Luan Schooler

Watching Readings

Playreadings and staged readings are endemic in theater. But do audiences really enjoy watching them?

Fertile Ground is springing up about us again, and Portland’s theatrical venues are filled with performances—dance, original drama, comedy, even a couple of premiere musicals, all there to delight audiences.

And then there are the playreadings.

The festival is heavy with new works, and that means that there’s a large dose of play readings and staged readings. The differentiation between the two forms is that you don’t expect more from a reading than some actors, chairs and music stands, while a staged reading can vary from a couple of simple props or costume pieces to some fairly elaborate blocking and tech—which can be indistinguishable from a workshop, which are also featured at Fertile Ground. (This is what happens when artists try to label their own work.)

Both playreadings and staged readings are generally seen as part of the natural trajectory of a script leaving the page and climbing the ladder to a regional theater premiere.

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Becoming Welcome: giving center stage to all artists

A contentious review sparks a critical conversation about Portland arts

by MARY McDONALD-LEWIS

Editor’s note: ArtsWatch invited Mary McDonald-Lewis to write this essay based on a meeting at Artists Repertory Theatre of members of Resonance Ensemble and others with our editors. She speaks for herself and the group in her response to ArtsWatch’s original review of the Resonance concert, ArtsWatch’s subsequent response to complaints about it, and the ongoing implications of both.

The Circle Gathers

Studio 2 at Artists Repertory Theatre was tense. It was a hot day on the last Friday in July, and the air was close, but that wasn’t why.

Mary McDonald-Lewis

In an uneven circle, 11 people, many strangers to one another, arrive in ones and twos to review a tough month in Portland’s arts world. Entering the room are a mixed group from varied backgrounds and professions, but they all have one thing on their mind: a review that caught fire on the virtual pages of Oregon ArtsWatch, and that continued to spark controversy and division in the arts community.

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News & Notes: Artists Rep hires a new-plays director

Luan Schooler to direct new development project. Also: Portland Shakes lures Dame Janet Suzman for summer's 'Wars of the Roses'

Portland’s transformation into a center for new works has just got another major boost: Artists Repertory Theatre has hired Luan Schooler as its director of new play development and dramaturgy. She begins April 13.

Luan Schooler. Photo: Owen Carey

Luan Schooler. Photo: Owen Carey

Schooler’s appointment comes with major backing from the Oregon Community Foundation, a $125,000 “creative heights” grant to commission eight new plays in two years. The program will be open to national and local playwrights, and is also focused on finding diverse voices: four commissions will go to writers of color, and four to women writers. One play will be written for young adults. One writer from Oregon will be awarded the Oregon Play Prize, which includes a commitment to a full world premiere production as part of an Artists Rep season.

Schooler, a Portlander, was chosen after a national search that included nearly 100 applicants. She has a long history as a dramaturg and script adapter and writer for Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Traveling Jewish Theatre, California Shakespeare Theater, Alaska’s Perseverance Theatre, Denver Center Theatre Company, and, most recently in Portland, Shaking the Tree (Naomi Wallace’s One Flea Spare.) Her dramaturgy credits include the world premiers of Continental Divide, British playwright David Edgar’s two-part look at American politics, including Mothers Against and Daughters of the Revolution, for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Berkeley Rep. Other projects have included the likes of David Hare’s adaptation of Brecht’s The Life of Galileo, Naomi Iizuka’s 36 Views, Joan Holden’s adaptation of Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist, Rinde Eckert’s Ravenshead, and Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul. At Perseverance, she worked on new plays and devised works with artists including Paula Vogel and 2014 Pulitzer Prizewinning composer John Luther Adams. She is working on a new piece for Perseverance with Leon Ingulsrud and filmmaker Andrew McLean about the polar explorer Roald Amundsen.

To many Portlanders, though, she’s best-known as co-founder, with her husband, of the cheese and specialty foods shop Foster & Dobbs in Northeast Portland’s Irvington neighborhood. “I am elated to be working again with playwrights to create new works that move, enrich and galvanize audiences,” Schooler said in a statement. “I am quite taken with Artists Rep’s commitment to nurture talented, diverse American writers through this new play development initiative.”

Sarah Horton, Artists Rep’s managing director, said in a statement: “We are thrilled to finally be able to devote substantial resources to new play development at Artists Rep. We hope to honor the Oregon Community Foundation’s visionary funding strategy with a body of bold new plays that will enrich the lives of audiences in Oregon and throughout the country for years to come.”

The Artists Rep program will join such new-works centers as Portland Center Stage’s JAW Festival, the annual citywide Fertile Ground Festival, and active development programs at companies such as Imago and Hand2Mouth.

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Meanwhile, Portland Shakespeare Project has announced that Dame Janet Suzman will play Joan La Pucelle, or Joan of Arc, when the project presents staged readings June 1 and 2 of the first two plays in the Wars of the Roses trilogy, Henry VI and Edward IV.

Suzman-Headshot-smDame Janet, a Royal Shakespeare Company veteran who’s also starred on television and film in the likes of A Dry White Season, Fellini’s The Boat Sails On, The Singing Detective, and Nicholas and Alexandra, last played Joan in the debut at RSC of the War of the Roses conflation of three history plays and Richard III, about 50 years ago. The productions also lifted David Warner and Ian Holm to stardom.

Portland Shakespeare Project, by the way, is a resident summer company at Artists Rep.