Shakespeare in the Parks

When sports & Shakespeare collide

Original Practice Shakespeare’s ambitious summer tour brings the Bard (and a referee's whistle) into Portland and surrounding parks

By CHRISTOPHER GONZALEZ

When our loved ones ask us, “Why, dear – why do you want to spend three hours of our evening watching, perhaps for the fifteenth time, yet another Shakespeare production?” we ought not to suggest that we go simply because … it’s good for us. Original Practice Shakespeare Festival provides us with a fresh and infallible argument: “Well, honey dearest, this is our chance to see Shakespeare the way he would’ve seen it.”

Checkmate.

Stan Brown as Capulet in OPS’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo: Tiffany Gilly (Rousseau)

It’s odd to think that Portland’s Original Practice Shakespeare is one of only two companies this side of the Mississippi performing Shakespeare as it was originally performed — at least, in certain ways. That is to say, without the convention of rehearsals, directors, memorized lines, and most strikingly, without pretense. (In other ways, performances are decidedly not Elizabethan. Many of the actors are women, for instance. In Shakespeare’s time women were not allowed on the stage; boys played the women’s roles.)

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ArtsWatch Weekly: pop bang boom

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and freedom of the press; Gore Vidal's visitor from outer space; Shakespeare in the parks; music fests

It’s the Fourth of July, by general agreement the 241st birthday of the great American Experiment, although some might date the nation’s existence from the ratification on March 1, 1781, of the weak and short-lived Articles of Confederation, which declared a central government while reserving most authority to the independent states; or the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783, which ended the Revolutionary War; or the creation of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787, or its ratification on June 21, 1788, or its effective date of March 4, 1789. Others might argue for something earlier and more gradual, dating to the establishments of the various colonies far from the British throne, a situation that gave rise to a sort of natural independence long before any official break. And many point out that the “new” continents and islands of the Americas contained thriving civilizations long before the permanent arrival of Europeans in 1492, and that the descendants of those civilizations justifiably might have radically differing points of view on what precisely the American Experiment means.

“A VIEW of the FIRE-WORKES and ILLUMINATIONS at his GRACE the Duke of RICHMOND’S at WHITEHALL and on the River Thames on Monday 15 May 1749. Performed by the direction of Charles Fredrick Esq.,” hand-colored etching, 1749, artist unknown.

Right now the Experiment, launched on the principles of an Age of Reason that seems to be slipping from our grasp, feels waist-deep in troubled waters. The First Amendment to the Constitution, which among other things guarantees the freedoms of speech and the press on which organizations such as Oregon ArtsWatch rely, is under strenuous attack from the center of the government that is supposed to be protecting them. The history of the Second Amendment is being so magnified and radically reinterpreted that you’d almost swear Moses had hauled it down from the mountaintop engraved in smoking Day-Glo lettering by an open-carrying Lord High Almighty Himself.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: A Bartow gift; last licks of summer

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

And suddenly it’s fall. Not on the wall calendar, but on the school calendar, by which thousands of kids across Oregon went back to their classrooms on Monday, a week before Labor Day, depriving them cruelly of a final week of summer break and no doubt dealing a sharp financial slap to the economies of towns along the coast and other tourist-reliant parts of the state.

What’s done is done, and your task is to get in a few last hurrahs in spite of the school boards’ impulse to jump the gun. Think outdoors, think Labor Day weekend, think (at least) of these three things:

Oregon Symphony Waterfront Concert. And the tradition rolls on – a big, booming, free concert along the Willamette, beginning at 12:30 p.m. Thursday (rain date Friday) and pulling out the stops into the evening with an all-star lineup of music by, this year, Wagner, Mozart, Puccini, Dvorak, Bizet, Tchaikovsky and Offenbach, along with some of John Williams’ music from the movie E.T: The Extraterrestrial and a little bit of John Phillip Sousa to punch things up. Downtown in Tom McCall Waterfront Park, near the Hawthorne Bridge at the foot of Southwest Columbia Street.

Art in the Pearl. Another longstanding tradition – this is its 20th anniversary of art, craft, music, and food sprawling along the North Park Blocks on Labor Day weekend – Art in the Pearl combines street-fair festivities with a broad range of things to buy. You can also just look, of course, and admission is free. Work by more than 130 artists in all sorts of disciplines will be on hand, and there’ll be demonstrations of blacksmithing, woodturning, boat building, fiber arts, and other forms. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 10-5 Monday, between Northwest Davis and Flanders streets.

Love’s Labour’s Lost. The 47th season of Portland Actors Ensemble’s summer Shakespeare in the Parks winds up with performances of the comedy Saturday, Sunday, and Monday at Reed College, starting at 3 p.m. each day. It’s free; keep in mind that donations keep the ship floating.

 


 

"Rider with V," Rick Bartow, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 inches. Froelick Gallery.

“Rider with V,” Rick Bartow, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 inches. Froelick Gallery.

THURSDAY IS SEPTEMBER 1, which means it’s also First Thursday, which means it’s time to see the newest exhibitions opening for the monthly art walk at galleries across the city. This month we’re looking forward in particular to Froelick Gallery’s  Sparrow Song, which includes many of the final works of the great Northwest artist Rick Bartow, who died earlier this year at age 69. The work is astonishing, and the gallery’s statement puts it into perspective:

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ArtsWatch Weekly: a Tempest and an operatic pot shot

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

WELL, SHOOT. The whole thing explodes into a duel, of course, but before that there’s a tangled romance, and a cad’s carelessness, and a whole lot of glorious singing, and, well, why not a wintry tale for a midsummer opera? Portland Opera moves into the cozier confines of the Newmark Theatre beginning Friday night for its new production of Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky’s lyric opera based on Pushkin’s verse novel, and things are looking promising – if not for Onegin himself, who lives to deeply regret shooting his best friend, Lensky, then for the audience. ArtsWatch’s Christa Morletti McIntyre interviewed stage director Kevin Newbury, fresh off his acclaimed world-premiere production of Fellow Travelers at Cincinnati Opera, and discovered his plan to create an Onegin that will resonate with his fellow Gen Xers. Newbury has reset the late 19th century tale in the 1980s, around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union and crumbling of the Berlin Wall. The “political and nuclear-threatening war of grudges” between East and West, McIntyre writes, helped “to unpack the meanings and individual lives impacted by this new kind of war, which was as visually stunning as it was oppressive and terrorizing.” All that, of course, plus some gorgeous music.

