Monday, July 28, 2008

If only he'd been MY 8th-grade teacher

Meet Taylor Mali, Teacher + Slam Poet. This clip comes from the land where I get all my best videos: Bamboo Nation. Thanks, Prince.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Theater Row

Literary managers everywhere, let us congratulate ourselves. We’ve landed at last. After years of being considered too minor to merit mention at all, in recent months LitMen & Women have made the lists of those currently considered blameworthy for the state of the American theater.

The latest jeremiad comes from today’s New York Times – in the Letters column of the curiously named Arts & Leisure section. A playwright inveighing against the success of August: Osage County opines:

I do not think it is only the writers who, as Mr. Letts says, are at fault for a “lack of bravery,” but it is also the lack of vision of artistic directors and literary managers across the country who are conforming to the basest levels of mediocrity in our culture. And they come up seasonal mush, theater that is far from provocative and for which the audience does not have to think.

Wouldn’t it be grand to wield the power this writer ascribes to Literary Departments? If only, if only… Well, he jumps on a popular bandwagon. Pundits from Richard Nelson to Mike Daisey are pointing the finger at literary managers these days. Not to mention that critic from Atlanta who claimed a local playwright’s popularity was the creation of a dramaturgy cartel!

The charges could actually seem sort of … sweet. Were they were not so risible. And ungrateful. You have to wonder where many a writer would be today without the assiduous promotion of the wee little literary folk. Personally? I’ve lobbied for both the above-mentioned writers frequently in the past, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.

I’m rethinking that now.

Friday, July 25, 2008

How we rolled.

Favorite snapshots of JAW’s Tenth Anniversary Festival:

Meeting Connie Congdon and seeing she really does look like a red-headed hobbit, just as she said.

The excellent turnout for each of the Made in Oregon plays. And meeting Gregg Olsen, who came down from Olalla to see Ginny Foster’s adaptation of his novel Starvation Heights. And Matt Zrebski’s perfectly pentatonic music for his own play, The Cloud-Bangers. And blushing during Hunt Holman’s Willow Jade upon hearing the single nastiest line I have ever heard uttered during a play.

Beach Day on the Oregon Coast, which lived up to its reputation as craggy and chilling and gorgeous.

A particularly endearing edition of Commission! Commission!, graced by the talents of Joe Fisher and Carlos Murillo and David Adjmi and seven more outstanding writers. Storm being commissioned to sing a paean (written by Sam Gregory and composed by Rick Lewis) to fabulous food writer Joan Cirillo, and Marc Acito capping the evening by auctioning himself off and writing a hilarious play on less than no notice.

How well Storm Large’s work in progress, Crazy Enough, turned out! And sharing a moment afterward with director Chris Coleman when we were too shattered to talk about it.

The Flash Choir performing a vocal recitative on the Armory’s stairs leading up to the mezzanine in which they sang the title of every play that’s ever appeared in ten years of JAW Festivals – and seeing Rose Riordan get verklempt over the performance.

The line for Storm’s workshop snaking all the way around the corner on Eleventh Street and down into Vera Katz Park.

Lane Hunter’s charming dance piece, inspired by Donald O’Connor’s famous scene in Singing in the Rain. You could look down at the event from the mezzanine and look at a video projection of the piece as Lane performed it – giving you a totally different parallax. From the video vantage, it looked as though the dancers were flying up from the chair and climbing the walls like geckos.

The eerily apt curtain raisers written by the four Promising Playwrights especially for the Festival (one of whom was excommunicated from his family as a consequence, apparently for writing a piece that cut a little too close to the bone).

The playful spirit of invention that writer C. Denby Swanson and director Jason Neulander infused into the reading of A Brief Narrative of an Extraordinary Birth of Rabbits, in which the stage directions reader served as the script’s impresario.

The closing seconds of Senator Congdon’s Paradise Street, when you realize the play was always bringing you inexorably to that very moment.

The felicity of PlayGroup’s Ten Tiny Playlets zombie musical piece making mayhem in the Playwrights’ Slam. And the poignancy of member Althea Hukari gamely showing up to see it, so soon after her father’s death.

Portland’s trans/lesbian/gay community turning out in force for Sally Oswald’s Pony.

