Portland theater

When ‘Daddy Long Legs’ says ‘I Do, I Do’

At Broadway Rose, a musical romantic comedy is ready to stream onto your screen – and the stars are signing on for a very long run

Malia Tippets was backstage at a Christmas revue in South Carolina that she had a part in when she collapsed. “I had an ovarian cyst that had toppled over my fallopian tube, and it was so painful that my body just shut down,” Tippets says. “I didn’t know anybody and I didn’t have time to tell my parents what was going on. It was insane. It was wild.”

After Tippets went home to Battleground, Wash., Joe Theissen—who had directed her in a production of Anything Goes at the Lakewood Center for the Arts and had asked her out to a Blazer game before she left for South Carolina—helped her recover. “When I came home, he came and took care of me,” Tippets says. “So that was kind of a weird way to get into a relationship, but that’s how that went.”

Today, Tippets and Theissen are still together—and they’re also the stars of Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s soon-to-be-streaming production of the 2009 musical Daddy Long Legs, which is being directed by Sharon Maroney, who founded Broadway Rose in 1992 with her husband, Dan Murphy.

“There’s no revenue for the Broadway Rose [right now], zero,” says Theissen, who is also the musical theater company’s development manager. “We’re still getting individual donations and we’ve got good COVID-relief funding, but they were really, really intent on doing something that they could have some sort of artistic revenue for.”

Joe Thiessen and Malia Tippets in “Daddy Long Legs”: It’s a match. Photo: Broadway Rose

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Antigone behind (and beyond) bars

Director Patrick Walsh is bringing a filmed production of a Greek tragedy to prisons across Oregon

“Thank you for being here.” 

“Don’t forget about us when you leave.”

Those two audience reactions have echoed through director Patrick Walsh’s mind ever since he brought Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative’s modern retelling of The Iliad (called An Iliad) to prisons across Oregon in 2018, including Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, the only women’s penitentiary in the state.

“I love The Iliad,” Walsh says. “But both the play and the source text are very male-centric. And so I really wanted to create a production with a strong female heroine—not only for the women at Coffee Creek.”

So Walsh turned to a play with a heroine who is equal parts steely will and wrenching vulnerability. It was a play that fit his fascination with ancient power struggles that reverberate with contemporary meaning; a play with the potential to make incarcerated audiences feel liberated, if only fleetingly.

Walsh knew that he had to direct Antigone for NWCTC. He didn’t know that he would have to defy a pandemic to do it.

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Masked, separated, ready to roll: Shooting an “Antigone” for the pandemic age in the old Wapato Jail space. Photo courtesy Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative

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Live theater’s back in town

ArtsWatch Weekly: In a pandemic era first, Triangle opens a show indoors. Plus: Art in the Pearl, Venice & elsewhere, virtually and "real."

“WE HAVE TO MOVE FORWARD,” Don Horn, who founded Portland’s Triangle Productions more than 30 years ago, said on the phone. “I would rather have the house used than vacant. I think spaces die if they’re not used.”

Somebody had to be first. And in Portland theater, when Triangle opens a 10-performance run of Rick Cleveland’s solo play My Buddy Bill next Thursday, Sept. 10, it’ll be the first time since Covid-19 restrictions shut down theater spaces almost half a year ago that anyone in the greater metro area’s put on a show inside an actual theater space, with a paying audience in the seats. (At least a couple of other companies in Oregon have done live shows, too: Medford’s Collaborative Theatre Projects has been doing indoor radio plays with paying audiences, and Ashland’s Oregon Cabaret Theatre has been doing The Odd Couple.)

Grocery stores, hardwares, and big box stores are open. Restaurants are open, for sidewalk and some indoor seating. Zoos and gardens and aquariums are open. Beaches and hiking trails and camping sites are open, at least many of them, and you can book rooms at motels and vacation getaways. A little bit of outdoor theater and concertizing’s happened. Museums and art galleries have reopened, with restrictions. But live theater, dance, and music have lagged behind, mostly because of strict limits on audience size and spacing inside performance halls, the cost of running shows for the resulting relatively tiny audiences, and the tougher logistics of making tight theater spaces safe enough to use.

Buddy and buddy in the Oval Office. Photo: Barbara Kinney/White House/1997

Triangle’s auditorium, inside The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza on close-in Northeast Sandy Boulevard, ordinarily seats 154 people. Because of a state restriction of 25 people in such a space at a time, the audience for My Buddy Bill will be limited to 23, leaving room for one actor (Joe Healy, playing Rick, the playwright) and one tech person. The bigger the cast and crew, the smaller the allowable audience. In the meantime, Horn and crew are busily getting everything ready so the space can meet multiple safety requirements. “I’ll be spending Friday cleaning everything out of the lobby so we can shampoo,” he said. 

