the comments.

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If memory serves, the bird in To Kill a Mockingbird is merely metaphoric, and never appears onstage. Lakewood is mounting the morally potent classic starting this weekend and continuing through mid-December.

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Mockingbirds are renowned for their song. So are the several real-life choirs with whom Third Rail Rep is alternately performing its latest play, David Grieg’s The Events. With a surprisingly harrowing plot for its setting—a choir rehearsal room—this play promises to leave us grappling to “fathom the unfathomable.”

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All right; I must fly, exit, go—and soon, so must Éxodo, Milagro Theatre’s homage to the Day of the Dead. Catch it this weekend or next, or you’ll have to wait until next year, this time.

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*Not a common idiom, but doesn’t it sound like it could be?

DramaWatch Weekly: on ’til November

Im Portland theater it's a week of the Rooster, The Events, seasonal cosplay, and some houseplants for Hand2Mouth

Has it occurred to you that Halloween is the only time of year when regular people moonlight as actors?

A.L. Adams

And all the more so since character cosplay has engulfed general-category costumes. Instead of “a zombie,” or “a pirate,” more and more people seem to dress as “this zombie” or “that pirate” from some show or movie, leaving them oddly depicting a mix of the character they’re being, the actor who famously plays the character, and themselves. And just like that, your Halloween party spread is transformed into craft services on a Hollywood set, with Captain Johnny-Jack Depp-Sparrow, who is actually Kevin from work, scarfing all of your Doritos. How meta.

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