cygnet productions

What you see & what you get

ArtsWatch Weekly: Richard Brown's photographic tales of Black Portland; picturing Pride; symphony's new chief; words of the poets; more

PHOTOGRAPHS TELL STORIES – all sorts of stories, in all sorts of ways. What seems like a simple process – point a camera, click, catch an image of the reality right in front of you – can take on much more varied and creative form in the hands of an artist. Yes, sometimes great photographs seem to come out of nowhere, as if by accident. But, like any other artists, great photographers have visions of their own, and the camera is the instrument of their vision. 

Father and child. Photo by Richard Brown, from his memoir “This Is Not for You: An Activist’s Journey of Resistance and Resilience.” 

Portland photographer and activist Richard Brown, who was born in Harlem in 1939, is one of those visionaries, as Maria Choban makes clear in her fascinating essay Brown in Black and White, written on the occasion of the release of Brown’s memoir, This Is Not for You: An Activist’s Journey of Resistance and Resilience, which he wrote with Brian Benson. The book, which contains two dozen of Brown’s remarkable photographs of Black life in Portland and elsewhere, suggests the complex and creative interplay of art and action and community in Brown’s life. 

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Radio Hour: What on Earth is Xingu?

Cygnet Productions presents "Xingu," an Edith Wharton radio play adaptation full of literature, lies, and laughter

What do you get when seven professional theater actors sit down at a table directed by long-time stage actor, producer, and playwright Louanne Moldovan – and hit the record button? Xingu: a lively, captivating radio hour with poignant cultural commentary and laughs to boot.

Edith Wharton pictured at her writing desk

Recording a radio hour, however, is not quite that simple. While the performers did record together in-person to replicate the chemistry and excitement of performing onstage, much production, thought, and deliberation went into crafting the perfect radio hour script and final product. Moldovan, Artistic Director of Cygnet Productions and winner of the 2004 Oregon Book Award for Drama, made the choice to switch her company’s theater productions over to radio when the pandemic shuttered all live on-stage theater performances.

“I thought it was an opportune time to create a radio theater ‘division’ of Cygnet. Clearly, I wasn’t alone – many companies jumped on the bandwagon, eager to remain creatively active and keep artists employed,” explained Moldovan over email.

After years as a working actor (Company of Angels Theatre) and co-leading the Women’s Writing Project at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, Moldovan moved to Portland, where she continued her career with the Civic Theatre Guild and Artists Repertory Theatre after starting Cygnet Productions as a literary cabaret theater with actor Nyla McCarthy. Typically, Cygnet presents bustling live stage adaptations including a past performance of Xingu, from which many of the radio hour’s voice actors were cast.

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DramaWatch: Fences & Frogs

The week on stage features an August Wilson classic, a revival of a children's hit, Salt, Swans, Clowns, labor struggles, Todd Van Voris solo

Portland Playhouse has emerged over the past decade as one of the city’s top theaters for a variety of reasons: energetic young leadership, an invitingly casual atmosphere, and early sponsorship that resulted in free beer.

But you might think of it as The House That August Wilson Built. After all, it was a 2010 production of Wilson’s Radio Golf that first amplified the buzz about the young company beyond theater cognoscenti. Since then the Playhouse has had repeated success with Wilson’s majestic depictions of hardscrabble lives in the predominantly African American Hill District of Pittsburgh.

Lester Purry stars as former baseball hero Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s “Fences.” Portland Playhouse photo

The production of Fences opening this weekend is the seventh of Wilson’s epic century cycle of plays to be staged by Portland Playhouse. The story of an ex-baseball star toiling as a garbage man, it deals with the challenges of identity and self-respect for black people in the 1950s. It’s Wilson’s greatest hit, a Pulitzer and Tony winner (and a Denzel vehicle), so Wilson fans won’t want to miss it, and neither should those who don’t yet know the joy. Much more conventionally structured than his other, more discursively poetic works, this is an ideal introduction to Wilson’s enduring themes and settings.

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