Laura Gibson

‘Up the Fall’: Spotlighting artists with disabilities

PHAME Academy's multidisciplinary musical showcases Oregon artists denied mainstream performance opportunities.

After celebrating its 30th anniversary last year with its most extensive performance schedule yet, Portland’s PHAME academy was ready to take on a new challenge. In the last few years, PHAME, which creates opportunities for artists with developmental disabilities, has expanded its public performances and programming and gained widespread visibility for its artists. Now, energetic Executive Director Stephen Marc Beaudoin sensed the academy was ready for more, “an artistic stretch project … out of our broader vision to position the organization and the artists we serve in the artistic mainstream.”

 The cast of PHAME's "Up the Fall." Photo: Sarah Law Photography.

The cast of PHAME’s “Up the Fall.” Photo: Sarah Law Photography.

Departing from the traditional American musicals they’d performed previously, PHAME embraced the most ambitious project its leaders could imagine: an original musical that would involve music, theatre and dance. They had the ideal playwright in Debbie Lamedman, a Portland-based former teaching staff member at PHAME who’s been commissioned by theatre companies across the country. “She knows what it’s like to work with artists and actors with developmental disabilities,” Beaudoin says. She’s even written integrated stage works (that is, involving performers with and without disabilities) before.

PHAME gave Lamedman only one instruction: be inclusive by creating characters with a range of ability and disability. “We haven’t taken a tokenistic approach,” Beaudoin explains. “We didn’t give her a checklist and say ‘include these disabilities.’ Her interest as a playwright is writing great theater.”

In Lamedman’s musical Up the Fall, which opens August 22 at Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre, a young Portland woman, Diana, lives with an overbearing mother, finding refuge by spending much of her time feeding the birds and making friends with a squirrel, who turns out to be a messenger from a night world threatened by a trio of angry, jealous sisters. He summons her to try to save that alternate world, whose natural workings have been paralyzed by the sisters’ efforts to control it.

For Up the Fall’s music, PHAME turned to another frequent collaborator, Portland songwriter Laura Gibson, who’s earned national attention for her delicate story songs. But this was her first time writing music for the theatre, and her process was interrupted by a disastrous fire at the apartment she was living in while attending graduate school in New York. The creative team also includes PHAME Music Director Matthew Gailey, who’s composing incidental music, along with well-known Portland playwright and drama teacher Matthew B. Zrebski as stage director, and PHAME Artistic Director Jessica Dart as assistant director and dramaturge.

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News & Notes: the last laugh, and a few more

SNL vet falls flat, the Bear tapes a show, Kaylee Rob debuts, 'Sidekicks' has a cliffhanger, John Oliver skewers Oregon

What’s been happening on the funny scene (and a little bit of music, too) in the past few days:

Saturday Night Live vet Norm Macdonald made a surprise appearance at the Funhouse Lounge’s monthly Midnight Mass comedy showcase following his show at Helium, and the room was apparently too star-struck to push back at a set that made him sound more like SNL’s “drunk uncle” than a savvy master of mirth. Red Dress Party ears must’ve burned as Macdonald gleefully slammed the “T” faction of the “LGBT” community and waved off “progressivism” as “stuff we’re gonna think is okay in the future.” (The future is now, and in it, Macdonald’s humor has ceased to be funny.)

Standup Chuck Roy … Bear with him.

Standup Chuck Roy … Bear with him.

Touring comic Chuck Roy, aka “Bear,” also popped into Mass to test Portland’s unholy waters for his one-hour special taping at Alberta Rose the following (Sunday) night. Between merciless heckler shutdowns and boasts about the virtues of his “girlfriend Steve” (or was it “Scott?”) Bear gave us a hot tip on the best “gay rave” he’s ever attended: a UFC fight.

Kevin Leigh Robinson, formerly the percussive half of the transcendent pop duo Viva Voce, debuted his solo act, Kaylee Rob, at Habesha Lounge, complete with psychedelic wall projections of glowing kaleidoscope patterns and vintage animation.

Action/Adventure Theater closed its four-week Sidekicks series with a cliffhanger: corrupt TV reporter Penelope Price got possession of the “Power Cube,” reviving its evil creator, Professor W. Lights out on evil laughter and a “To Be Continued…?” More on the theater’s ever-more-TV-like approach soon…

HBO comedy show host John Oliver poked fun at Portland in general, and Laura Gibson’s “Cover Oregon” TV spots in particular, lobbying folkstress Lisa Loeb for a spoof of Gibson’s “violently adorable” song.