Oregon theater

Regarding Henrys

Original Practice Shakespeare, known for its rowdy, audience-friendly live performances, dives into the "Henry" trio for three straight nights – online.

“It’s not your granddaddy’s Shakespeare.”

That’s how Jennifer Lanier, Original Practice Shakespeare co-artistic director, describes the company’s approach to producing the Bard. With limited rehearsal, onstage prompters and a rowdy audience, OPS is a throwback to how plays were put on in Shakespeare’s lifetime, while also offering modern, gender-fluid casting that not only allows the actor to pick which gender they want to perform in but sometimes gives the audience a say in it too.

“We’re an incredibly contemporary company that does things in a 16th century manner,” said Lanier.

High passion and sharp blades: Hotspurre & Company in Henry IV, Part 1. From left: Alec Lugo (Vernon), Jesse Waddell (Messenger), Amy Driesler (Worcester), Lauren Saville Allard (Hotspurre), Chris Murphy (Douglas). Photo: Tiffany Gilly-Forrer

OPS has been around since 2009, but this year, it’s mounting a new challenge: Not only will it perform the Henry trilogy on consecutive nights this coming weekend (without its usual live audience), but it’ll livestream the whole shebang on Facebook and YouTube. Henry IV, Part One will air on Friday, June 4; Henry IV, Part Two on Saturday, June 5; and Henry V on Sunday, June 6.

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The Endurance of The -Ism Project

How a monologue series about race, gender, and sexual identity leapt from stage to screen

“Put your hood on so you don’t get soaked. Take your hood off so you don’t get shot.” Playwright Josie Seid spoke those words aloud to herself on a rainy day. As water fell from the sky and onto her hair, she pulled on her hood—then reconsidered.

“That process in your brain of trying to keep safe in this world that we live in as people of color—especially Black females, Black people—that’s always going,” Seid says. “I see the American flag on someone’s house and I have to decide, ‘Am I going to walk past that house?’ I see an open garage door and I have to decide, ‘Am I going to walk past there? Is something going to happen?’”

Seid’s experience is chronicled in The -Ism Project, a cinematic anthology from the multicultural production organization MediaRites that ruminates on race, gender and sexual identity in profoundly personal terms. It began as a series of monologues, but as the pandemic ravaged the planet, MediaRites shifted the project from stage to screen.

Shareen Jacobs in Josie Seid’s play “Being Me in the Current America.” Photo courtesy MediaRites

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Rebuilding a State of the Arts

ArtsWatch Weekly: All around Oregon, the cultural Covid freeze of 2020 begins to thaw. Will it continue?

WE’RE LIVING IN CURIOUS TIMES. Things thaw, things freeze up again. Things close, things open. Vaccines are available, but good luck getting a shot (let alone two). One day it’s snow, the next day it’s spring. People stay home, people flock to reopened restaurants. Schools start up, state Senate Republicans walk out. The national death count soars above half a million as rates of infection taper off. And, as I type this late Wednesday morning, here comes the sun. (Update Thursday morning: There it goes again.)

Here, too, comes a gradual revival of Oregon’s cultural life, in greater Portland and, hearteningly, around the state. Sometimes things look almost the way they used to look. Sometimes everything’s virtual: art exhibitions viewed online; concerts streamed from musicians’ living rooms to listeners’ living rooms; dance and theater via Vimeo or Zoom. Sometimes it’s a hybrid of virtual and carefully spaced live action. And more and more, things are beginning to happen in real space and real time, although with heightened restrictions on distancing, audience size (think small), and safety precautions (think masks and more).

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Virginia Darcé (born Portland, Oregon, 1910; died Los Angeles, California, 1985), “The
Market,” 1938, tempera on board, 22 ½ x 30 ½ inches, Portland Art Museum, Portland,
Oregon, Courtesy of the Fine Arts Collection, US General Services Administration, New
Deal Art Project, L45.3.2
Marwin Begaye (Diné, born 1970), “Columbia River Custodian,” 2018, ed. 18, eight-color lithograph, 28.25 x 22.25 inches, collection of the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, CSP18-101.

In Salem, the big news of the week is that the Hallie Ford Museum of Art reopens for visitors today – Thursday, Feb. 25 – with a particularly attractive lineup of exhibits (and virtual online tours on its web site if you can’t or won’t visit in person). It’s not entirely like the old days: You can’t just walk up and buy a ticket. The number of people inside the museum at any one time will be limited, and you’ll have to make a reservation from the museum web site (link above) for timed entry. But the museum will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays, giving you plenty of options.

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No news like good news

ArtsWatch Weekly: I Am MORE, Broadway Rose's 'Story of My Life,' PDX Jazz Fest, art around Oregon.

A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO MY FRIEND (AND OCCASIONAL ARTSWATCH CONTRIBUTOR) STEPHEN RUTLEDGE, who writes the Born This Day column and other stories for The WOW Report, sent along a YouTube link to an old clip of Sam Cooke singing Good News on American Bandstand. Along with the link he sent high praise for the recent movie One Night in Miami, a fictional imagining of an actual meeting in a Miami hotel in 1964 of Cooke, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and football star Jim Brown to celebrate Ali’s heavyweight-championship victory over Sonny Liston. Rutledge’s note reminded me that, yes, even in traumatic times there is good news, it’s worth singing about, and its triumphs so often are the result of hard creative work and leaps of the imagination.
 

