THEATER

PHAME and friends rock out

PHAME Academy and Portland Opera collaborate on original rock opera

Photos by Friderike Heuer

Two summers ago, Portland Opera Manager of Education and Outreach Alexis Hamilton attended an original musical performed by artists from Portland’s PHAME Academy, which serves adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She hoped the 35-year-old organization might help her make the Portland Opera To Go program more accessible to people with disabilities. But she was so impressed by PHAME’s 2017 production that she imagined a bigger project.

“After I saw that,” Hamilton recalled, “I was really on fire” to collaborate with PHAME.

PHAME dancers in rehearsal.
PHAME “movers” in rehearsal.

That production coincided with the arrival of PHAME’s new executive director, Jenny Stadler, who was looking for ways “to overcome the invisibility” that separated many people with disabilities from the rest of society. One method: give PHAME students opportunities to tell their own stories to the larger public. After Hamilton approached her about collaborating, Stadler woke up with a “middle-of-the-night epiphany: we help them become inclusive, and they teach our students how to create an opera.” 

This weekend and next, 18 months of groundbreaking work by PHAME and Portland Opera staff — and above all the students themselves — culminate in what Stadler calls ‘the biggest project we’ve ever done.” PHAME’s original new rock opera, The Poet’s Shadow, runs for seven performances this weekend and next at Portland Opera’s Hampton Opera Center. 

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‘Art Cubed’ evolves from squares to another dimension

Sculptural work is the focus of this year's art-auction fundraiser for the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg

The title of the latest exhibit at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg is misleading, but there’s an explanation why Art Cubed contains little resembling so much as a single square other than the stands displaying the art itself.

For the past eight years, the center’s annual art-auction fundraiser has offered a collection of 12-by-12-inch paintings donated by area artists. This year, the center is shaking things up.

The three-dimensional art works in the "Art Cubed" show at the Chehalem Cultural Center will be auctioned off Sept. 7.
The three-dimensional art works in the “Art Cubed” show at the Chehalem Cultural Center will be auctioned off Sept. 7 in an invitation-only fundraiser for the center. Photo by: David Bates

“I decided we should take the art into the third dimension and focus on sculptural pieces instead of flat work,” said Carissa Smith-Burkett, the center’s curator and arts program manager. “This is to diversify the type of work that is being auctioned off, but also to reach different artists who have not had an opportunity to donate in the past.”

Hence, Art Squared became Art Cubed.

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Adventures in inner & outer space

As self-employed Portland theater workers throw a party to help them buy a house, Tigard's Broadway Rose launches a $3 million expansion

In the gig economy, most artists are independent contractors, an economic reality that can shut them out of such basic civil interactions as the housing market: Without a steady paycheck, how does a painter or actor or musician – or anyone else in a temporary-contract or piecework job – persuade a bank to approve a loan so she can buy a house? It’s a problem accentuated in Portland and cities like it by a white-hot real-estate market that can leave even modest spaces for living and work out of economic reach.

Portland Playhouse will play host Monday night to a “house-raising party” for self-employed theater workers.

ARTSWATCH FOCUS: ARTS & SPACES


Are there creative ways for creative people to solve one of the basic challenges of urban living? Two Portland theater professionals – the talented sound designer Shareth Patel and his wife, marketer/administrator/stage manager Corinne Lowenthal Patel – have come up with a plan to buy the Southeast Portland house they’re living in. It involves a relatively little-known process called a bank statement loan, which is particularly structured for self-employed borrowers. Tonight – Monday, Aug. 19 – they’re throwing a modern-day version of a rent party to help them raise the $60,000 they need in their next bank statement to ensure the loan goes through. And they’re doing it with a little help from a lot of their friends.

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Footloose in a perilous Paradise

Past and present tumble together in the vintage musicals "South Pacific" at Clackamas Rep and "Footloose" at Broadway Rose

The ideal summer-musical matchup might’ve been Footloose and Fancy Free, the great Leonard Bernstein/Jerome Robbins dance sequence that was quickly expanded into the 1940s Broadway hit On the Town. But when it comes to immersing yourself in the pleasures of old Broadway musicals, Footloose and South Pacific work nicely, too. American period pieces from very different periods, these two evergreens offer 21st century audiences a tasty bit of nostalgia and an uneasily lurking reminder that, culturally, there’s not much new under the sun.

South Pacific, which is getting a solid revival through Aug. 25 at Clackamas Repertory Theatre, is a curious blend of old-fashioned Broadway razzmatazz and earnest postwar proselytizing that not so long ago seemed dated yet now, with the American and global resurgence of cynical race-baiting for political gain, seems to have found its time again. Footloose, which is getting a knockout (and sold out) revival through Sept. 1 at Broadway Rose, combines good old-fashioned teen rebellion and a catchy ’80s backbeat with the vision of a closed-in theocratic society a bit like Margaret Atwood’s Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale, and … oops: Here it comes again.

