Guest Blogger: Katie Piatt

I love the performance community in Portland. It’s small enough that I hug at least 4 people I know at each show, but big enough that there are always 8 new people to meet and then hug at the next show. This community has a real intimacy to it. Tonight when I was attending the Risk/Reward Festival’s 10th Anniversary show at the Artists Repertory Theatre, I introduced myself to the person who sat down next to me and they responded, “I know who you are. We performed at Risk/Reward together 2 years ago when you pulled me up on stage as a participant.” Color me honored and blushing and excited, and now having a friend to talk with about the show — all made possible by Risk/Reward!

The 2017 Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance brings together a body of the strange, the blossoming, the poetic, the fabulous, the dying, the risky, and the cuttingly comedic in this year’s installment. Those are not listed in a particular order as every piece manifested each in it’s own glorious presentation. The show as a whole demonstrated both private battles and personal growths, as well as what we’ve all been feeling lately with this new regime and it’s centuries old father (patriarchy).

Linda Austin’s A world..a world opened the offering and had me meditating and feeling the way I do when I read the newspaper while intermittently checking my phone updates as the radio plays on in the background. I often get stuck in a brainwave about mortality, and Pam Tzeng’s darkly funny and horror-laden “A Meditation on the End” by Jo-Lee put me in that purgatory space from the scary movie where one possibly knows they are about to die horribly, but still takes the time to remember something dear and mundane from their childhood. Queen Shmooquan (Jeppa Hall) has more tiny penis large balls enormous hairy vagina than any of us mortals. Queen Shmooquan. Dark Wave. was acidic and funny and relatable in ways I never knew possible. If I had known the words to the songs, I would have sung them very loudly with the queen as she regaled us. Also, two words: tampon tassels. Pepper Pepper’s Diva Practice (Solo) was interactive, commanding, classic, and had me gasp as Pepper stripped off the pieces of their corporeal persona in an intimate portrait of a diva at work and play in a solo vignette. Ending the night in a poetic plea for space to speak, breathe, and be, Donal Mosher and Shannon Stewart’s Strange Gardens was an eloquently simplistic evolution of dreams and personal narrative of the inner and outer relationship to one’s body, HIV, and scientific symbolism.

And of course nothing I could write now could really paint you as great a word picture as seeing these pieces in person. As a performance artist myself, this amalgam of work put me in that space where you have ten brainstorms at once and want to write every feeling down and start performing yourself right there from your chair, as well as tell each and every performer what their pieces meant to you. I love the performance community in Portland. There are not enough festivals or platforms like this.

*author would like to note that they did not get a chance to see Kiana Harris’ piece DIVINE, although they are quite sure that it is divine and that you should arrive early to see it!

-Katie Piatt

Guest Blogger: Tamara Carroll

Risk/Reward – A “Theatre Person” on an Evening of Performance Art

Has it started yet?
Is it over?
Did they mean for that to happen?
Was that supposed to be funny?

As primarily a practitioner of “theatre” (put in quotes because a single evening of performance art seems to have left me shaky on what that term really means), but as primarily a practitioner and purveyor of pretty predictably text-driven, “traditional” theatre, if our audience was asking these questions, we would worry we had not done our job well. We would worry our play lacked clarity, specificity, accessibility. It’s fairly rare (though not unheard of) that we seek to confuse or confound our audience. We want to “tell a story,” (does “story” necessarily imply narrative? Suddenly not so sure) for which we expect our audience to be decidedly passive receivers.

Performance art seems to be completely intentional about audience experience, with the audience being a vital and essential ingredient in the artistic moment, while simultaneously not caring in the slightest if the audience understands what the eff is happening. This was a challenge for me, and some of my more traditional theatre-going companions. In the theatre, everything on stage is information, but these performances offered endless streams of information I had no way to decode. Five minutes into the first piece, a music-less modern dance piece scored by an ever-increasingly cacophonic sound collage, I started to panic. “How am I going to write anything intelligent or useful about this? I have no context or appropriate aesthetic criteria from which to form an opinion on this art! Deep shame will befall me if I try to discuss this!” I got into more of a groove with the second piece, and at intermission I proudly shared with my companions that I had totally understood it, only to be told that if I was trying to “figure it out,” I was missing the point. Drat.