Being too moved to moderate the talkback for Carson Kreitzer’s Enchantment and somehow pulling it together anyway.

Rose getting verklempt all over again at the company post-mortem as she said her final thank-yous.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The End Is Near

JAW formally concluded today with the day-long company post-mortem, in which all the JAW artists participate in a talkback similar to what we do with the general public after each mainstage reading. The difference, of course, is that the company has lived with these plays for at least ten days (or several months, for some of us), so it's a different level of discourse altogether.

The Festival itself is critiqued last of all. Lots of good ideas for JAW 2009, the eleventh-ever edition -- but more on that in due time.

Though I'd like to give you my own account of the Festival, I'm sleepier than a sea cucumber (very, very drowsy indeed)and I'm foregoing JAW's final event -- karaoke till dawn. So in lieu of my ramblings, I give you Marty Hughley's overview from The Oregonian. The photograph above, by Ross William Hamilton, is from that article -- it shows David Pichette and Laura Faye Smith reading in Carson Kreitzer's intensely moving play, Enchantment.

Enjoy. Over & Out,


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

And on the 9th day they rested.

For the Equity-mandated day off, the entire JAW company, along with most of Portland Center Stage's staff, decamped for the Oregon Coast. An hour's drive transported us from Portlandia to Ecotopia's rocky, commanding coastline, viewed from high atop Ecola State Park.

The actual beach was a vertiginous mile-and-a-half hike through the woods, past woodland flowers and gurgling brooks and under majestically towering pines, then all of the sudden: the Pacific! As bracing, bone-chilling and gray-green as ever.

That's a few of the hike survivors up above, very glad to be gathered on the shore at last. From left to right, that's Carson, Megan, Burl Ives, Jessica, Ricardo and Stacia. And also that's Pal Joey at our feet, more concerned with the incoming ice-cold tide, all courtesy of photographer extraordinaire Christine Siltanen.

The hike back up the trail took much, much longer.

Thursday: penultimate day of rehearsals prior to Connie Congdon's playwriting Lab that evening and Commission! Commission! the following evening.


Ecco, the latest vlog created for JAW by the fab Patrick Weishampel. I never seem to wind up in any of this because I'm a moving target at the Festival, or is it just because I'm pulchritudinously challenged, eh, PW???

If you look closely during the one of the canteen interviews, you can see supernova Storm Large gesticulating in the background, and then later rehearsing a bit of one of my favorite numbers from Crazy Enough. But mostly I'm glad this vid focuses so much on two of our "Promising Playwrights" -- grads of our Visions & Voices high school program. These writers spent all two weeks of the Festival working cheek by jowl alongside the professional writers, seeing how they grapple with their works in progress on the way to the Big Weekend. And the PP writers are working on their own plays all along -- curtain raisers, created especially for the Festival, that precede the full-lengths.

This morning, though, we're all on hiatus -- packing the sun block and heading to the stunning Oregon Coast to breathe in a few negative ions and otherwise decompress. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

JAW rolls inexorably on!

JAW: Made in Oregon came to a gloriously off-the-rails finish this evening with Hunt Holman's crazy-ass epic, Willow Jade. Even before the reading started, we knew we were in for a nutty evening when Kelsey noticed a typo in the program. Hunt's bio started out" "The lays of Hunt Holman include Spanish Girl..." Ay yi yi.

What can I say. We. Play. Rough.

And now we press on, as all the out-of-town artists arrive on Friday to commence rehearsing the mainstage works in progress. But in case you couldn't make it to Made in Oregon, here's a glimpse of our first evening:

Monday, July 7, 2008

60-Second Interview: Ginny Foster

JAW: Made in Oregon continues this Wednesday with Ginny Foster's new play, Starvation Heights, adapted from Gregg Olsen 's best-selling true-crime novel of the same name. The question I pose to Ginny below is excerpted from a fuller interview just posted on PCS 's site; click here to read the whole conversation.


Q: Do you feel Starvation Heights is an outrageous play?

