Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What are you doing on Shakespeare’s birthday?

His putative birthday, anyway, which is this coming Saturday, April 23. I’m inviting you herewith to spend part of this high holiday talking about a subject central to the Bard’s life: playwriting.

In honor of the upcoming Oregon Book Awards, the good people at Literary Arts, the Dramatists Guild, Portland Center Stage and Portland Theatre Works are hosting a panel discussion with the nominees for the Angus L. Bowmer Award — that’s the drama prize, mais oui. And guess who’s moderating? Moi-même. But it’s not all about us. We’ll discuss both the plight and the promise of being a contemporary playwright. Can you be one without living in New York? Or sans MFA? How do you get known outside of Portland, which is fast becoming known as the nation’s favorite “tryout town”?

These are a few things we might discuss, but how much we cover is really up to you and your most incisive questions. Our panelists will share their thoughts, and with any luck, so will YOU.

Details in the press release below. Please come!



Panel includes nominees for Angus L. Bowmer Award

This year on Shakespeare’s birthday — Saturday, April 23 — the Dramatists Guild offers Northwest members an opportunity to meet some of Oregon’s finest playwrights, ask questions about their work, and hear what they have to say about the dramatist’s life. The panel discussion includes Wayne Harrel,* Susan Mach, George Taylor,* and Cynthia Whitcomb, the Oregon Book Award finalists for the coveted Angus L. Bowmer Award for Drama.

Marc Acito and Molly Best Tinsley* are also finalists for the Bowmer Award. The winner of Angus L. Bowmer Award for Drama, as well as the Oregon Book Awards winners in seven other categories, will be announced at the Oregon Book Awards ceremony on Monday, April 25, at 7:00 pm at the Gerding Theater. To learn more about the awards ceremony and view a complete list of finalists and nominees in all genres, please visit

The OBA drama panel on April 23 will be held at Portland Center Stage’s Julie S. Vigeland Rehearsal Hall, on the theater’s third floor, 5:30-6:30 pm, and moderated by nationally known dramaturg Mead Hunter. Admission is free. In addition to the Dramatists Guild, event co-sponsors include Literary Arts, Portland Center Stage, and Portland Theatre Works. The Guild’s Oregon representatives, playwrights Andrea Stolowitz and Steve Patterson, will also be on hand to answer questions about Dramatists Guild news and the playwriting trade. Immediately following the panel, members are invited to a wine and cheese reception from 6:30-7:30 on the mezzanine level of Portland Center Stage’s Armory Building.

If you haven’t yet had your fill of culture, PCS also presents a 7:30 pm performance of Opus that evening, and you can receive $5.00 off your ticket price when you mention the promotional code “STRINGS” over the phone or when ordering tickets online. This offer is good for any Tuesday through Sunday performance from April 15 to May 8.

For more information, contact your Oregon Guild reps, Andrea and Steve, or contact Sarah Mitchell, Education & Community Programs Coordinator for Portland Center Stage, 503.445.3795 or

*Dramatists Guild member

Andrea Stolowitz and Steve Patterson
DG Portland, OR co-Regional Reps

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dance, Billy, Dance!

Contrarian that I am, I’m probably the only person you know who wasn’t bowled over by Billy Elliot the movie. Sure, there was plenty to like about the Stephen Daldry vehicle, and I enjoyed it well enough; but instinctively I resisted its multiple attempts to wheedle more and more saltwater from my overworked tear ducts.

Imagine my bemusement, then, when the musical version (also directed by Daldry, with music by Elton John), now playing at the Keller as part of the Broadway Across America tour, was fun and impactful. Big surprise for me: while the musical version has its occasional lapses into Broadway hokum, it actually carries a great of political punch. More about that in a minute.

The play’s narrative strategy involves a lot of plot gapping; it’s clear its devisers decided that since nobody but nobody was showing up who hadn’t seen the movie, they could just drop the pretense of cogent storytelling and hit the high points without further fuss. Hence, for instance, Billy’s love of dance is a big secret in Act 1, and then suddenly whole town knows about it in Act 2. How’d they find out? Who cares! We just want to be there when Billy triumphs.

But this is not to say the book is weak — far from it. As adapted by Lee Hall from his own screenplay, the ongoing struggle of the striking miners is no mere backdrop to Billy’s individuation; the two go hand in hand. The boy’s immediate victory coincides with the strike’s collapse and Thatcher’s successful gutting of a whole way of life — along with the livelihoods and communities that relied upon it.

The musical’s actually at its best when it portrays those struggles through all the resources at its disposal. Of special note is the muscular choreography by Peter Darling, which often interweaves constables and miners to taut effect. During the lighter scenes, this sense of worlds in collision is even joyous, as when a chorus of police backs up a class of young ballet students in a way that makes us laugh yet which also honor the athleticism of dance.

My favorite scene, though, involves a village holiday party and pageant, where the company sings “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” and brings down the house with a colossal Maggie puppet whose grasping, gnarled hands reach out to the audience like she’s coming after them. That gives you an idea of where the script’s sympathies ultimately lie. And in that sense, the story cuts even closer to the mark then it did when the movie was released 11 years ago.

(A quick aside here: Lee Hall, who wrote book and lyrics, is a terrific British playwright whose hilarious and affecting play Cooking with Elvis will make a fortune for the first Portland theater that dares to embrace the script’s uproarious, scabrous and racy sense of humor.)

Usually you have to be quick to catch the Broadway tours as they sprint through Portland, but Billy Elliot the Musical plays here through April 17. Go see it if you can; it’s worth it. Try for mid-orchestra seats, where you’re close enough to see faces but far enough back to take in the whole stage at once. There’s a lot to see in this show, and you’ll want to see it all.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fan mail from some flounder?

Not from a flounder at all, actually — whatever that even means — but one of my most devoted blog-readers. Still I couldn’t resist tarting up this post by using the phrase. Know where it comes from? Here’s a clue.

Anyway. Today I did get fan mail of a sort, clearly intended to be sung to the tune of "Norwegian Wood." I suppose it’s more epitaph than epigram, but I’m taking a compliment where I can find it, okay? Here’s what I got:

you had a blog
or should I say, once it had you.

friends from the bog
often stopped by,
commented too.

I think you were coping with bosses you wished you could roast.
You work for yourself now and never have time left to post.

Now nobody reads
new posts from Mead
this bird is freed.

la la la la
la la la la
la la la la.

In case you’d like to sing along, here’s something Fabulicious for your edification…

…along with my promise (yet again and not for the last time) to post more soon.