Penny Arcade

Boom Arts: the halftime report

In the fifth chapter of his season-long look at the world-performance company, TJ Acena takes the midseason temperature and looks ahead

Boom Arts is halfway through its 2018-2019 season, and so far it’s been a season of growth. Kamla Hurst became the risk-taking Portland performance presenter’s very first executive director. The company, which calls itself “a boutique presenter and producer of contemporary theatre and performance from around the world,” brought Teatr-Pralnia, a 10-person performance group from Ukraine, to Portland. And it brought back Penny Arcade, one of America’s most respected performance artists, for an encore show.

The Ukrainian performance troupe Teatr-Pralnia raised the roof. Photo: Friderike Heuer

So far, so good. “Pralnia delighted us with a fabulous show,” says producer Ruth Wikler. “Word of mouth traveled over the week they were in town and our audiences literally quadrupled between the first and second weekends.” She was also pleased with the community-engagement programming: a workshop with students of theater and of Russian language and literature at Salem’s Willamette University; a program at Central Library; and a visit to Art & Learning Studios, where the artists made connections with adults with developmental disabilities, including native Ukrainian speakers.

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ArtsWatch Good Reads 2018

2018 in Review, Part 9: A Fab 15 of ArtsWatch well-told tales worth a second look

Marc Mohan wonders if it matters that the Oscars are a flop. Martha Ullman West revisits the Big Apple of her youth. John Foyston considers sleek cars and fast motorcycles at the art museum. John Longenbaugh starts a podcast “for some very stupid reasons.” Maria Choban and Brett Campbell relate the fascinating tale of a Sri Lankan engineer determined to build the first Pandol new year’s shrine in America. David Bates dives deep into the strangest epic poem you’ve never heard of. Laura Grimes recalls a day of traffic jams, lost glasses, Ursula K. Le Guin, and … pickles. TJ Acena talks gentrification with performance artist Penny Arcade.

The world’s overflowing with stories, and in 2018 ArtsWatch writers grabbed hold of a bunch worth a second look. Here, for your enjoyment, is a Fab 15 of tales well told.

 


 

The Oscars are dying. So what?

March 9: “This year’s telecast drew record low ratings, down a whopping 20 percent from last year’s already dismal numbers,” Marc Mohan wrote in the wake of this year’s television debacle. “… As someone who religiously watches, and even generally enjoys, Tinseltown’s annual festival of self-love, I find myself, perhaps surprisingly, not the least bit perturbed.

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Penny Arcade, back in town

The performance artist, a hit in Portland a year ago, brings her gentrification show and a pair of new works for a three-day Boom Arts run

Ruth Wikler first met Penny Arcade in Melbourne, Australia, in 2016 where Arcade was participating in a panel on political theater. “We got to talking and I learned that she had never performed in Portland despite touring for five decades,” says Wikler, producer and curator of the presenting company Boom Arts. “I offered to rectify that!” She was thrilled to get the legendary performance artist to Portland the next season.

Watching the audience reactions to Arcade’s February 2018 show Longing Lasts Longer, a critique of New York’s gentrification, Wikler knew that Portland hadn’t gotten enough of the Arcade. “Sometimes we see audiences leaping to their feet for standing ovations the minute the show ends, night after night,” says Wikler. “That’s when we realize that the one- or two-weekend run we planned just wasn’t enough.” So Wikler has asked Arcade back this season for an “encore performance.”

Penny Arcade, in a Boom Arts performance in February. Photo: Friderike Heuer

The last artist Boom Arts brought back was dancer/acrobat/comedian Adrienne Truscott, in 2016. “The pleasure for me as a curator making that kind of invitation to an artist was that it signaled an evolution in our presenter/artist relationship, in which I could engage with her oeuvre, her body of work, not just with the show with which she had had significant touring success,” says Wikler. “Our invitation to Penny is very similar. It’s an invitation for her to evolve with us; it’s a gesture of faith, support, and championship.”


BOOM ARTS: THE SEASON: 3


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Boom Arts’ Festive Revolution

The Portland presenter of distinctive performance from around the world embarks on a new season of theatrical celebration and social change

Boom Arts is looking to bring a festive revolution to Portland. “We’re coming together to celebrate and turn things upside down,” says curator and producer Ruth Wikler, describing her vision for the company’s seventh season. In a world of constant bad news she wants to find a way to engage our way to social change.

