portland playhouse

$1.1 million for poets laureate

ArtsWatch Weekly: Oregon Laureate Anis Mojgani has projects for the money. Plus: Classical gets up close, theater busts out all over, Mosaic, egg art, more.

IT’S NOT EVERY DAY THAT ARTSWATCH GETS TO ANNOUNCE MORE THAN A MILLION DOLLARS GOING TO THE POETS OF AMERICA. Today is one of those days. On Thursday morning the Academy of American Poets announced awards of $1.1 million for the 2021 Poet Laureate Fellowships, “given to honor poets of literary merit appointed to serve in civic positions and to enable them to undertake meaningful, impactful, and innovative projects that engage their fellow residents, including youth, with poetry, helping to address issues important to their communities.” Funding comes from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. That breaks down to $50,000 each for 23 state or city poets laureate in the United States ($25,000 each for the two poets who share Montana’s laureate position). And Anis Mojgani, Oregon’s poet laureate, is among the award winners.

Oregon Poet Laureate Anis Mojgani: $50,000 for projects around the state. Photo: Tristan Paiige

If large sums of money and the quiet pursuit of poetry seem somehow incompatible, consider the words of Dolly Levi, as she famously declares in Hello, Dolly!, the Broadway-musical adaptatation of Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker: “Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”

Continues…

Dramatic? It’s like an opera out there

ArtsWatch Weekly: Where's Frida; how to (maybe) reopen; farewell to Ross McKeen; puppets; comics; art that tells stories & more

AS WE ZOOM PAST THE ONE-YEAR MARK IN ENFORCED ISOLATION, shutdowns have caused havoc everywhere, sometimes straining well-run organizations and sometimes exposing structural weaknesses that pre-existed the pandemic. Being big can be a problem in itself: You might begin with a bigger bankroll, but the larger a group’s budget, the harder it is to shift direction, and the more a shutdown stands to imperil the entire operation. Being small can mean you’re nimble, but it can also make it tough to scrape up the wherewithall to hunker in and just survive for a while.

Portland Opera’s “Frida”: heading to the great outdoors? Photo: Keith Blakoff/Long Beach Opera

How’s that playing out in the world of opera? Herein ArtsWatch presents a new three-act contemporary work, which we’ll refrain from calling Stayin’ Alive:

ACT ONE: New York’s Metropolitan Opera is undergoing monumental convulsions, as Julia Jacobs reports in The New York Times, with 40 percent of its laid-off musicians leaving the expensive New York area, and abrasive battles being waged between management and unions. Massive debt is being piled up, veteran musicians are choosing to retire, and shop work is being farmed out to non-union companies as management pushes for big salary cuts. (Subtheme: Conductor and music director James Levine, the leading artistic force at the Met for almost a half-century until being fired in 2018 over multiple allegations of sex abuse and harassment, died at age 77 on March 9, it was reported Wednesday.)

Continues…

Untriggering life and the memories of trauma

Actor Keith Mascoll digs into the issue of childhood sexual abuse in his solo show "Triggered Life," streaming live from Portland Playhouse

“WE’RE OPENING UP A CONVERSATION FOR EVERYBODY TO HAVE. We need to keep our girls safe. We need to keep our boys safe.”

It was mid-afternoon on Wednesday, and the actor Keith Mascoll was on the phone, fresh from a run-through of his show Triggered Life: A Requiem of Healing, which has preview performances Thursday and Friday evenings at Portland Playhouse and on Saturday opens a twelve-show run, through April 4. The performances are being taped in real time, and can be watched on video.

Keith Mascoll in “Triggered Life: A Requiem of Healing.” Photo: Crosby Tatum

Triggered Life is a one-actor, two character play that goes to places theater rarely goes – into the world of sexual abuse of children, and the struggles to overcome its emotional cost. It’s based partly on Mascoll’s own experiences, and partly on his conversations with other people who’ve been abused. And as we’ve passed the one-year mark in social isolation, during which incidences of domestic abuse have spiked, it seems a show that’s more than met its time. Mascoll’s director and longtime working partner, John Oluwole ADEkoje, wrote the script, collaborating with Mascoll on the scenes that include Mascoll’s own experiences. Though it’s rooted in actual memories and events, Mascoll says, it’s true theater, with a human story to tell: “Definitely storytelling.”

Continues…

The Wonders of Wonderland

Portland Playhouse closes the curtains on 2020 with an epic virtual theater festival. We talk with the people who created it.

Ashley Mellinger scripted a witty conversation between two webcam models. Fyndi Jermany crafted a category-defying musical experience. Kailey Rhodes unleashed a meditation on the role of blame in myth and life. Francisco Garcia told a tale of two sisters who are casualties of the Trump Administration’s barbarous family separations.

Mellinger, Jermany, Rhodes and Garcia are the creators of the four new plays that form Wonderland, a virtual theater festival from Portland Playhouse that runs through January 19. Each work mirrors our damaged and divided world (Mellinger says the artists were asked for reflections of “our sociopolitical landscape”). Yet the ways that the plays boldly leap across space, time and genre remind you that while COVID-19 has shaken Portland’s theatre community, it hasn’t shattered it.

Wonderland was born of an army of innovators led by producer Charles Grant and populated by multitudes, including the main creators of the festival’s selections. I spoke to all four of them about the art of creating brazen and beautiful theater in 2020.


