puppet theater

Silencio Blanco understands that you can do a lot with a little. The Chilean theater group works with silent puppets, simple constructs of paper, chopsticks, and masking tape to tell deeply empathetic stories. Portland audiences will be able to see its work Pescador/Fisherman at Imago Theatre the first two weekends of February as part of Boom Arts’ “Festive Revolutions” season.

Fisherman at work in “Pescador.” Silencio Blanco photo

The group didn’t set out to do puppetry. Co-founders Dominga Gutiérrez and Santiago Tobar were students at the Theater School of the University of Chile and interested in questions of acting and expression. Puppets, they discovered, provided a good way to explore the questions.

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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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Boom Arts: puppets from Kiev

The Portland producing company brings Ukraine's Teatr-Pralnia to town for a 10-day dash of innovative song, theater, puppetry and culture

In the Paris Theatre in Portland, Oregon, voices break through the darkness in a traditional Ukrainian arrangement. The lights come up on the five members of Teatr-Pralnia, all dressed in mustardy overalls. Next to each of them is a small faceless puppet dressed in the same outfit. A kick drum thumps, the group grabs their instruments, and the stage becomes a whirling machine of music.

The song has the driving force of a dance number but the lyrics feel discordant. “Hello everybody,” shouts one of the performers. “Hello from Kiev. Breaking news, 17 people were killed by Hurricane Michael!” A string of unrelated tragic and benign news stories is presented with smiling faces. “Let’s dance!” she shouts. The constant terrors of the world we live in and the desire to go numb. Which is how it feels a lot of the time.

From left: Kateryna Petrashova, Nadiia Golubtsova, Marichka Shtyrbulova, Marusia Ionova of Teatr-Pralnia at the Paris Theatre. Photo: Friderike Heuer

This show, part of Boom Arts‘ 2018-2019 season of international performance themed “a festive revolution,” ran in Portland for two weekends in October. During the company’s 10 days here its members also presented an event at Multnomah County Central Library and did workshops in the community. A young company, Teatr-Pralnia (in English, “Laundry Theater”) was formed when five friends (Igor Mytalnykov, Kateryna Petrashova, Nadiia Golubtsova, Marusia Ionova, and Marichka Shtyrbulova) graduated from Kyiv Theatre University in 2015. Though they all came from different parts of Ukraine the group had become close through their schooling, where the studied puppetry. After graduation they saw two options: Go to grad school and try to do professional theater in the state-run theaters, or make their own art on their own terms. They chose the latter, much to the consternation of their parents.


BOOM ARTS: THE SEASON: 2


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‘La Belle’ steams back

Imago Theatre's mechanically marvelous steampunk-vaudeville retelling of "The Beauty and the Beast" returns from the road for a hometown run

It’s a Monday afternoon in early spring, and the road warriors are back in town. “I don’t know,” Jerry Mouawad says, just a trifle wearily. “We’ve probably played a thousand venues across the country.”

That covers a few decades and a few shows, from Whistlestop, Anystate to the New Victory Theatre on Broadway. Mostly, it covers variations over the years of Imago Theatre’s splendid family shows Frogz, Biglittlethings, and ZooZoo, and a little bit of Mouawad’s conceptually radical, tilted-stage production of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. And in the past year it’s included Imago’s newest ravishing visual spectacle, La Belle: Lost in the World of the Automaton.

Jim Vadala, Justine Davis: love in miniature. Photo: Jerry Mouawad

La Belle, which opened at Imago to rapturous reviews in December 2016, has had small East Coast and West Coast tours in the ensuing months, including an engagement in November in Santa Rosa, California, at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, where it was one of the first shows to play in the reopened hall after last year’s devastating wildfires destroyed much of the arts center and surrounding town. Now it’s back for another hometown run, opening Friday at Imago and continuing through April 29. If you haven’t seen it, here’s your chance. If you have, chances are you’ll want to catch it again. As Marty Hughley noted in his ArtsWatch review of the premiere: “Imago’s La Belle is a creature of a rare and wonderful sort, a show you may well want to see over and over again, both to marvel at its graceful mechanics and to soak in its symbolic resonances about the human, animal and spiritual in us all.”

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