Shows at Boom Arts, a presenting company that searches the world for provocative and stimulating touring acts, often have short runs, one or two weekends at most. ArtsWatch will be following them this season from the inside – seeing shows, talking with the artists, getting perspectives from Wikler and others – to give readers a variety of insights on what they do and how they work. Performers who BoomArts likes to showcase tend to have singular profiles: they don’t always fall neatly into theater, or dance, or performance. This season’s opening act, Oct. 19-20 and 26-27 at the Paris Theatre, is the Ukrainian group Teatr-Pralnia (Laundry Theatre) with CCA Dakh and their show TseSho?/What’s That?.

Teatr-Pralnia: just your basic Ukrainian contemporary improvisational puppetry bass/melodica/violin/accordion performance troupe.

This is the group’s first time in the United States. Portland is one stop in the Kiev company’s national tour, which was made possible by Center Stage, a program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Wikler travels a lot in her search for new acts to bring to Portland but it’s not just about finding something new, especially for international acts. Making connections with national presenters allows Boom Arts to host international groups that have secured their visas. “I have to find how to plug them into existing national partnerships. We’ve been talking to Center Stage for a few years now,” she says. “It was an opportunity we were excited to say yes to because we felt they fit our mission.”


BOOM ARTS: THE SEASON: 1


 

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Well, Fertile Ground happened, and while I offered a few prognostications, for the first time in many years I didn’t get out to see those shows. Can you please use the comments to tell me, and more importantly each other, what you loved? With a festival that’s so egalitarian by nature, community opinions should hold the most sway anyway.

Now then:

The word around ArtsWatch via our reviewer TJ Acena is that Magellanica, which recreates the feeling of its setting, Antarctica, with a glacially paced 5+ hour runtime, is “worth it.”  I believe it. If I had to pick a group of people to get marooned in the Antarctic wilderness with, I’d actually consider Artists Rep’s company of actors. They’re versatile and compassionate, and they can make fire.

Alisha Menon is the Girl Prince in Northwest Children’s Theatre’s “Chitra.” Photo: David Kinder

Corrib’s all-age-appropriate Lifeboat closes at Northwest Children’s Theater this weekend, making way for Chitra, The Girl Prince, NWCT’s second major collaboration with Indian dance expert Anita Menon (the first being 2015’s Jungle Book). Nice to see Ken Yoshikawa pop up in a kids’ production and what looks like a romantic lead. His earnestness will not be lost on all ages.

What else?

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Boom! Arts from the edge

Boom Arts scans the globe for performances that challenge audiences to take on new perspectives. Next up: Penny Arcade; a gallery fete.

Essay and photos by FRIDERIKE HEUER

In times of political change and upheaval the arts often undergo a paradigm shift. New ways of representing the world or challenging the status quo rise out of despair or are driven by hope. This is true for the visual arts but perhaps even more so for theater. In Germany, my country of origin, for example, the era between the two world wars saw an enormous shift towards the use of theater as an instrument for social change. Famous innovators like Erwin Piscator and his Proletarian Theatre envisioned performances that would make people more thoughtful, and help them consider their social environment more critically. Live performance would encourage members of the public to analyze what was going on around them rather than making them react purely emotionally to a particularly beautifully written or produced play. In Piscator’s eyes the purpose of theater was to tell the truth and awaken consciousness for the truth in the audience, which might pave the way towards political action.

Piscator’s productions, which influenced his eventually much more famous compatriot and colleague Berthold Brecht, were geared toward audience involvement: He hoped for a modified version of the ancient model of the Greek stage and its public, making theater once again central to community life. His working-class actors often played without a stage, costumes or lighting, in neighborhood meeting halls or industrial barracks, encouraging conversation with the audience. His politics did not sit well with the rising totalitarian regime, and he eventually fled into exile, working, among other things, at the New School for Social Research in New York before eventually returning to Germany after the war.

Ruth Wikler-Luker

I was reminded of all this because I sat down with Ruth Wikler-Luker recently for a conversation about Boom Arts, the performing arts organization she founded in Portland about six years ago. I have been volunteering to photograph for Boom Arts for a number of those years, but had never had the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity about the organization and its producer in more detail.

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