Original Practice Shakespeare

When sports & Shakespeare collide

Original Practice Shakespeare’s ambitious summer tour brings the Bard (and a referee's whistle) into Portland and surrounding parks

By CHRISTOPHER GONZALEZ

When our loved ones ask us, “Why, dear – why do you want to spend three hours of our evening watching, perhaps for the fifteenth time, yet another Shakespeare production?” we ought not to suggest that we go simply because … it’s good for us. Original Practice Shakespeare Festival provides us with a fresh and infallible argument: “Well, honey dearest, this is our chance to see Shakespeare the way he would’ve seen it.”

Checkmate.

Stan Brown as Capulet in OPS’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo: Tiffany Gilly (Rousseau)

It’s odd to think that Portland’s Original Practice Shakespeare is one of only two companies this side of the Mississippi performing Shakespeare as it was originally performed — at least, in certain ways. That is to say, without the convention of rehearsals, directors, memorized lines, and most strikingly, without pretense. (In other ways, performances are decidedly not Elizabethan. Many of the actors are women, for instance. In Shakespeare’s time women were not allowed on the stage; boys played the women’s roles.)

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DramaWatch Weekly: Summerfest!

CoHo's short-run festival and the Risk/Reward fest put the movement into theater. Also: "Sense and Sensibility," last chance for "Fences."

A year ago, when Sayda Trujillo approached Jessica Wallenfels about directing a solo performance she was developing, she had a particular contribution in mind.

“She did come to me with a very specific ask: ‘I want this to be physically demanding and difficult, and I want your help with that,’” Wallenfels recalls.

Trujillo is hardly a stranger to physicality herself — she teaches voice and movement at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. Nor, for that matter, to solo shows — she’s created three previous ones that have been presented internationally, including at such prestigious theatrical incubators as REDCAT in Los Angeles. But she and Wallenfels have some familiarity with each other as well, having met as undergraduates at California Institute of the Arts and later taught together at California State Summer School of the Arts. Wallenfels, a multi-faceted Portland artist, brought expertise as one of the top theater choreographers in the Northwest.

Sayda Trujillo in her solo show “Right, Up, Left (Definitely Oops!.” She’ll perform “Win the War or Tell Me a Story” at CoHo Summerfest.

The resulting show, Win the War or Tell Me a Story, serves as the kick-off to CoHo Summerfest 2018, beginning Thursday, June 28. It should make a fine introduction, reflecting CoHo Theater’s longstanding interest in solo performance and personal storytelling, yet also hinting at the distinguishing characteristic of this year’s selections, which are more movement-oriented overall.

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Theater to feed your TV jones

"Nesting" enters its second season at the Shoebox, one-upping TV tropes like binge-watching by adding theatrical urgency to the action

The rise of streaming services and TV series released in a single chunk has more or less done away with Hollywood’s traditional pilot season. But until recently, you could find one in Portland: Action/Adventure Theater’s annual Pilot Season showcase was an evening of “pilot episodes” of short, serialized plays, one of which would be selected for a full run the following season.

Joel Patrick Durham’s pilot wasn’t chosen. And in hindsight, he thinks that’s for the best.

Energized by the audience response to his runner-up pilot, Durham (who I met when we worked together with the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival) decided to self-produce Nesting at the Shoebox Theater in 2016, along with co-producer Natalie Heikkenen. The response to that was sufficiently enthusiastic that Durham and Heikkenen were inspired to pull another leaf from the television playbook, and come back with something not many plays get: a second season.

Isabella Buckner, Tyharra Cozier an Jacob Camp in rehearsal for “Nesting: Vacancy.” Kathleen Kelly/ KKellyphotography

Like the first season, Nesting: Vacancy — which opens in October on Friday the 13th — will run in four forty-five-minute, sequential “episodes,” two per night. Though the two parts share a setting– an abandoned Portland house– they don’t share a story. In the vein of popular anthology television shows American Horror Story or True Detective, season two will start fresh, with a completely new set of characters. Specifically, a pair of siblings who find themselves squatting in the mysterious house while on the run from a murky past.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: a Persian R&J

Outdoor Shakespeare with a twist; more music festivals; Mozart & Bach; an ArtsWatch apology; a profusion of prints

Summer and Shakespeare seem to go together like Abbott and Costello, or toast and jam: You can have one without the other, but somehow they’d feel incomplete. Little danger of that in Oregon, where we get our summer Shakespeare aplenty, often with a twist.

 

Nicholas Granato as Romeo/Majnun in Bag&Baggage’s “Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun).” Casey Campbell Photography

Consider Romeo and Juliet (Layla and Majnun), an interweaving of Shakespeare’s romance and the 12th century Persian poet Nizami’s epic tale of a feud between families. Bag&Baggage’s premiere opens Thursday on the outdoor stage of the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza in downtown Hillsboro, in a production that B&B artistic director Scott Palmer believes blends R&J with one of its primary sources. “When you read the texts side by side, the parallels between the two tales are really astounding,” Palmer tells ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell. “There’s no smoking gun, but we do know (Shakespeare) was reading Italian sources and those were heavily influenced by Persian masterpieces from the 11th and 12 centuries. There is just no question that Layla and Majnun had a powerful, although indirect, influence on Romeo and Juliet.” Read Campbell’s full story here.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: hail & farewell

Dance and dancers on the move, jazz in Cathedral Park, women composers, taiko and Bach, Mozart's spicy little sex opera

Last Thursday at Lincoln Performance Hall, the line to pick up tickets for Éowyn Emerald & Dancers’ performance ran across the lobby, down a partial stairwell and up the other side, like a restless snake shifting and stretching in the midday sun. Eventually the crowd slithered into the theater’s 450-plus seats, packing the place with people eager to see the company’s final show of contemporary dance in Portland and give it one last cheer before Emerald & Co. move to Scotland, where they’ve scored enthusiastically reviewed successes during two recent appearances at the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Emerald, on top of the world in Edinburgh for the 2014 Fringe Festival.

