THEATER

The Cabin (and the Music) in the Woods

"Aberdeen," Matt Sheehy’s musical memoir of grief and rebirth, is livestreaming this weekend

By the time I was done watching the new, live-streaming performance of Aberdeen, a surreal and soulful album from the Portland indie-rock band Lost Lander, I felt like an expert on its star, Matt Sheehy. I wasn’t, of course—Aberdeen is just one 75-minute fragment of Sheehy’s psyche—but the performance was so intimate that I felt like I was.

Part concert, part confessional and part woozy fantasy, this rendition of Aberdeen may seem like old news to people familiar with Sheehy’s nakedly emotional, gently yearning songs. Those who aren’t acquainted with his work are about to discover a brilliant and bizarre plunge into the mind of a singular artist.

Matt Sheehy, in a screen shot from the promo video for “Aberdeen.”

Aberdeen begins with Sheehy standing alone in a forest (the performances are being streamed from Corbett, Oregon). With disarming frankness, he begins telling us about some of the most anguished moments of his life, including the death of his mother. In one of the show’s many flashbacks, his girlfriend Sarah (bandmate Sarah Fennell) asks him, “Did your mom dying make you want to have kids?”

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Claudia: Love in the age of virus

Profile Theatre's surprising and uneven audio play follows a globe-trotting pangolin as it spreads viral-like havoc across nine scenes

The pangolin is a small scaled mammal (the only scaled mammal, to be exact) native to Africa and Asia. Scientists in China have been looking into this creature as the link that spread COVID-19 to humans. Pangolins’ scales are valued by traditional Chinese medicine, and the trade in these animals may have brought them into contact with humans at the Huanan Market in Wuhan. A pangolin is also the titular character for Profile Theatre’s first audio play, Claudia, A Viral Love Story.

Based on a playwriting prompt from Paula Vogel, Profile commissioned nine writers to craft a story using a list of prompts that spans the globe. At a time when theater everywhere is on hold, it’s both a bold and risky move: How can a company reproduce the feeling of live theater when people can’t gather together? What tools do they have available that they can use? And how can they deliver it to their audience? Audio drama, delivered via streaming, seems a viable option.

How has the experiment worked out? Profile has released all five episodes now (you can listen to or download them here), so you can see the show in full. The shows are free, but Profile is urging donations to help Cascade AIDS Project. From Wuhan, to Tehran, to Mar-A-Lago and onward, each writer builds off the last’s work and takes the story in a new direction. Split into five 20-ish minute episodes, the exquisite corpse structure means Claudia, A Viral Love Story is both surprising and uneven.

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A virtual take on a total art form

Kids in Newport’s Online Summer Drama Club will learn everything from props to acting to accountability – culminating in a play – via computer

Two years ago, Jennifer Hamilton began providing after-school theater classes to kids at the Newport Performing Arts Center. She even persuaded the bus company to create a new stop for the pint-sized performers. She also started School’s Out, Theatre’s In for days when schools are not in session, and this year had planned a two-week summer camp. That, of course, had to be canceled because of COVID-19.


THE ART OF LEARNING: An Occasional Series


Jennifer Hamilton says teaching theater to children “creates cooperation, support, just like a team sport.”

Instead, Hamilton is hosting the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts’ Online Summer Drama Club. Beginning July 6, students entering third through eighth grade will meet twice weekly for eight weeks in virtual classes, culminating Aug. 28 with a day of performances. Registration is still open, with a fee of $80.

Hamilton has a BA in theater from Sterling College in Kansas and a master’s in theater from the University of Kansas. She serves on the board for the American Association of Community Theatre and has been instrumental in developing and running the group’s national Youth Theatre conferences. We talked with her about what both she and kids get out of theater and how a virtual theater class is going to work.

What inspired you to go into children’s theater?

Hamilton:  I’d gone to college and studied theater and speech. Eight or nine years later, I decided to go back to grad school. Halfway through, a job opened up for the education director at the Topeka Civic Theatre & Academy, which has a children’s theater department. I thought, these jobs are far and few between; I need to take this. I fell in love. It’s such a reward to see kids put on a show, having a blast at camp. When I started, the camp had 30 kids. When I left 12 years later, we had over 300 students enrolling.

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… And the show goes on

With joy and poignance, the PAMTA musical-theater awards show went virtual on Thursday night. The winners, and the moments to remember.

“You can have all the bells and whistles or you can have none of them and you can still move an audience. You can still reach an audience and make them laugh and cry. It’s what the actors are saying and doing that really makes theater theater.”

Those are the words of Corey Brunish—and they perfectly capture the thirteenth edition of the Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards,known as the PAMTAs. While the show, which Brunish founded and produces, drew more than 300 people to the Winningstad Theatre in 2019, this year’s audience had to experience the ceremony via YouTube. And it didn’t feel unplugged.

Triangle Productions’ “That’s No Lady,” based on the life of legendary drag queen Darcelle XV, was a multiple award-winner at the PAMTAs.

