Portland theater awards

… And the show goes on

With joy and poignance, the PAMTA musical-theater awards show went virtual on Thursday night. The winners, and the moments to remember.

“You can have all the bells and whistles or you can have none of them and you can still move an audience. You can still reach an audience and make them laugh and cry. It’s what the actors are saying and doing that really makes theater theater.”

Those are the words of Corey Brunish—and they perfectly capture the thirteenth edition of the Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards,known as the PAMTAs. While the show, which Brunish founded and produces, drew more than 300 people to the Winningstad Theatre in 2019, this year’s audience had to experience the ceremony via YouTube. And it didn’t feel unplugged.

Triangle Productions’ “That’s No Lady,” based on the life of legendary drag queen Darcelle XV, was a multiple award-winner at the PAMTAs.

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And the Drammy goes to …

Broadway Rose, "Tender Napalm" and a not-so-friendly gong rule the Portland theater scene's 2018 Drammy Awards

How about that gong? This year’s Drammy Awards ceremony Monday night at The Armory may have been an epic affair packed with tearful acceptance speeches, technical difficulties and even bingo, but the unofficial star of the night was the golden, disc-shaped gong that was on hand just in case any long-winded winners needed a nudge to get off stage.

In many ways, the gong embodied the spirit of the show, which honored the best achievements on Portland area theater stages in the 2017-18 season: It was playful, but added a simmering tension to the night. The show was two hours shorter than Artists Rep’s Magellanica (which should have been a contender, but Artists Rep, like Portland Center Stage, doesn’t participate in the awards) but felt longer and didn’t exactly spread the wealth around (at times it felt like the Drammy Committee’s main goal was to honor Broadway Rose and Broadway Rose). But there were entertaining, human moments as well, thanks to some powerful speeches as the comedic verve of host Claire Willett.

Lisamarie Harrison as Morticia in Broadway Rose’s “The Addams Family,” winner of the best musical production Drammy. Photo: Sam Ortega

So who won? The aforementioned Broadway Rose took home an armload of prizes for two musicals, The Addams Family (best production/musical)and Trails. Dancing Brain’s Tender Napalm also dominated with awards in, to name a few, the best production/play, directing, acting, and fight choreography categories. And the biggest loser of the night was easily Donald Trump, who was the subject of several oblique but unmistakable criticisms (side note: did the night really pass without a single thank you to Ronni Lacroute?).

At the end of the day, what I savored the most were the moments that peeked through the show’s structure. I’m thinking of Trisha Mead’s fearless onstage reckoning with her mortality (Mead founded Fertile Ground, which received a special achievement award). I’m thinking of Charles Grant winning best actor in a musical for his performance in Oregon Children’s Theater’s A Year With Frog and Toad and describing the letter that a young black girl who saw the show sent him: “Dear Frog: I love you and you are dark-skinned.”

And then there was Fertile Ground Director Nicole Lane, who delivered the best line of the night: “Please don’t gong me, Agatha.” It was a perfect moment because it was a reminder that the Drammys are capable of delivering the kind of onstage action that makes them an entertaining play in their own right.

The nominees and winners in each category, with the winner listed in boldface:

 

Best Actor in a Musical

Charles Grant, A Year with Frog and Toad, Oregon Children’s Theatre

John Ellingson, Cinderella, Northwest Children’s Theatre and School

Joel Walker, Trails, Broadway Rose Theatre Company

James Sharinghousen, A Year with Frog and Toad, Oregon Children’s Theatre

 

Best Actor in a Play

Josh Weinstein, Tender Napalm, Dancing Brain Productions

La’Tevin Alexander, And in This Corner: Cassius Clay, Oregon Children’s Theatre

Wrick Jones, Two Trains Running, PassinArt: A Theatre Company

Ted Rooney, Quietly, Corrib Theatre

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Festivals, awards, a college dies

News & notes: an arts festival in Wilsonville, the PAMTA musical theater awards, Marylhurst's loss to the arts, PassinArt goes deep east side

It’s not quite summer, but it’s festival season – and Wilsonville, just a short skip south of Portland on the freeway, is leading the charge. Coming up Saturday and Sunday, June 2-3, is this year’s Wilsonville Festival of Arts, which will spread out over the city’s Town Center Park with contemporary music, dance, visual art, theater, literary events, film, design, and performance art.

Master maskmaker and director Tony Feummeler will lead maskmaking events at the Wilsonville Festival of Arts.

“This year, we are introducing three commissioned interactive art installations by artists Damien Gilley, Palmarin Merges and Tiana Husted,” festival director Sarah Wolfe noted in a press release. “Also new is a partnership with NW Film Center in Portland. We are teaming up to offer a Micro Movie Theatre, featuring short films by filmmakers throughout the Pacific Northwest. And we will be featuring several Oregon Book Award winners and finalists as special guests for our focus on literary arts, Art of the Word. Latinx and alter-abled contemporary artists will also be highlighted.”