As it happens, the first piece I wrote for ArtsWatch, back in January 2012, was about Emerald’s first show in town as a choreographer, at BodyVox, where she’d been dancing with BodyVox-2. Now here I was again, with a lot of other people, to witness her farewell gig in town. An eagerness bubbled in the crowd, a sense that a fresh contemporary voice was moving on to new things, and ought not be let to slip away without a warm farewell.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: a Tempest and an operatic pot shot

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

WELL, SHOOT. The whole thing explodes into a duel, of course, but before that there’s a tangled romance, and a cad’s carelessness, and a whole lot of glorious singing, and, well, why not a wintry tale for a midsummer opera? Portland Opera moves into the cozier confines of the Newmark Theatre beginning Friday night for its new production of Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky’s lyric opera based on Pushkin’s verse novel, and things are looking promising – if not for Onegin himself, who lives to deeply regret shooting his best friend, Lensky, then for the audience. ArtsWatch’s Christa Morletti McIntyre interviewed stage director Kevin Newbury, fresh off his acclaimed world-premiere production of Fellow Travelers at Cincinnati Opera, and discovered his plan to create an Onegin that will resonate with his fellow Gen Xers. Newbury has reset the late 19th century tale in the 1980s, around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union and crumbling of the Berlin Wall. The “political and nuclear-threatening war of grudges” between East and West, McIntyre writes, helped “to unpack the meanings and individual lives impacted by this new kind of war, which was as visually stunning as it was oppressive and terrorizing.” All that, of course, plus some gorgeous music.

Ilya Repin, "Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky's Duel," 1899, watercolor, white lead and India ink on paper, Pushkin Museum, Moscow/Wikimedia Commons

Ilya Repin, “Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky’s Duel,” 1899, watercolor, white lead and India ink on paper, Pushkin Museum, Moscow/Wikimedia Commons

 


 

JULY’S FIRST THURSDAY IS THIS WEEK, and there is considerable to look forward to the monthly gallery walk. (Some galleries open shows on Last Friday or First Friday or according to their own schedules). A few we have our eye on: J.D. Perkin’s Island, an exhibit of the Portland sculptor’s fascinating-looking contemporary busts, coupled with some selected works by the late, great Robert Colescott, at Laura Russo Gallery; Sarah Siestreem’s Winter Work paintings, with Cynthia Mosser’s Beach Body, at Augen; the all-star anniversary lineup at PDX Contemporary in A Stand of Pine in a Tilled Field: 21 Years at PDX; the stylized figures and settings of R. Keaney Rathbun’s Memory and Stone, at Waterstone; and Blackfish’s annual Recent Graduates Exhibition of work from Oregon’s college and university art departments. Also, the Portland Biennial, an ambitious overview of work by 34 contemporary artists, opens Saturday at Disjecta, and should be well worth a long look. And on the north coast in Astoria, K.B. Dixon’s 32 Faces, his black-and-white environmental portraits of well-known Oregon artists in their elements, opens Saturday. ArtsWatch wrote about the exhibit when it opened at Michael Parsons Fine Art in Portland in February.

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Stormy weather: a ‘Tempest’ erupts

Original Practice Shakespeare takes to the parks with a light squall of a 'Tempest' and 12 other plays performed in a heady improv style

Those no-good dirty scoundrels (now known as actors, but in Shakespeare’s time as players) would often steal word-for-word whole scenes of dialogue from a rival company’s show. Queen Elizabeth had no bureau for copyright affairs, so instead players were given their lines on little “roles,” or scrolls, soon before a play began. That meant no time for them to brush up their Shakespeare, little to no props, and being on their A-game. A player had to keep a good tongue in his head, or a battery of rotten produce and shouts would be hurled at him from the raucous audience. Each person in the cheaper seats spent about a penny a show – one whole day’s wages, so the play had to be good.

Since 2009, Portland’s Original Practice Shakespeare Festival has been staging the Bard in this traditional anarchic manner for free in parks throughout the city. This 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death has the team of actors bringing to life his celebrated words in 21 performances. Players are chosen shortly before the action begins, so each performance is unique and each interpretation of the role is unique. Original Practice Shakespeare wants you, the audience, to go back to “simpler times:” boo, laugh, mock, applaud. Take the attitude of Mr. Shakespeare’s words: “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” Throw out all the decorum that your blue-haired grandma worked so diligently to foster in you.

Wizarding in the park: Michael Streeter as in impromptu Caliban. Photo: Christa Morletti McIntyre

Wizarding in the park: Michael Streeter as in impromptu Caliban. Photo: Christa Morletti McIntyre

Sunday’s staging of Shakespeare’s late play the Tempest was held, in great complement to the troupe, at Cathedral Park. In OPS tradition a prompter aids the players, and for this performance the role was filled by Andrew Bray. The prompter follows the script (in the case someone loses their lines), sound effects personnel, and stage directions on the fly. Elizabethan theaters didn’t employ costume designers: instead, the players wore the most expensive (their pocket books could buy) fashions of the time. Original Practice Shakespeare adds to the informality by inviting the audience to participate with a kaleidoscope of costumes. This performance’s Prospero, played by Michael Streeter, wore a faux Kapa Hawaiian shirt and a student-of-Montessori preschool wizard hat, but the fashion disaster only added to elevating his deliveries. He’s a shipwrecked magician on some island, after all.

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