Whenever we watch or read anything we call a “classic” we view it through at least two sets of eyes: the prism of its own times, and the inevitable immersion in ours. Especially if we’re clinging to a belief in slow but steady social progress, it can be humbling to realize that often the distance between the two isn’t so very far at all.


SOUTH PACIFIC AT CLACKAMAS REP


What: that old thing again? Absolutely – you can’t keep a good show, or a superb set of songs, down. First and foremost “that old thing” has those seductive Rodgers & Hammerstein songs, still-hummable hits seven decades later: Some Enchanted Evening, There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame, Bali Ha’i, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair, Younger than Springtime, Honey Bun, This Nearly Was Mine. The show’s brash, comic, yearning, sentimental score is a cavalcade of musical Americana, the heart and soul of any South Pacific, and still reason enough, after all these years, for any revival.

Kelly Sina, washing that man right out of her hair. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

Yet South Pacific, which debuted on Broadway in 1949 and is based loosely on James Michener’s post-war book of stories Tales from the South Pacific, is more than a score. It’s a snapshot of the American mind at a particular time, just after World War II and on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement, whose emerging ideas, some of them shaken loose by an insular nation’s growing awareness during the war years of the perils and possibilities of the world at large, were in the air.

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Coast calendar: Cool diversions for summer’s dog days

Late August is the time to apply to teach a workshop, audition for a play, or just beat the heat by visiting a gallery

It’s been a hot, muggy summer here on the Coast, which for those of us fond of the more moderate, 60-ish temperatures makes a visit indoors to a gallery or theater all the more inviting.  Luckily, there’s something cool going on pretty much all up and down the Coast.

A new exhibition of linocut printmaking by Marit Berg is up in the Imprint Gallery in Cannon Beach. Berg’s work frequently features animals with “a subtext that expresses the delicate balance of life within the natural world and how animals develop particular traits to thrive in their habitats,” said gallery co-owner Jane Brumfield. The artist has been drawn to portraying hares, which are included in this show, and has also turned her attention to foxes.

“Waiting Fox,” by Marit Berg (linocut print, 26 x 34 inches) is one of the fox and hare series on display in Cannon Beach’s Imprint Gallery.
“Waiting Fox,” by Marit Berg (linocut print, 26 x 34 inches) is part of Berg’s fox and hare series on display in Cannon Beach’s Imprint Gallery.

“Natural selection rewards survival through adaptation,” Berg writes. “These adaptations reveal themselves in interesting and varied forms, particularly in animals. They may evolve as competitive display; to warn off a predator; or as camouflage in the surroundings. These traits have also informed myth and symbolism in many cultures. I investigate these traits and contrast them to exemplify the diversity and specialization of the species, in separate works.”

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DramaWatch: It’s Bath Night, kids

Former "Live Wire" star Sean McGrath is back in town, getting ready for a run of sketch comedy. Plus "Hair" and other openings.

During his 14 years living in Portland, from 2002 to 2016, Sean McGrath made a name for himself as a comedy writer and performer for the public radio variety show Live Wire, as a member of the all-star sketch-comedy troupe Sweat, and as an intermittent stage actor at Portland Playhouse and other theaters. But a few years ago he moved back to his native New York, where he’d spent early childhood in, as he puts it, “the heyday of Hell’s Kitchen, pre-Bloomberg.” So what’s he doing there now? 

“I’m pretty much doing whatever I can,” he says. “It’s a tough town.” He maps out what sounds like something you’d expect of a struggling theater artist’s work life: auditioning a couple of times a week for Off-Broadway roles, taking acting classes, shooting commercials (a national ad for Budweiser among them), motion-capture work for video games such as Grand Theft Auto V

Lori Ferraro and Todd Van Voris in rehearsal for Bath Night sketch comedy.

He’s even studying improv with the famed Upright Citizens Brigade. “I don’t love it the way I love sketch,” he admits. “I think of something and I want to go in the corner and refine it. Do that in improv and you’re just standing at the back of the room all night. You can’t go with your best idea, you gotta go with your first idea.”

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Are we what we hoard? Anti consumerist phenomena like the minimalist living movement warn us of the dangers of our stuff. Our desire for it can keep us from finding our own meaning, or at least enjoying the things that really matter. 

In their crisp, moving show Tonight Nothing,which enjoyed a brief run at Portland’s CoHo Theater the last weekend in July, creator/performers Merideth Kaye Clark and Katherine Murphy Lewis see the stuff we can’t let go of as symbols, even talismans, of our past experiences and personalities. (Read Marty Hughley’s ArtsWatch preview.) The question for their characters, Kaye and Em, is whether they hold us back, or help us figure out who we really are. It’s not about the stuff — it’s about the people who carry it with them.

Clark & Lewis in ‘Tonight Nothing.’ Photo: Steve Brian.

In a series of vignettes interspersed with letters spoken aloud to the audience by each actor to each other, we see Kaye and Em’s close friendship evolve, from college through various  life changes — marriages, birth, love affairs. As their decade-long conversation proceeds through periods together and apart, both physically and emotionally, we see how very different these friends are — and how their friendship abides those differences.

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