S. Renee Mitchell (left) and, from left, Jeanette Mmunga, Justice English and Johana Amani of I Am MORE.

In Building Resiliency with the Arts, the latest chapter in our occasional series The Art of Learning, Brett Campbell relates another story of Good News, one with deep Portland roots. The poet, activist, and former Oregonian newspaper columnist S. Renee Mitchell, he writes, “had been recruited to Roosevelt High School to teach journalism. But she also helped mentor students with their personal issues; brought in fruit, day-old bagels and cream cheese; revived the Black Student Union; created a Black Girl Magic Club, and invited in community members to perform, speak, encourage and share their wisdom with the school’s low-income students.”

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Fertile Ground 2021: The Aftermath

Covid changed the game for the new-performance festival. But going virtual was a renaissance, not a retreat.

My Fertile Ground is not your Fertile Ground. That doesn’t mean I magically attended some sort of alternate-universe version of Portland’s annual festival of new works; I immersed myself in the same virtual rush of performances. Yet this year, I was intensely aware of how undefinable the festival can be.  

Seeing every project featured in Fertile Ground is all but impossible, which makes the event difficult to evaluate. If I had watched different (or more) shows, would I have thought the festival was better? Worse? With no in-person performances, it felt more important than ever to assess it as fully as possible. My job wasn’t simply to review the stories being told. I had to review whether the festival had successfully adapted to the constraints of COVID-19.


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


For me, the answer is simple: yes. My favorite Fertile Ground projects of 2021 were Chosen; Fold in Gently: Recipes for Friendship and Forgiveness (and Fucking Up); Oh Myh Dating Hell; and The Prismagic Radio Hour. What made them invigorating was how they each—in epically different ways—embraced the struggles of making art in a locked-down world, transforming obstacles into creative fuel.

Chosen is a solo performance. Fold in Gently is a baking podcast. Oh Myh is a next-gen romantic comedy. Prismagic is a comedy-circus-dance extravaganza. If I learned anything from Fertile Ground this year, it’s that there wasn’t one way for the festival to work during COVID. Some artists compensated for the limits of screens by blitzing audiences with movement (Prismagic is packed with miraculous acrobatic feats), but minimalism proved equally magical.

Alissa Jessup’s “Chosen”: A singular tale of trauma and survival.

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My few brief minutes with Christopher Plummer

After the great film and stage actor's death at 91, veteran Portland actor Tobias Andersen remembers talking about Prospero with Plummer

Editor’s note: On Saturday afternoon, Feb. 6, the day after the great actor Christopher Plummer died at age 91 at his home in Connecticut, the veteran Portland actor and director Tobias Andersen sent an email remembering his own meeting with Plummer in 2010, when Plummer was starring as Prospero at Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival and Andersen was preparing to take on the same legendary role at Clackamas Repertory Theatre in Oregon. We asked Andersen if we could share his story with ArtsWatch readers, and he kindly agreed.


By TOBIAS ANDERSEN


One heckuvan actor died yesterday.  A gracious gentleman, Christopher Plummer.

When David Smith-English and I were kicking around thoughts about our upcoming production of The Tempest at Clackamas Rep in 2010, a New York Times review made us realize that the last great classical actor of our generation, Christopher Plummer, had just opened as Prospero at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario.  We scrambled for tickets, plane reservations, a hotel, and got it all done in time for us to be in Canada ten days later.

I wrote to Mr. Plummer, not expecting any reply but didn’t think it hurt to mention that we were about to start rehearsals for The Tempest, that I was playing Prospero, and we would love to meet him afterwards, if possible.  Nothing ventured.

After our flight, checking in, dinner, all that – we were at the theater where I sent another note backstage, saying we are in the audience.  We had excellent seats, audience right.  

The Filipina actor Soelistyo as Ariel, with Christopher Plummer as Prospero, in the 2010 Stratford production of “The Tempest.” The photo is from Andersen’s copy of the show program. Of Soelistyo’s Ariel, Andersen comments: “She entered the stage, face down, from the ceiling along a 36-foot wire. You had to be there.”

I’ll only mention this about the production – it was terrific, particularly Plummer’s intensely moving Prospero along with the most astounding (four foot, blue) Ariel I have ever seen.  A shipwrecked grand piano, half buried in the sand, was the focal point of the setting.

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Fertile Ground 2021: Digital seedlings sprout

The annual PDX festival of new works, which ordinarily sprawls across spaces large and small throughout the metro area, has become a garden of virtual theater

As the pandemic raged through Portland last year, Nicole Lane wondered what to do about Fertile Ground. For 11 years, the festival had been a sweeping showcase for new works (it’s best known for theater, but has also incorporated dance and film). Yet with a tradition of cramming crowds into venues across the city, it was ill-suited to a post-COVID 19 world.

That’s why Lane, who has been festival director since 2010, began to envision a virtual version of Fertile Ground. “I don’t know what bee was in my bonnet, but I saw it,” she says. “I saw the possibilities.”


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


On January 28, those possibilities will become realities. By offering a zany mix of free, prerecorded performances through February 7 (the festival features everything from an interactive baking show to a spinoff of A Christmas Carol titled Fezziwig’s Fortune) Fertile Ground 2021 seeks to sustain the festival’s rambunctious spirit—and shake up its status quo with a lineup with works from BIPOC and LBGTQ visionaries.

Myhraliza Aala’s audacious tale of the horrors of the dating game, “Oh My Dating Hell,” premieres at 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28, Fertile Ground’s opening night. It’s produced by Aala Is Possible.

Fertile Ground has long been renowned for its restless rhythm. It typically spans an epic range of stories (the Fertile Ground plays that I’ve written about include a multigenerational airport drama and a screwball comedy about an alligator-ravaged hotel) and beckons audiences into performance spaces both expected (Artists Rep) and eccentric (Mother Foucault’s Bookshop). 

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