My deepest engagement with performance art before last night was when an organization I worked with brought in a guest artist to lead a workshop with incarcerated youth and we required them to demo the workshop before taking it to the youth. The workshop consisted of her having a room full of graduate students and professors clap for 30 minutes straight. No talking. No stopping. No rules. No objective. Just clapping. For 30. Minutes. Straight.

It was actually amazing.

Those 30 minutes contained multitudes in ways I could never have imagined. I went through the full range of human emotion. I decided I would stop about forty times, and didn’t stop, and didn’t know why I didn’t stop, and wondered what that meant about me as a person, and whether I was angry or enjoying myself, and what was happening for everyone else, etc, and that was only the first five minutes.

The Risk/Reward Festival took me on a similar ride of varied emotions and freely associated responses. Presented with the unexpected, the grotesque, the beautiful, the spectacle, the obtuse, without any story to follow, any characters to relate to, any recognizable concrete human experience to relax safely into, my mind went everywhere and asked so many questions. I was leaning forward. A small smattering of people would laugh and I didn’t know why. Occasionally I would laugh and not know why.

Despite having never attended a festival of performance art, it had everything I never knew I expected a performance art festival would have. Live multimedia/performer interaction, varying degrees of nudity, assaultive noise and frenetic movement followed by prolonged moments of stillness and silence, durational tests of endurance, genitals in hats, and of course, Trump masks.

For this traditional, narrative-driven frequent theatre-goer, the risk of unknown was well worth the reward of the unexpected, unexplained, uncategorizable experience. Thanks, Risk/Reward, for another year of making this festival happen!

-Tamara Carroll

Guest Blogger: Devan Wardrop-Saxton

Twenty minutes is nothing, and forever.

At Risk/Reward, twenty minutes is an entire ecosystem. A planet that unfolds itself, envelops you in its particular air and quality of light, and then—with varying degrees of gentleness—spits you back out into the stars for the next planet to appear out of the darkness and pull you in. Two hours later, walking out after the last piece, I felt like examining myself for passport stamps, skinned knees, seasickness: any lingering sign that my heart and mind had just been whirled into and out of six stunning and gut-busting and gloriously difficult worlds.

Thrillingly, woven into and out of every piece of this year’s festival are women, and with them the many bodies and possibilities of femininity. And they are strong: naked, and strong. Superficial, and strong. Repurposing the the detritus of a world bleached of meaning, seizing the means of objectification to make their own provocations, weightless and powerful against an endless sky. Singing, shrieking, tearing out the eyes of tyrants, sweating off their armor, cradling youth and death with equal tenderness. Strong, ridiculous, defiant, enduring. In the rapid-fire onslaught, I grasped desperately after these images, repeating them frantically to myself in the hopes that I could somehow keep them from fading.

From here, the morning after, some burn brighter than others, but I remain profoundly moved: amazed by the strengths of women, empowered by their emphatic and unstoppable contradictions, and emboldened by the space that they take up in this unpredictable and bruising world.

-Devan Wardrop-Saxton

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Guest Blogger: Mariel Sierra

I thought I knew what Risk/Reward was.

I had no idea.

I still have no idea. Even as I write “Risk/Reward” I realize, “Holy Shit. That’s it. That is literally it.”

For the past eight years that I’ve lived in Portland and known about Risk/Reward, I never really paid attention to the name of the festival and what it meant. The lens through which I examine the world, examined art, was already expanding. But I’m getting a head of myself.

Walking into the theatre, I was immediately struck with its vibrancy. It was as if the audience had brought the sun in with them.

Walking into the theatre, I realized that the vibrancy came from the transformation of the Alder Lobby into a safe, Queer space. My body was ready.

As I’m writing, I keep starting, stopping, and deleting, unable to come up with anything intelligent to say. Sure, I scribbled down a ton of notes in preparation for the thoughtful examination I was going to write, but then I thought, “Fuck it. That’s not my job. What was my experience?”

