Sunday, June 28, 2009

Slouching toward summertime

I hope you're happy, all you sun worshippers. Summer has come to Oregon -- yes, even here -- and now it will be hothothot all the live-long day. Nice for some, but we creatures of the night wither when the UV rays come out.

One good thing about July, though: JAW takes over the Armory, and original playwriting -- highly original playwriting, mind you -- comes at you from every cranny.

More about the full slate later, but as a teaser, let me tantalize you with the Made in Oregon reading pictured here. MIO, by the by, is a series of readings that focuses on the burgeoning playwriting scene happening in Portland and elsewhere in Cascadia. These readings are rehearsed but not workshopped as fully as the plays presented in the JAW Weekend, so they have a rough-and-ready feel to them that suits the reading format muy bien, thank you so much.

Andrea Stolowitz' new play Bad Family, which debuts on Thursday, July 16 at 6:00pm, is the last of the four plays in the 2009 edition of Made in Oregon, but Andrea since is the first writer to send me a postcard, I share it with you first.

And can I just say: look at that cast. These actors could animate The Faerie Queene, but fortunately they have much livelier material to work with here. Andrea's play gives us a fabulously fury of a teenager named Alexandra who is prone to using her neighbor's lawn to cast spells that she hopes will dissolve the marriage of her and stepfather. When she hijacks the car and the neighbor for a road trip into the desert, well....let's just say the road to revelation is paved with bad intentions.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll try to profile each of the 2009 JAW playwrights to find out what their big trips are.

Meanwhile, I'll comfort myself with the knowledge that ever since the summer solstice, the days are getting imperceptibly shorter and shorter....

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hot time in the old town tonight

Okay, I’m back. After an 11-day hiatus. After seeing this blog's site meter dwindle from nearly 300 at the previous entry to 31 yesterday. Ouch.

Sorry! I wasn’t being a slugabed – quite the contrary. To my ongoing surprise and delight, SuperScript continues to attract clients – who knew it would take off so fast? But now I’m semi-back in the saddle – or back in the Aeron chair, anyway. And I was saying around the corner in The Editing Room, it’s easier just now to repeat other people’s news, so here goes.

Tonight only, head over to Portland Playhouse for a reading an hilarious Adam Rapp play that is scabrous even by his standards: Bingo with the Indians, all about a down-in-the-mouth theater troupe that decides to finance its next production by knocking over a bingo parlor. The dialogue is gut-bustingly snarky, but look out – this is the same Mr. Rapp who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, a few years ago, for the bleak and devastating Red Light Winter. In other words . . . expect reversals of fortune.

Did I mention that Adam’s brother, Anthony, he of Rent fame, he of the above photo, headlines a superb cast? And that the cast of the touring production of Rent is rumored to heading up a celebrity audience? Don’t miss it:

When: Fri., June 26, 11 pm; Phone: 503.488.5822; Price: $10
602 NE Prescott St. :: 503.488.5822 ::

Doors open at NINE with a live band and other hijinks. Go tonight and someday you’ll be to able to tell your grandkids about it.

But wait, there’s more. Sojourn Theatre, one of the nation’s most innovative companies, is having an event on July 1 that will benefit their next piece, On the Table, which they’re calling their most ambitious endeavor yet. Here’s how artistic director Michael Rohd describes the work in progress:

As this really ambitious project, On The Table, picks up pace (the show will happen Summer 2010 simultaneously in PDX and a small town 50 miles from PDX, and explores the urban/rural conversation in OR, culminating with a bus trip for both audiences and a final Act at an in-between site), we're taking a moment to connect specifically around the support we need to continue making ambitious, local work.

That support is the event pictured below – come if you can, and if you can’t come, consider sending Sojourn a donation. We are so lucky to have this national treasure working right here in Portland OR; I’d love to keep it that way. Details here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Up in Arms

Every year is different when adjudicating the Drammy Awards, the ceremony known informally as Portland’s biggest cast party. Fifteen of us see scads of plays all year long; the commitment is to see at least 50 different productions annually, though many members see 80+. It’s a labor of love, for sure, and every Committee member takes the mission – to acknowledge outstanding work in the theater – very seriously.