FRANCISCO GARCIA, 545


The title 545 refers to the number of migrant children separated from their families by the Trump Administration as of October (by December, it had risen to 666). With actors Lulu Kashiwabara and Mila Kashiwabara (who are sisters), Francisco Garcia fought to convey the human toll behind that statistic with a tale of two siblings who are imprisoned and taken from their mother.

Lulu Kashiwabara (lef and Mila Kashiwabara in Francisco Garcia’s “545.” Photo: Kirk Johnson

How long did you have to write the play?

I think I did about three drafts. When I found out [that Lulu Kashiwabara and Mila Kashiwabara] could do the show, I started building the show around them. I sent them questionnaires to fill out so we could build upon their relationship and so I could find out about their backgrounds more, and a lot of that stuff was incorporated into the show.

Continues…

Thanks, giving, the essence of art

ArtsWatch Weekly: Passing the artistic impulse into the future, Josie Seid's America, Don Latarski's wild art, remembering Bruce Browne

AS YOU MIGHT HAVE NOTICED, this week’s ArtsWatch Weekly is a day late (although not, I hope, a dollar short). Usually I start plotting out the column at the beginning of the week, try to get a little writing done on Tuesday and Wednesday, then finish it on Thursday. But this Thursday, of course, was Thanksgiving Day, and quite likely just like you, I was otherwise engaged in the kitchen and at the table, and had been for a couple of days beforehand. This may be the strangest year in our collective memory, and for many of us the oddest of Thanksgivings – what seems the core of the holiday, the gathering together, is precisely what we couldn’t do – and yet, despite the pandemic and teetering economy and social unrest and volatile politics, there was thanking to be done.

When I think about the holidays I think partly of the gifts the past has to offer the present and future: not the stultifying or outmoded aspects of tradition, but the liberating ones. What is good? How do we build on it? This sifting and measuring is intimately involved in the constant reshaping of our cultural and artistic lives: What do we appreciate in the past and present, and carry forward with us into the future?

Some artists embody in their work all three tenses, and looking through what’s happening in Portland’s galleries I note with pleasure and thanks that two of them have exhibitions on view. Both exhibits end on Saturday, so time’s running short, but you can also see the works through the links below.
 

George Johanson, “The Artist’s Studio,” 2020, oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches, in his show “George Johanson – Rising Waters and Quasi Portraits: New Paintings,” closing Saturday at Augen Gallery, Portland.

Continues…

Charles Grant’s Matter at Hand

The Portland actor-writer brings a vivid sense of movement to his play about the ever-present danger of violence that Black Americans face

Matter, conceived, written, and performed by Charles Grant and directed by James Dixon, is a deeply personal portrayal of a young Black man’s quest to find a way to save Black lives by examining police brutality and gun violence. Co-produced by Portland Playhouse and Many Hats Collaboration, the one man, 20-minute, filmed theater piece methodically examines the facts amidst opposing viewpoints, social division, and the constant barrage of news. Grant, frustrated and grieving over the many Black lives that have been lost, becomes aware of his vulnerability as a Black man and the possibility of his death at the hands of the police. While not strictly a dance work, Matter includes a lot of movement, as life should, and includes sections that could be called dances, with movement direction by Many Hats Collaboration’s artistic director, Jessica Wallenfels. Through a combination of camera angles, lighting, sound, text, movement, and the cast’s lived experiences, real emotions and trauma are expressed in the work, framing the complex Black experience. 

Charles Grant in the 2017 version of “Matter.” Photo: Tamera Lyn

“From early conversations with Jessica [Wallenfels], I knew that I wanted to incorporate more dance and movement into this piece,” Grant told me in an email. Grant originally conceived of Matter in 2017 as part of his apprenticeship at Portland Playhouse and is unofficially calling it Matter 2.0 this time around. Sadly, it is still part of our larger cultural conversation because of the disproportionate amount of violence toward Black bodies. He hopes he doesn’t have to keep bringing it back over and over again. 

Continues…

‘Silent Voices’: A movie for Moose

Quanice Hayes was killed by Portland police in 2017. His grandmother's film gives voice to him and 8 other victims of police fatal force.

Quanice Hayes was his name, but no one ever called him that. His grandmother, Donna Hayes, says that to friends and family, the seventeen-year-old boy was known as “Moose.” Moose, among other things, was a basketball player and had NBA aspirations. “He was short but he thought he could do it,” Moose’s grandmother laughs. Moose was fun-loving and outgoing. “Moose loved music,” Hayes says, “and he loved to dance and he loved his little siblings and he would take anyone under his wing as a friend.”  On February 9, 2017, Moose was gunned down by Portland police officer Andrew Hearst. “He was seventeen,” recounts Donna Hayes. “My grandson. He was on his knees when the police decided to shoot him.” 

Venus Hayes (left), mother of Moose Quanice Hayes, holding the rose; Donna Hayes (center), grandmother and now playwright; right and behind, supporters from Don’t Shoot Portland. At the first press conference before the family addressed the mayor and City Council, weeks after the murder of Moose Hayes, March 1, 2017. Photo: Kathryn Kendall

That was more than three years ago. Now, Donna Hayes has written a film, Silent Voices, being screened through the community media center Open Signal, wrought out of her grief over her grandson’s death. “At first,” remembers Hayes, “it started out I was just writing because I couldn’t tell anyone everything that was going on in my head.” But there was more to it than that. 

Continues…