Last night’s performances were so radically different, but each one left me thinking “How did they do this?”

Like, how did they DO this. How did their brains and their bodies reach this conclusion? The extent in which each artist used, well, themselves, illuminated the limitlessness of our bodies and mind. The creativity and dedication of these artists reach levels I couldn’t even comprehend. The specificity, preparedness, and commitment was astounding. It was the best acting lesson I ever had.

During intermission, a friend of mine made the distinction between bravery and fear by saying, “Bravery implies the overcoming of fear, but that performance was a total absence of fear.” Obviously, my friend is pretty smart, because that epiphany shook me.

Dude, how did they do that?

Each show contained tenderness, pathos, discovery, love, anger, resignation, ugliness, beauty, hungry ghosts, and expansion of self.

Growing up in a theatre family, and then pursuing it as a career, I always thought of myself as a very cultured person, right? Wrong. I have no idea.

What I do know, is that last night I felt elated, sad, uncomfortable, curious, angry, soft, horny, safe, and by proxy, a little bit fearless.

-Mariel Sierra

Risk/Reward: LATE NIGHT EVENTS

RISK/REWARD: LATE NIGHT EVENTS

FRIDAY NIGHT, 6/23

Voicebox Karaoke NW
2112 NW Hoyt St
10pm – 1am

See the art, then BE the art – Join us for opening night celebration KARAOKE in a private lounge room at Portland’s premiere karaoke destination. We will be departing Artists Rep at 9:45pm, following the artist toast, and getting our sing on all night long.

 

SATURDAY NIGHT, 6/24

Coley Mixan (Seattle)
Music/Visual Art
9:45pm – 11:30pm 

Stick around after Saturday’s festival performances to experience Seattle performance artist and musician Coley Mixan as they bring live visual and sonic experience that juxtapose queries into food justice, sound ecology & identity in the Artists Rep lobby following the show. Seeing the show another night? Come out just for this! You don’t want to miss this musician, visual artist, librarian, astronomical sleuth and vegan baker in action!

 

BIO
Coley Mixan’s work percolates love songs to the multiverse through the artists’s body and voice, embodying the making of space-as-time through an intra-exploration of queer agency.  As an agent fascinated by the intricate forms of cultural/caloric/mythological consumption, Mixan is often performed as a switchboard of athletics, (g)astronomic pursuance, and the tortuous discoveries of intra-connected holes, cavities, and channels between gluten chains & sound waves.

Check out Coley’s Soundcloud

Artist Profile: Kiana Harris

Kiana Harris (Seattle, WA): DIVINE
Dance Film

Photo by Kiana Harris.

In a Risk/Reward first, Seattle filmmaker Kiana Harris’s film series, DIVINE, will be installed in the Artists Rep lobby before and after the performances. We invite you to arrive early or stay late, but MAKE SURE to watch the 20-minute film piece about the reclamation of black female liberation.

BIO

Kiana Harris, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, received early dance training at Dance Spectrum School of Dance where she took her very first ballet class at the age of six. In 2003, she was invited to study and perform with Dance Contempo Company where she expanded her repetoire to include various multicultural styles of dance. In spring of 2008, Kiana moved to Seattle, WA to enhance her training as a student at Cornish College of The Arts. An active member of the Seattle dance community, she has danced at local shows such as DanceThis and Black Nativity, as well as being a member of the Afro-Peruvian performance ensemble, De Cajon Project, for the past seven years. In summer 2016, Kiana created and debuted her first dance film entitled “DIVINE” part l and ll available on Vimeo. Her mission as a film maker, is to reclaim images of femininity in a non-exploitative representation from a black women’s lens, and have it be one of many tools to drive black liberation.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

Reflections of body positivity and non-exploitative visuals provide a start to healing the inferiority complex. DIVINE is a trilogy of films that destroy the exploitation of black femme bodies on screen and conveys stories through a black woman’s lens. By sharing these films with other black-identifying women, DIVINE allows dialogue to occur, reclaiming the narrative of how black women’s bodies should and will be portrayed.