This past season was my third on the Committee. For me personally (though I think most or all of my colleagues would echo this), every year has had its share of triumphs and disappointments. To put it another way: I’m always thrilled that work I thought was astonishing got recognized publicly as such; and I’m always agonized that some work I thought was gobsmackingly brilliant didn’t make the final vote.

For various reasons, this past ceremony had more than its shares of ups and downs. I had many more disappointments than previously, with work I strongly thought was outstanding going unsung.

That doesn’t mean I think the Awards are broken, or antique, or dispensable. There are checks and balances in the voting system to help ensure awards aren’t handed out casually. But that same system probably leads to less recognition being awarded that I/we would sometimes like.

A glaring case in point is that we wound up giving no award for Playwriting this time, even though there were excellent candidates. This wasn’t intended as some big statement about the quality of playwriting in Oregon; in fact, that art form is burgeoning here, and it could have been a great year to acknowledge that. But the vicissitudes of the system forestalled that, this time around.

Anyhow. Long post already, so I’m appending an eloquent protest crafted by the fab Marc Acito and the beatific Cynthia Whitcomb below, signed by 31 different playwrights who are either from here or who have been produced here. Marty Hughley published this statement today on, where you can read people’s responses to it.

BTW, this protest has already had a positive effect – the Drammy Committee now has a subcommittee that takes special responsibility for the consideration of original playwriting. Believe me, the Committee is already rigorous in its deliberations; I wish everyone could hear the depth of discourse that takes place during its discussions. A subcommittee comprised of “stakeholders” in new writing will simply serve to augment those discussions. Nevertheless, as Martha would say: it’s a good thing.


An Open Letter to the Portland Drammy Award Committee:

On Monday, June 8th, the Portland Drammy Awards once again celebrated every aspect of theatre from actors and directors, to sets, costumes, sound, music, even going so far as to acknowledge the ushers and folks who work in the box office. One category, however was noticeably absent: the very people who create theatre from literally nothing and without whom there would be no theatre, save a few stray mimes and improv events. That’s right, the playwrights.

Portland had many productions this year that were either world premieres or written by local playwrights or both, including Apollo, Cooler, Holidazed, Crazy Enough, Live Nude Fear, New Believers, and Pylon. To snub this group is not only baffling, it’s an insult in the extreme.

Other cities, many less literate and writer-friendly than Portland, honor writers in their regional theatre award ceremonies: notably the Tony Awards in New York City, (awards for playwrights, as well as writers of the books for musicals); the Jeffs in Chicago (two writing awards for original plays and adaptations); the Barrymore Award in Philadelphia for a world premiere play; and three writing prizes from the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics for new plays.

Portland has the biggest and best bookstore in the country. We have one of the largest writing organizations in the country, Willamette Writers, with 1,600 members. We have more best-selling authors than demographics would dictate (Jean Auel, Chuck Palahniuk, Chelsea Cain, Philip Margolin, to name a few). We have the Wordstock literary festival. And two new play festivals, Fertile Ground and JAW.

So why is it that one of the most literate cities in America, with one of the healthiest theatre communities, chooses to overlook playwrights for the second year in a row and the fourth time in the past eight seasons, ignoring such critically acclaimed world premieres as Celebrity Row and Another Fine Mess, the latter of which went on to become a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize? We the undersigned writers urge the Portland Drammy committee to wake up and acknowledge the source of great theatre.

Because the pen is mightier than the plastic stage sword.

