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

CHECK OUT DEVAN’S BLOG

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: Marcus Youssef and James Long

Marcus Youssef and James Long – Winners and Losers

Marcus and Jamie are two of Vancouver’s most prominent theatre makers. We are incredibly excited to help bring them to Portland!

It seems like I’ve known these two forever as they are some of the most welcoming hosts for my annual pilgrimage to the PuSh Festival in Vancouver, BC.

My first encounter with either of these artists was in 2010, seeing Clark and I Somewhere in Connecticut by Theatre Replacement featuring James Long in a full body bunny suit. It was a fascinating piece about creating art with found objects (in this case a discarded photo album) and the way we project stories onto images. Since then we’ve shared many conversations and cocktails leading to this current moment. There are so many collaborators in this piece, it’s a veritable “who’s who” of Canadian theatre!

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

Winners and Losers is a staged conversation that embraces the ruthless logic of capitalism, and tests its impact on our closest personal relationships as well as our most intimate experiences of self.

Theatre artists and long-time friends Marcus Youssef and James Long sit at a table and play a game they made up, called winners and losers. In it, they name people, places or things — Tom Cruise, microwave ovens, their fathers, rainforests, druids, etc. — and debate whether these things are winners or losers. As each seeks to defeat the other, the debate becomes highly personal, as they dissect each other’s individual, familial and class histories. And because one of these men is the product of economic privilege, and the other not, the competition very quickly begins to cost.

READ: “Virtuoso wordplay gives way to nasty verbal sparring in this tour de force” Paula Citron, Globe and Mail. May 23, 2013.

READ: “Winners and Losers Hits the Bullseye”Village Voice

READ: “Now Playing: Winners and Losers”. The New Yorker.

READ/VIEW: “Friendship Frays, a Topic at a Time” Charles Isherswood, The New York Times. February 1, 2015.

READ: “Winners and Losers is one of the best shows of the season” Colin Thomas, The Georgia Straight. November 26, 2012.

WATCH OUR VIDEO TRAILER FOR WINNERS AND LOSERS

BUY TICKETS

 

BIOS

THEATRE REPLACEMENT

Theatre Replacement is an ongoing collaboration between James Long and Maiko Bae Yamamoto. Whether working together or apart, we use extended processes to create performances from intentionally simple beginnings. Our work is about a genuine attempt to coexist. Conversations, interviews and arguments collide with Yamamoto and Long’s aesthetics resulting in theatrical experiences that are authentic, immediate and hopeful. www.theatrereplacement.org

NEWORLD THEATRE

Neworld Theatre creates, produces, and tours new plays and performance events. We tell stories that are as complicated and contradictory as the enormously small country we live in. Historically, our work is rooted in an experience of ethnic and cultural diversity. While diversity remains a core value, our programming now asks a broader range of questions about political responsibility, identity, and difference. We ask artists and audiences to embrace work which challenges assumptions about the nature of theatre and its function in the world www.neworldtheatre.com

MARCUS YOUSSEF (writer/performer)

Marcus’ plays include Winners and Losers, Leftovers, Jabber, How Has My Love Affected You?, Ali & Ali and the aXes of Evil, Everyone, Adrift, Peter Panties, Chloe’s
Choice and A Line in the Sand. They have been performed dozens of times at theaters and festivals across North America, Australia and Europe, including: the Dublin Theatre Festival, Soho Rep, Festival Trans Ameriques, PuSh Festival (four times), Noorderzon (Netherlands), Ca Foscari (Venice), Brno Festival (Czech), Aarhus Festival (Denmark), On the Boards (Seattle) the Magnetic North Festival (five times), and many others. Marcus’ essays, journalism and fiction have appeared in Vancouver Magazine, the Vancouver Sun, Grain, This Magazine, the Georgia Straight, The Tyee, and many programs on CBC Radio and TV.

Awards and nominations include: Governor General’s, Rio-Tinto Alcan Performing Arts, Chalmer’s Canadian Play, Seattle Times Footlight, Arts Club Silver Commission, and Vancouver Critics’ Choice (three times). Marcus is Artistic Director of Vancouver’s Neworld Theatre, sits on the city’s Arts and Culture Policy Council, and co-founded the East Vancouver production hub, PL1422. He has served on the faculties of Concordia and Capilano Universities, teaches widely, and is currently a Canadian Fellow to the International Society of Performing Arts. neworldtheatre.com, @marcusyoussef, marcusyoussef.com

JAMES LONG (writer/performer)

James Long has been making theatre since 1995 and currently artistic directs Theatre Replacement with Maiko Bae Yamamoto. The company’s work has been presented in 40 cities and venues across North America and Europe and includes Clark and I Somewhere in Connecticut, Sexual Practices of the Japanese, BIOBOXES: Artifacting Human Experience, WeeTube, Dress me up in your love, The Greatest Cities in the World, Winners and Losers and Kate Bowie among others. Upcoming works with TR include Town Criers and Three Lectures on the North. As a freelance artist he has worked as a director, writer and actor with Rumble Productions, Neworld, urban ink, Leaky Heaven Circus (now Fight with a Stick), The Only Animal, The Chop Theatre, CBC radio and The Electric Company, among others. Recent favorite freelance work includes: Morko and its upcoming partner piece Loch – both site oriented performances created with visual artist and animator Cindy Mochizuki; How To Disappear Completely created for the Chop Theatre with lighting designer Itai Erdal: and, with Neworld, a new incarnation of the King Arthur story as told by Niall McNeil and Marcus Youssef. In addition to creating new work, James has taught performance and methods of creation to established artists across Canada and to students at The University of British Columbia, The University of Regina, Simon Fraser University, Studio 58 and Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts. He is a graduate of SFU’s School of Contemporary Arts.