Singer Saeeda Wright

The lineup looks ambitious and intriguing, with attractions ranging from a reading by this year’s Ken Kesey Award fiction winner Omar El Akkad (American War); to demonstrations in skills from etching to 3D printing to weaving and spinning; to performances by R&B star Saeeda Wright and the innovative troupe DanceAbility. And of course, there’ll also be artists’ and crafters’ booths, ice cream and other food stands, and beer: It wouldn’t be a festival without ’em. Festival entry is free; hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

Black with colored amoeba-shaped pieces from artist Palmerin Merges’ installion art in Wilsonville.

The granddaddy of ’em all, the Portland Rose Festival, is working up a head of steam, too. The city’s annual extravaganza kicked off Friday, May 25, with a Memorial Day weekend CityFair on the riverfront (much more to come, from elephant ears to open-air concerts, in Tom McCall Waterfront Park), and the big event, the Grand Floral Parade, is June 9. After that, dig out your maps and fill in your calendars: you can pretty much hop from festival to festival around Oregon all summer long.

 


 

 

AND IF FESTIVAL SEASON IS HERE, CAN AWARDS SEASON BE FAR BEHIND? Portland’s double whammy of theater award celebrations kicks off Monday, June 4, at 7 p.m. in the Winningstad Theatre with the annual PAMTA musical-theater awards. Started and produced by Broadway/Portland producer/actor/director Corey Brunish, who’s picked up more Tony producing honors in recent years than he can count on all his fingers, it’s always a fun, well-produced event. Actor Darius Pierce, who’s just about perfect in the role, returns as the evening’s host.

A few of the musical-theater productions that have been under consideration for this year’s PAMTA Awards.

Awards will be presented in 21 categories, and as befits the musical theater, which thrives as much on revivals as new work, the best show category has been divided into two parts. This year’s nominees for outstanding revival are Broadway Rose’s The Addams Family, Gypsy, and Always, Patsy Cline; Pixie Dust’s Billy Elliot and Beauty and the Beast; and Triangle’s Avenue Q. Nominees for outstanding original show are Portland Playhouse’s Scarlet, Northwest Children’s Theatre’s Cinderella and Peter Pan, Stumptown Stages’ Folk City, Broadway Rose’s Trails, and Staged!’s John Hughes High. See the complete list of nominees here.

The older and more inclusive Drammy Awards will celebrate their 40th anniversary at 7 p.m. Monday, June 25, at Portland Center Stage – an interesting choice for venue considering that last year the city’s two biggest theater companies, Center Stage and Artists Rep, dropped their participation in the awards. Both awards events are free.

 


 

BUT WHAT ABOUT MARYLHURST? The recent announcement that Marylhurst University, the small institution south of Lake Oswego, will close its doors after 125 years sent alarms not only through the education world but the arts world as well. The university has been rocked by sharply declining enrollment and swiftly rising deficits since the national recession of a decade ago, Jeff Manning reported in The Oregonian. Fall term enrollment was more than 1,400 in 2013, and fewer than 750 in 2017.

An active opposition made up of students, former students, and faculty members has emerged in an attempt to overturn the board’s decision and find a new path to financial sustainability, but it faces a steep uphill battle. The closure of Portland’s vital and lamented Museum of Contemporary Craft, which was carrying a much smaller deficit, proved final.

From Christine Bourdette’s 2008 show “Riddles, Bunnyheads and Asides” at The Art Gym.

Marylhurst has been well-known in art circles for The Art Gym, an innovative and essential contemporary art center that paid deep attention to the work of living regional artists and usually published catalogs of its shows. Its loss, if the decision remains final, will be large. The university also offers a variety of valuable academic art programs, some of which, including its masters program in art therapy counseling, cross over into other disciplines.

The university has an active music presence and was home to many fine concerts in its intimate performing spaces: I still remember seeing the innovative 20th century composer Terry Riley (In C) in performance in the mid-1990s not playing his own minimalist-leaning music but singing traditional Indian ragas, sweeping and gliding and bending and always landing right. “Tonally, the raga is more like a string suspended between two sticks: Usually it’s slack, but you can draw it taut when you want,” I wrote at the time. “Riley is a master of the slide from slack to taut.”

A community loses such traditions at its own peril.

 


 

PassinArt takes the theater where the people are.

REPULSING THE MONKEY. PassinArt: A Theatre Company, in collaboration with ROSE Community Development, is entering its final two performances of Michael Eichler’s play Repulsing the Monkey, about a brother and sister who inherit a blue-collar bar in Pittsburgh and must decide, in the face of gentrification, whether they can keep it going. Final performances are at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, May 29-30, with a discussion after the Wednesday show, and one of the interesting things about the production is where it’s being performed – at the T.E.A.M. Event Center in deep East Portland, at 9201 S.E. Foster Road. As Portland’s own gentrification and escalating housing prices force many people farther from the city center, arts and performance almost certainly will have to follow them. PassinArt’s most recent production, in North Portland’s Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, was a well-received run of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running. Tickets for Repulsing the Monkey are a wallet-friendly $5-$15 sliding scale.