Marc Acito
Adam Bock
Michael Thomas Cooper
Sandra de Helen
A.J. Doherty
Steven Drukman
Andrew Golla
Ciji Guerin
Wayne Harrell
Jordan Harrison
Michael Allen Harrison
Theresa Hernandez
Rolin Jones
Bill Johnson
Nancy Keystone
Sherry Lamoreaux
Storm Large
Susan Mach
Ellen Margolis
Christine McKinley
James Moore
Itamar Moses
Steve Patterson
Ebbe Roe Smith
Andrea Stolowitz
George Taylor
Molly Best Tinsley
Dan Trujillo
Cynthia Whitcomb
Eugenia Woods
Matt Zrebski

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Night at the Drammys

Is it just me or was this a particular wild Drammy ceremony this year?

Once again, I’m happy to report that bloggers more quick on the draw than I am have already covered the particulars, including Alison Hallett over at BlogTown and the ineffable culturejock at Culture Shock. But neither reported on the radiant nimbus sported by Megan Ward, which was so glam as to hold its own against the evening’s other goddess, Storm Large (our tattooed answer to Grace Kelly).

So now I’m free to talk about my favorite part of the evening: myself.

Again this year, the fabulous people at the Portland Area Theatre Alliance hosted a segment of the ceremony called The Spotlight Awards. These are kind of like Portland theater’s version of the People’s Choice Awards; in truly democratic fashion, any PATA member can nominate people who aren’t usually recognized in awards ceremonies: stage managers, for instance, and crew members, and … others.

While I’m as “other” as they come, nobody told me I’d been nominated. By that point in the ceremony, my mind had wandered briefly…I was thinking about the ancient Hitchcock film, Notorious, which I had just discussed with Marissabidilla a couple of nights before, and I wondered if it could be useful to me as I continued to tinker with another Bluebeard adaptation, Gozzi’s Zenobia

Then all of the sudden I heard my name, and Megan jumped out of her chair and there was all this racket and I thought Oh no, now I’ll have to go up there. So I did, but it was flummoxing in the extreme because I didn’t actually know what I was going there for at that moment. Jen Raynak crowned me with the lovely tiara you see at the right (hand-made by herself), and I said thank you to the microphone and I fled.

Now I regret that; probably I disappointed some people by not saying a few words. (Though no doubt others were grateful.) So I’ll say a very few words now. Now that I know what the distinction was for.

Theater folk of Portland: it means everything to me that you wanted this award to be an encouragement to me. To say you’re proud of me. Because I’m proud of you, too. In the U.S. we have several cities with theater scenes that reflect what’s unique about where they are; I wonder if you realize that Portland is that way, too. There’s nowhere like it. And over the past seven years I’ve seen it grow and knit together till it’s become the city’s last big secret, invisible to many of its citizens but beloved by those have sought it out. I know that many of you could work in bigger markets and more glittery venues. But you choose to be here, and I’m grateful for that.

Gertrude Stein once wrote that personality reflects landscape – you move to San Francisco or Los Angeles knowing that an earthquake could kill you at any second, or instead you stick with certain Midwest states where you can be sure nothing will happen to you for the rest of your life. What does it say about us that we choose to live in this green corner of the wild, wild west? In the shadows of volcanoes, in a greenbelt between an ocean and a desert? I think it’s something to do with the DIY, rough and ready ethic of the Northwest – that sense that BY GOD I have something to say and I want to say it where people just might listen.

Seriously, more days than not I think about how lucky I am to live here and to work alongside tireless and dedicated artists who are so incredibly singular. I applaud your individualism, and I’m also gladdened that you can temporarily give it up when it really counts.

It touches me that you count me among your own. Thank you.

Monday, June 8, 2009

I got your summer reading right here

“There are a million stories in the naked city. Portland Noir collects 16 of them.”

Good news: now you can indulge your sweet tooth for fun summer reading fare and remain au courant at the same time, thanks to Akashic Book’s recent release of Portland Noir. This collection of 16 all-new stories “explores the dark, rainy underbelly of one of America’s most beautiful but enigmatic cities,” so there.