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Stage frights and podcasts

As the theater world goes dark, actors' tales of real-life stage disasters as told on "The Actor's Nightmare" seem a perfect antidote

From Portland to Paris, Ashland to Ankara, Beaverton to Beijing, theaters around the world are shut down. One of the longest-lived forms of social mingling and creative contact has met its match in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is keeping this most gregarious form of art from expressing itself.

In the meantime, film – that is, already recorded and edited film – and television are surging in popularity as people stay at home with their screens and live their lives virtually, binge-watching everything from The Americans to the complete British and American versions of The Office. Occasional filmed theater productions help fill the gap, too: The National Theatre’s streamed “At Home” series, including the recent Frankenstein with Danny Boyle and Benedict Cumberbatch, has drawn a global audience of more than 9.3 million views.

Ah, but what about the real thing? Anyone who’s ever hung around a backstage, or dropped in on a bar where theater people congregate after a show, knows that in theater circles a lot of the after-the-fact pleasure comes from regaling other insiders with disastrous tales of what went wrong, whether the audience ever realized it or not. In a way this swapping of stories is a kind of theater of its own.

“The Actor’s Nightmare” host Louanne Moldovan, caffeined up and ready to roll.

A while back, Portland actor, director, producer, and playwright Louanne Moldovan realized the potential of this form of storytelling and decided to take it beyond the bars and theater parties. This kind of tale would be ideal for podcasting, she thought: Invite some actors, interview them, let them spin their stories, record and edit and release. And so, The Actor’s Nightmare was born – or, as the series is subtitled on its Web site, “REAL HORROR stories from THE STAGE.” (The Actor’s Nightmare also has a Facebook page.)

A few days ago I interviewed Moldovan in Officially Sanctioned Covid-19 Socially Distancing Format: I emailed her a few questions, and she emailed back her replies. Sit back and enjoy the transcript below – and when you’ve finished reading, go to the Actor’s Nightmare Web site and listen to a podcast or four yourself:

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Ozzie González: Staging a race

The Portland actor, architect, and government veteran steps up to a bigger stage as a serious candidate for the city's mayoral seat

The relationship between politics and theater dates back at least to the ancient Egyptians and probably further, and has rarely been more apparent than in America today. Certainly the current presidential regime has more than its share of theatricality, though it is doubtful that even its staunchest supporters would call it “art.” Perhaps it’s only natural, then, that some practitioners of the artistic disciplines might decide to take the skills and the talent used in making art into the field of public governance. There is even a certain logic to it. 

But for Osvaldo “Ozzie” González, an actor who has starred in some of Portland’s most ambitious productions over the past several years (Milagro’s Oedipus El Rey and American Night: The Ballad of Juan José and last year’s Antony and Cleopatra at Salt and Sage, to name just a few), the transition from theater and art to politics was not so much a natural extension of his career as it seemed a necessary one. It was time, he felt, to get things right. To that end, he finds himself in the midst of the race to be mayor of Portland.  

González, as pictured on his campaign web site.

Tall, handsome, bright, charismatic, in a lot of ways González would seem to be straight out of central casting. He comes across as a renaissance man who defies easy categorization or pigeon-holing. “I am a Latino, I am a male, and above all of that I consider myself a human being,” he says. “I have all these other labels you can layer in; I’m a first generation immigrant, I’m an architecture professional, I am trained in environmental science.” And he has experience in public service: He has written policy for Tri-Met, and has been vice chair for the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC).

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Corey Brunish, beyond Broadway

Voices from the shutdown front: The Tony-winning Oregon and NYC producer looks to streaming and other fresh ideas in a new joint venture

Broadway’s theater row might be shut down for months to come, but Corey Brunish, the multiple Tony-winning producer who splits his time between Portland and New York, has a big new project on his plate. Broadway World and Playbill published stories a few days ago about a new joint venture to “develop and produce music documentaries for the stage and screen.” The partners will also emphasize the surging market for streaming, which has taken off in the days of shuttered theaters and social isolation.


THE WORLD IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT


Brunish, who’s been waiting out the shutdown with his wife and producing partner, Jessica Rose Brunish, and their eight-month-old daughter, Olivia, in their Lake Oswego home – “we’re happily stuck,” he says – sees big possibilities for the new venture, which takes advantage of his deep theatrical experience and connections but also moves him into other entertainment territories.

The Brunishes – Corey, Jessica Rose, Olivia – sitting out the shutdown in Lake Oswego and keeping busy. Photo courtesy Corey Brunish

Mentioned most prominently in the news stories is a music documentary about the legendary rock producer and album engineer Eddie Kramer, known, as Playbill puts it, for “having worked with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Kiss, and Jimi Hendrix.” It’s envisioned as a theatrical adaptation of the Kramer film documentary The Other Side of the Glass.

A jukebox musical, like Jersey Boys?

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