WATCH A PREVIEW OF DIVINE, PART I

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Artist Profile: Queen Shmooquan

Queen Shmooquan (Seattle, WA): Queen Shmooquan. Dark Wave.
Performance Art/Comedy/Music

Another Risk/Reward Festival favorite, Queen Shmooquan, is back in Portland — only this time, she’s in a fight for her mortal soul: Part performance art/musical/comedy, our Modern Day Oracle must face the internalized neo-fascist, patriarchal Weiner-ball Priesthood aspects within herself, in a desperate attempt to free her hopeful spirit from a dark wave of doom.

BIO

The hybridized practice of performance artist/comedian, vocalist, and musician, Jeppa K Hall is difficult to describe or even categorize. Subsequently, she has developed a cult-like following and her performances have lent themselves to be featured in just about every type of performance venue imaginable. Through her alter ego QUEEN SHMOOQUAN (the super-real modern day oracle), Jeppa generates solo psychedelic theater performances that merge pop-art clowning with multi-media performance art, music, and non-linear storytelling to create thought provoking, hilarious music and theater that push the boundaries of contemporary and traditional performance mediums.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

In Queen Shmooquan. Dark Wave., The Queen will shape-shift from her lucid plain-talking self into characterizations of the bizarre and dissonant, yet normalized imagery of our current American political and social landscape. Utilizing non-linear storytelling, faux stand-up comedy, movement, and song, along with layered DIY costuming and props, the Queen will seamlessly transition from one costume, performance medium, to the next, resulting in hilarious, fast paced, absurd and surrealistic music and theater. Queen Shmooquan is a trailer park cultural anthropologist, an explorer of subconscious manifestations of fear, self-loathing, violence and hatred that are the dominant features of American mass culture. Her world is one that critiques, celebrates and lampoons American “independence” and its fetish for freedom.

WATCH VIDEO EXCERPTS OF QUEEN SHMOOQUAN’S PREVIOUS WORK

CHECK OUT QUEEN SHMOOQUAN’S WEBSITE

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Artist Profile: Pam Tzeng

Pam Tzeng (Calgary, AB): “A Meditation on the End” by Jo-Lee
Dance/Physical Storytelling/Clown

© Marc J Chalifoux Photography 2017

In her first performance with the Risk/Reward Festival, Calgary performance artist and choreographer Pam Tzeng introduces us to her alter-ego Jo Lee as she uses the process of grief to explore the interplay of abstract and literal.

BIO

Pam Tzeng is a Calgary-based dance artist, performer, choreographer and teacher. Her artistic journey has taken her across Canada, Europe, Taiwan and Brazil. After graduating from the University of Calgary with a B.Sc. in Biology, she went on to nurture her artistic development though freelance education and direct work experience. Tzeng’s interests lie in both solo creation and experimental collaborative projects. Abstract, non-linear narratives often become the frame for her investigations. She is drawn to illusion and discovering new ways of animating object and the body. Coloured by her identity as a Canadian-born Taiwanese woman, Tzeng’s work explores the negotiation between cultural borders and social identities, as well as the tensions between traditional and contemporary mores within the Canadian mosaic.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

With death in arms, then at her feet, Jo-Lee muses on what has given her unconventionally conventional life meaning. With this new work, Tzeng leaps into fragmented memories of an imagined “other”, crafting a poetic and playful theatrical dance that embraces existential longing and mortality. It is an attempt to engage with notions of death and spirituality and to artistically mine the emotional landscape of grief. In the development of the work Tzeng has found inspiration in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, researching the Buddhist concept of ‘bardos’ – the state of existence between two lives, after death and before one’s next birth. The work also draws from a fascination with the phenomenon of life flashing before ones eyes in near death experiences. Enter into the bardos with Jo-Lee as she comes to grips with mortality, finding solace in the face of the “beckoning silence.”