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Portland theater’s little ‘Black Box’

Gary Cole's online play based on his backstage novel about life, love, and revenge on the theater scene scratches an itch in Covid-19 time

“Theater people are strangely compelled to perform their art… regardless of the obstacles placed in their path, by the empty bank accounts, oppressive landlords, and unflattering critics,” the character Ned Prince observes halfway through the opening scene of CoHo Productions’ online play Black Box: Page to Stage.

I nominate pernicious viruses to be added to Ned’s list of obstacles.

But I suppose that would be a bit of an anachronism, since Black Box – written by CoHo co-founder Gary D. Cole and based on his novel of the same name – isn’t set in 2020. Instead, the virtual work looks back, with a rightful amount of nostalgia, to Portland’s past: a portrait of a theater community in an age when people could actually go to the theater.

Critic and board member, setting the scene: James Luster and Marcella Lasch in “Black Box: Page to Stage.” Photo courtesy CoHo Theatre

Black Box is inspired in part by Cole’s time as a theater producer in Portland. “CoHo Theatre is the center of the novel,” Cole says, although the novel’s plot and characters are mainly fictitious.

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Portland, protests, the theater of life

ArtsWatch Weekly: The theater of politics comes to town, and the city's center stage. Plus: polka-dot square, Black & classical, a big gift.

FRUSTRATED BECAUSE THERE’S NO THEATER TO SEE FOR THE CORONADURATION? Look around. The show’s running 24/7, and we’re in the middle of it – unlikely stars of the Show of the Moment, praised and panned for our performances, from the pages of The New York Times to the breathless patter of cable-television talking heads to the bombastic Twitter feeds of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Boffo! A bomb! Lurid, violent spectacle! A bracing warning for us all! Shocking demolition of the fourth wall! Strains credibility! Nonstop action! Predictable performances in a shoddy script! Oughtta be in jail!

Everybody’s a critic in the Theater of Real Life. In the past week Portland’s been getting more national and international attention than it’s had since the heyday of Portlandia jokes (no, you put a bird on it!), and it’s hard to tell whether this new show – let’s call it “The Siege of Portland!” – is tragedy, documentary, or farce. However it all plays out, we’re like a city full of Beckett characters, caught in a world far bigger than we can comprehend, stumbling through the confusion toward a conclusion that we can’t predict.

You know the basic plot. It begins, after a preamble that traces a complex but necessary 400-year backstory, with the deaths at police hands of a seemingly endless string of Black Americans: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Michael Brown – the list goes on and on. This is the moral heart of the story, the unshakable truth that cannot be denied. Add a pandemic, an economic calamity, a historic shift of wealth from bottom to top, two months of nightly protests, a profusion of graffiti and torn-down fences (“Shocking!” “Criminal!” “Not to be believed!”), a trip-wired political standoff, a president with diving poll numbers in an election year, a steady supply of tear gas, “non-lethal” bullets, smashed heads, and broken bones – who’s writing this script? The guy who wrote the Book of Job? Then add an invading force of militarized mystery federal police, upping the ante on everything, bullying into a story where they weren’t invited and are not wanted. Tighten the tension with a Wall of Moms, some Leaf Blower Dads, and an explosion of new and angry protesters filling the stage like essential extras in a spectacle about the French Revolution.
 

Besides presenting a united front and sometimes being tear-gassed, flash-banged, roughed up, and arrested, the “Wall of Moms” at the re-energized protests in downtown Portland have shown a flair for the moment, making theatrical counter-statements of their own. Photo: Deborah Dombrowski

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Claudia: Love in the age of virus

Profile Theatre's surprising and uneven audio play follows a globe-trotting pangolin as it spreads viral-like havoc across nine scenes

The pangolin is a small scaled mammal (the only scaled mammal, to be exact) native to Africa and Asia. Scientists in China have been looking into this creature as the link that spread COVID-19 to humans. Pangolins’ scales are valued by traditional Chinese medicine, and the trade in these animals may have brought them into contact with humans at the Huanan Market in Wuhan. A pangolin is also the titular character for Profile Theatre’s first audio play, Claudia, A Viral Love Story.

Based on a playwriting prompt from Paula Vogel, Profile commissioned nine writers to craft a story using a list of prompts that spans the globe. At a time when theater everywhere is on hold, it’s both a bold and risky move: How can a company reproduce the feeling of live theater when people can’t gather together? What tools do they have available that they can use? And how can they deliver it to their audience? Audio drama, delivered via streaming, seems a viable option.

How has the experiment worked out? Profile has released all five episodes now (you can listen to or download them here), so you can see the show in full. The shows are free, but Profile is urging donations to help Cascade AIDS Project. From Wuhan, to Tehran, to Mar-A-Lago and onward, each writer builds off the last’s work and takes the story in a new direction. Split into five 20-ish minute episodes, the exquisite corpse structure means Claudia, A Viral Love Story is both surprising and uneven.

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… 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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