Ilya Repin, "Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky's Duel," 1899, watercolor, white lead and India ink on paper, Pushkin Museum, Moscow/Wikimedia Commons

Ilya Repin, “Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky’s Duel,” 1899, watercolor, white lead and India ink on paper, Pushkin Museum, Moscow/Wikimedia Commons

 


 

JULY’S FIRST THURSDAY IS THIS WEEK, and there is considerable to look forward to the monthly gallery walk. (Some galleries open shows on Last Friday or First Friday or according to their own schedules). A few we have our eye on: J.D. Perkin’s Island, an exhibit of the Portland sculptor’s fascinating-looking contemporary busts, coupled with some selected works by the late, great Robert Colescott, at Laura Russo Gallery; Sarah Siestreem’s Winter Work paintings, with Cynthia Mosser’s Beach Body, at Augen; the all-star anniversary lineup at PDX Contemporary in A Stand of Pine in a Tilled Field: 21 Years at PDX; the stylized figures and settings of R. Keaney Rathbun’s Memory and Stone, at Waterstone; and Blackfish’s annual Recent Graduates Exhibition of work from Oregon’s college and university art departments. Also, the Portland Biennial, an ambitious overview of work by 34 contemporary artists, opens Saturday at Disjecta, and should be well worth a long look. And on the north coast in Astoria, K.B. Dixon’s 32 Faces, his black-and-white environmental portraits of well-known Oregon artists in their elements, opens Saturday. ArtsWatch wrote about the exhibit when it opened at Michael Parsons Fine Art in Portland in February.

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Stormy weather: a ‘Tempest’ erupts

Original Practice Shakespeare takes to the parks with a light squall of a 'Tempest' and 12 other plays performed in a heady improv style

Those no-good dirty scoundrels (now known as actors, but in Shakespeare’s time as players) would often steal word-for-word whole scenes of dialogue from a rival company’s show. Queen Elizabeth had no bureau for copyright affairs, so instead players were given their lines on little “roles,” or scrolls, soon before a play began. That meant no time for them to brush up their Shakespeare, little to no props, and being on their A-game. A player had to keep a good tongue in his head, or a battery of rotten produce and shouts would be hurled at him from the raucous audience. Each person in the cheaper seats spent about a penny a show – one whole day’s wages, so the play had to be good.

Since 2009, Portland’s Original Practice Shakespeare Festival has been staging the Bard in this traditional anarchic manner for free in parks throughout the city. This 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death has the team of actors bringing to life his celebrated words in 21 performances. Players are chosen shortly before the action begins, so each performance is unique and each interpretation of the role is unique. Original Practice Shakespeare wants you, the audience, to go back to “simpler times:” boo, laugh, mock, applaud. Take the attitude of Mr. Shakespeare’s words: “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” Throw out all the decorum that your blue-haired grandma worked so diligently to foster in you.

Wizarding in the park: Michael Streeter as in impromptu Caliban. Photo: Christa Morletti McIntyre

Wizarding in the park: Michael Streeter as in impromptu Caliban. Photo: Christa Morletti McIntyre

Sunday’s staging of Shakespeare’s late play the Tempest was held, in great complement to the troupe, at Cathedral Park. In OPS tradition a prompter aids the players, and for this performance the role was filled by Andrew Bray. The prompter follows the script (in the case someone loses their lines), sound effects personnel, and stage directions on the fly. Elizabethan theaters didn’t employ costume designers: instead, the players wore the most expensive (their pocket books could buy) fashions of the time. Original Practice Shakespeare adds to the informality by inviting the audience to participate with a kaleidoscope of costumes. This performance’s Prospero, played by Michael Streeter, wore a faux Kapa Hawaiian shirt and a student-of-Montessori preschool wizard hat, but the fashion disaster only added to elevating his deliveries. He’s a shipwrecked magician on some island, after all.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Hello Drammys, farewell Conduit, back to Bach

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

GET ON YOUR TUX AND YOUR EVENING GOWN (or, this being Portland, your jeans and flannels and Doc Martens): It’s Drammy Time. The 2016 Drammy Awards ceremony, the 38th annual celebration of outstanding work on the city’s theater stages, is ready to rock the Newmark Theatre on Monday, June 27. This year’s festivities will be emceed by a gaggle of hosts – the legendary sketch comedy troupe The 3rd Floor, coming out of retirement for the night.

drammyslogo_printcmykThe Drammys always include a little backstage drama, and this year’s nominations have generated some heat among theater insiders, both for shows that were nominated and shows that weren’t: some shows have fierce partisans. That’s not unusual, though the temperature might be a little higher this year. The fireworks might add some spice to the ceremony, or everything might burst into daffodils and roses. Enthusiasm usually runs high. One thing bound to spike interest is the addition this year of an awards-ceremony-in-the-awards-ceremony: the equity advocacy group Age & Gender Equity in the Arts will announce $30,000 in grants for equity projects. Jane Vogel, AGE’s founder, reveals the whys and hows in this story for ArtsWatch.

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