CLICK HERE TO SEE REHEARSAL FOOTAGE OF THIS WORK

CHECK OUT PAM’S WEBSITE

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Artist Profile: Pepper Pepper

Pepper Pepper (Portland, OR): Diva Practice (solo)
Dance

Risk/Reward welcomes back Pepper Pepper’s particular brand of irreverent self-reflection which has graced many a Portland stage (and beyond!), including hosting the wildly successful annual event Critical Mascara: A Post-Realness Drag Extravaganza at PICA’s TBA Festival. Diva Practice (Solo) shows drag queens dancing in the face of uncertainty because being fabulous takes practice, focusing on the body as a site of history and somatic storytelling mapping how “specialness” constructs identities of privilege, queerness, gender and trauma.

BIO

Kaj-anne Pepper (Pepper Pepper) is a multidisciplinary artist working in performance, drag, theatre and dance. Kaj-anne’s fabulous drag persona “Ms. Pepper Pepper” is a humorous yet thoughtful gender-bending MC and entertainer. Together, they explore vulnerability, artifice and identity while turning tragic into magic and trauma into drama. Pepper has premiered new work at festivals, nightclubs, and alternative venues nationally at Pica’s T:BA Festival, Risk/Reward, Dance +, Austin International Drag Festival, NYC’s Hot!fest of Queer Performance and internationally at OFF! Biennale Budapest.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

Could you imagine a drag queen’s birthday/marriage/graduation/coronation/ funeral/celebration all wrapped in one? How about listening to conflicting stories about unique/fake/historical/real/joyful exchanges with imaginary friends at said celebration? Will you watch her as she stutters and shakes, prances and preens between syrupy stillness and pauses filled with somatic touch? Imagine the deliberation and articulation of Alexander technique dancing with the grotesque determination of Butoh. Rhythms of pop music while lip-synching and warbling to music that may or may not be audible. Soft subtle self-indulgences and articulations of spine and face. Eyes closed. The invitation to know something is being felt. A welcoming stillness followed by fingers mapping the muscles of lip and jaw. Hands on heart. Back of hand on pelvis. A soft mutter “I am here”. Pop music fades in, a drag lip-synch from the inside out.

VIEW VIDEO SAMPLES OF PEPPER’S PREVIOUS WORK

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Artist Profile: Donal Mosher & Shannon Stewart

Donal Mosher & Shannon Stewart (Portland, OR
& New Orleans, LA): 
Strange Gardens
Dance

Photo by Donal Mosher.

Strange Gardens is a collaborative performance work by filmmaker/writer/musician Donal Mosher and choreographer Shannon Stewart. The project proposes using HIV as a frame that allows a broader look at the poetics of the interaction between our interior concepts of the body, the science imagery that shape those concepts.

BIO

Shannon Stewart is a choreographic artist, dance filmmaker and writer from the Pacific Northwest, living in New Orleans. As a performer and choreographer she has toured internationally, including interpreting the works of Tino Seghal, Deborah Hay, Joan Jonas, zoe | juniper, tEEth, and many others.

Donal Mosher is a filmmaker, photographer, writer, and musician. He is the collaborative director (with Michael Palmieri) of the award wining documentary features October Country, Off Label and the shorts Rougarouing, Marseilles, and Peace in the Valley. Alongside filmmaking he has published fiction, non-fiction, and reviews including a contribution to the LAMBDA Award winning anthology Portland Queer. His recent photographic work The Vibrancy Is Killing Me was on exhibition in Munich, Germany in 2015.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

Using the vivid side-effect dreams caused by HIV medication as a starting point, Strange Gardens examines the ways we physically see and imaginatively conceptualize the body and illness. The project places photographic images, texts, audio, and video material drawn from personal and public HIV dream experiences alongside an archival history of the micro-visual technologies that have shaped our cultural ideas of the body, disease, and viruses since the19th century. The project also contains film and audio commentary by artist, doctors, and cultural theorists. Strange Gardens is designed to be a lecture-style performance that brings all these elements together with a live narration and accompanying onscreen video.

VIEW VIDEO SAMPLES OF DONAL’S PREVIOUS WORK

VIEW VIDEO SAMPLES OF SHANNON’S PREVIOUS WORK

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