A: When I read Gregg Olsen’s book, I realized Linda Hazzard was an outrageous character. In Karin Magaldi’s playwriting class at Portland State — where fracturing the rules of the traditional play was encouraged — I wrote a number of successful one-acts, often outrageous in form and/or content. Starvation Heights is different from my other plays in that I tried to take an ax to any places — or characters — based on my own philosophical and political views, of which I have many little darlings to murder. Most of the true-crime books portray the killer as entirely evil, and do not raise the question of “why does evil exist?” or “why is this person evil?” I left the former question ALONE, because entering that forest would lead me to my usual philosophical dead-end trails.


Wednesday, July 9, 7:30 pm
in the Ellen Bye Studio
@ Portland Center Stage
128 NW Eleventh

Free admission, but seating is limited and occurs on a first come, first served basis. See you there!

Friday, July 4, 2008

60-Second Interview: Hunt Holman

As JAW: Made in Oregon crescendos on Thursday, July 10, you’ll be treated to the work of one of the wittiest, most well-observed social satirists I know: Hunt Holman.
That evening we’ll be hearing Willow Jade, which centers around a rooming house whose most mysterious tenants may or may not be on the lam and have a tantalizing bounty on their heads. The prospect has a galvanizing effect on a group of friends going nowhere fast, all of whom sniff a chance for fast money.

Hunt’s penchant for getting comedy out of people under pressure leads me to today’s 60-Second Interview:

Q: You are one of the most easy-going guys I know. Do you have a Mr. Hyde who takes you over so you can write plays with such sharp satire in them?

A: I remember being backstage at Seattle Rep when Bill Irwin was there playing Scapin. I remember seeing him, surely one of the most civilized gentlemen in show business, do a monkey walk in imitation of the person in front of him, who had no idea. What can I say? There is something inherently vicious in comedy.



by Hunt Holman

directed by Andrew Golla

July 10 at 7:30 pm in the Ellyn Bye Studio

Nowheresville, Washington state. Meet four aging chums with a bad idea: stave off middle age with a game of D & D … in costume. It only gets worse when a scandalous crime explodes next door, and orcs come down out of the mountains.

NB: Admission is freefreefree, but seating is limited and will be offered on a first come, first served basis. See you there.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

How to eat your cake and have it too

********************************************************************************************************* At right is the famous cake created for JAW’s 10th anniversary poster by The Great Society. Check out the video below to see how it was photographed by the brilliant David Emmite at his studio, and subsequently destroyed by voracious PCS staffers. Can you believe I passed up the chance to be a hand model for this shoot?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

60-Second Interview: Matt Zrebski

Rehearsals are already underway for JAW 2008, and audiences will get their first look at our works in progress next week when the Made in Oregon series commences. The three plays of this series are all by fiercely talented Pacific Northwest writers, each with a radically different perspective about life, love, and yes, landscape.

First up is Matthew B. Zrebski, whose play The Cloud-Bangers gets its concert reading on Tuesday, July 8 (details below).

Q: Matt, in this new play of yours, we’re treated to some rather droll sexual peccadilloes. I love it that your humor in this regard is so affectionate. You don’t seem to be lampooning people’s personal kinks; it feels more like you’re celebrating the romantic diversity of our species. What accounts for this beguiling new light touch in your work?

A: As it has for so many artists, the elusive nature of sexuality has always intrigued me. In much of my work, I have explored it through an angry lens -- mostly my anger at the moralists. But in the past few years I have had the pleasure to work extensively in the public high schools, and I have observed a radical shift from a dichotomic and constrictive sexual paradigm to one where a wide range of exploration is celebrated. This new generation has a different take -- one that I admit strikes a big chord of envy within my heart. And I began to think, if you strip guilt and sin out of sexuality, what you have left is nothing more than innocent curiosity. It has a sort of purity about touches on a kind of utopian model...and it’s really quite beautiful. In The Cloud-Bangers I wanted to investigate the romantic issues through this less angry, more innocent lens. And in many ways, I think this shift has allowed me to find a tone that is, perhaps, quite new in my work. We shall see...

* * * * * * * * *

written and directed by Matthew B. Zrebski

Tuesday, July 8, 7:30 pm
The Ellen Bye Studio Theater @ Portland Center Stage
128 NW Eleventh Avenue (between Couch & Davis)

Admission is FREE, but seating is limited and is provided on a first come, first served basis. See you there.