Ruth Wikler

Boom! Big changes as season ends

Boom Arts founder Ruth Wikler takes a top circus job in Montréal; Tracy Cameron Francis takes over as the company's new artistic director

The end of a season is always a moment of transition for a company. But for Boom Arts this year the transition will be much bigger than normal. Company founder Ruth Wikler has announced she is stepping down and taking a position as Director of Circus Programming for TOHU in Montréal, Canada.

Boom Arts’ board has selected Tracy Cameron Francis as the company’s next artistic producer. Francis is a first-generation Egyptian-American director, producer, deviser, dramaturge and educator. She is the festival director of the Cascade Festival of African Film and has worked in greater Portland with Milagro, Corrib, Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Center Stage and Bag & Baggage, and PICA’s TBA Festival.

Tracy Cameron Francis, Boom Arts’ new leader.

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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: the executive chair

As the Portland presenter of innovative world performance grows, Kamla Hurst steps from the board into the executive-director post

Kamla Hurst’s first exposure to Boom Arts, the innovative Portland presenting company for which she is now the first executive director, was Adrienne Truscott’s show Asking For It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy & Little Else! in October 2015. It wasn’t like anything else Hurst had seen in Portland. The show stuck with her and she started following Boom more closely. “A lot of stuff that’s brought by presenters is very finished polished work with large budgets,” she said. “Boom has a more grassroots feel. It’s not a spectacle.”

Hurst saw an organization bringing interesting voices and stories to Portland and leveraging them in the community in meaningful ways. Her belief in the company’s work lead her to approach Ruth Wikler, producer of the company, to join the board.

Kamla Hurst, Boom Arts executive director. Photo: Friderike Heuer

Last year Wikler came to the board and suggested creating an executive director position. “The board has known for a while that Boom Arts’ path to sustainability includes hiring full time leadership/management staff,” said Wikler. Thanks to some funds from capacity-building grants Boom had received from Oregon Community Foundation and Oregon Cultural Trust, the organization was ready to make that move.


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It was decided that the position needed to be established by the start of the 2018-19 season in fall. Because of the short timeline the process was fast-tracked and the board decided the first director would be an interim. Hurst was invited to apply, and was eventually accepted.

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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.”


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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.”


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