You don’t need to know Portland to appreciate the literary quality of the miniature gems, but if you are familiar with the place, you’ll appreciate how sharply observed and ground in setting all the stories are, without exception. In terms of locale, they range from Felony Flats to the gilded Pearl District, from Seven Corners to St. Johns – all over the place. Similarly, they range in tone from wry to harrowing to wistful. It’s the best evocation of the Rose City I’ve seen since Mr. Palahniuk’s Fugitives and Refugees.

Some of Stumptown’s favorite resident writers contribute to the book, including Monica Drake and Floyd Skloot. My personal fave is Karen Karbo’s hysterical piece “The Clown and Bard,” about an anti-protagonist so fecklessly self-deceiving that by the end of the story, you may know him better than he knows himself.

Next up: Portland Queer: Tales of the Rose City, edited by Ariel Gore (who also contributes to Portland Noir), a compendium equally endowed with Portland literary lions such as Marc Acito and Tom Spanbauer.

Please note: several contributors to Portland Queer, including the pulchritudinous Mr. Spanbauer, will read TONIGHT, at 7pm, at Broadway Books. I’ll be at the Drammys and so will have to miss this event – please go and let me know what all happens.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Actor's Nightmare, for fun & profit

The insouciant and polytalented Xtine has published such a beguiling notice about the upcoming Anonymous Theatre event that I'm just going to reproduce it in full. (How conVEEEEEnient! Thanks, Xtine!)

NB>> this outrageous annual event takes place this Sunday ONLY. Miss it and be left out of the conversations discussing it all the rest of the year.


portland shakespeare lovers etc.!

the good and wacky people at theater vertigo and anonymous theater are producing a one night performance of MACBETH this sunday, june 7th at 7pm. gerding theater at the armory. (the new portland center stage)

the whole thing is cast in secrecy, with the actors showing up that night not knowing who they are going to do the play with. they just go for it. right there. real time. no rehearsal. one shot.

for the love of pete, can you believe someone thought this up?

come catch the madness this sunday!


protest this kind of actor torture by sending your cards and letters to the demented folks at anonymous theater! ;)

info here



keep listening

or, sidle up

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Portland theater's annual block party

From Katherine King's press release:


WHAT: 30th Anniversary Drammy Awards

WHERE: Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W. Burnside St., Portland, OR

WHEN: Monday, June 8

6:00 PM Social hour and slide presentation

7:00 PM Awards presentation

COST: FREE ADMISSION, no-host bar and pizza

DRESS: Theatrical, elegant, innovative. Costumes are encouraged.

Welcome to the biggest all-theater cast party’s 30th anniversary celebration. Mark your calendars and spread the word. Last year’s ceremony, featuring theatrical exuberance and flamboyant d├ęcor, drew well over 600 attendees. So plan to attend this year, because even if you don’t come with a group, there are sure to be people you know to sit and chat with.

The Masters of Ceremonies this year will be Portland favorites, actor/director Philip Cuomo and actress Maureen Porter. Expect a fun, joke-filled evening. The ceremony includes a slide show retrospective of the 2008-2009 season. This year, in honor of the 30th year of the awards, we will be honoring 30 “unsung heroes” of the theatre scene, who have been suggested by area theaters.
The ceremony is free and open to the public, young and old.

PATA will present their “Spotlight Awards” downstairs in Lola’s Room after the Drammy ceremony. The Spotlight Awards honor the important individuals who work behind the scenes to create great theater. These awards are nominated and voted on by the theater community.

The Drammy awards, a program of the Portland Civic Theatre Guild, are organized by the all-volunteer Drammy Committee, a group of theater artists and administrators, journalists and academics who review well over 100 productions in a season that ends May 24. In order to be considered for a 2009 Drammy Award, a production must be locally produced and has to have run at least eight performances by May 24. Because the awards are presented for “outstanding achievement” rather than “best of”, there is no list of nominees and from 0 to 4 awards may be presented in each category in any given year. Award categories are flexible in order to reflect the work presented in any given year.

The Drammy Award Ceremony is sponsored by Melvin Mark Properties, the Portland Civic Theatre Guild, Bardy Trophy and Culver Glass.