CHRIS ABRAHAM

Chris Abraham has been the Artistic Director of Crow’s Theatre since 2007. At Crow’s, he has directed numerous productions including Eternal Hydra, I,Claudia, Boxhead, The Country, and Instructions to any future socialist government wishing to abolish christmas. Chris is a multi-award winning theatre and film director, dramaturg and teacher who has worked with Canada’s foremost artists and theatres, including the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Canadian Stage Company, Tarragon Theatre, Segal Centre, Centaur Theatre, Globe Theatre, Theatre Junction, among many others. In 2000, he co-founded and was the Co-Artistic Director of Bill Glassco’s Montreal Young Company. In 2003, Chris directed the film adaptation of Kristen Thomson’s award winning hit I,Claudia for which he won a Gemini award. The film was also named one of 2004′s top ten Canadian films by the Toronto International Film Festival.

A graduate of the National Theatre School’s directing program, Chris later served as Co-Director of the school’s renowned directing program (2006-2010). Chris was the recipient of the John Hirsch and Ken MacDougall awards and the Siminovitch award for Directing in 2013, as well as the Siminovitch protege award in the award’s inaugural year. Chris has directed the highly lauded Stratford Shakespeare Festival productions of For The Pleasure of Seeing Her Again, The Little Years, The Matchmaker, Othello in 2013 and returns in 2014 to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Chris lives in Toronto with his wife, actor Liisa Repo-Martell, their daughter Hazel and son Leo.

 

THEATRE REPLACEMENT WEBSITE

NEWORLD THEATRE WEBSITE

GET A COPY OF A WINNERS AND LOSERS SCRIPT

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Guest Blogger: Beth Thompson

From the dancing brain blog by Beth Thompson:


Beth in Orlando at Profile Theater (photo by David Kinder)

Beth in Orlando at Profile Theater (photo by David Kinder)

RISK/REWARD:

A wonderland of sun and clouds intermittently warmed my face on the way to the theatre today. A fresh breeze to compliment the click of my boots – a literal breath of fresh air – and with the freedom of the breeze I became aware that I was free from any expectations as to what I would see at the opening night of Risk/Reward 2016. I had no expectations of the subject matter or mediums I would see. And, I had no expectation that I needed to like what I saw. I was free of any need to ‘get’ something out of these creations.

From my humble perspective, the work created by this year’s Risk/Reward artists is intelligently structured, clearly delivered, and rooted in an appreciation for that special gift of live performance; the simple fact that 100+ human beings are in a room together, each having an individual experience of a shared moment in close quarters surrounded by strangers. Ahhh, the audience, my favorite thing about live performance, and it’s delightful to watch several very different styles of performance rooted in that interest.
Milton Lim’s work okay.odd., demands the most from this special relationship. His work opens with a quietly intimate and professional ritual acknowledging his ancestors and ours. He exits and a video/sound installation guides the audience into a meditative awareness of their breath. From this intimate place of meditative awareness, Lim throws us into a visual onslaught of seemingly random words which command the entire space while the beat drives and shakes the theatre. Observing my breath through the brutality of light and language, I could feel the subtle tightening of my shoulders and ass. I was present with the tension that sneaks it’s way into the never-ending stream of stimulus that greets me daily. At the end of this exhausting immersion (Lim’s description notes that we are experiencing a short length session), Lim comes back on stage to connect and invite the audience to end the experience by sharing a ‘tender touch’ with the artist. The work is passionately ritualistic. Lim believes he can truly connect with his audience and isn’t afraid of pissing them off with a form that is, frankly, uncomfortable. After Lim’s piece I realized my heart was racing and I was out of breath, his strobe affect had sent me into a kind of adrenaline state. Lim’s relationship to the audience is certainly the most demanding on the audience, though other works acknowledge this special gift of audience in their own ways.
Anthony Hudson (Carla Rossi) is using some of theatre oldest forms remade through his dance-drag-song-comedy-multimedia extravaganza. He speaks directly with the audience, sharing and responding.  He reveals himself to us as he strips away his wig and white face, he leaves his ‘mask’ behind and his identity becomes more complex. Revelation, comedy and culture are his tools. As he makes us laugh, we want him to be our friend so he can call us out in the midst of this mess of a racist culture we were both raised in.
Comparatively to Hudson’s ease of style, Vanessa Goodman’s solo dance work is marked by a trapped and tortured movement quality, the few moments of release are flung out through barrels of explosion. At the top of the piece her gaze is fixed and searching towards the sky. It is only as she slowly (oh, so slowly) becomes willing and able to hide her torture under a mask of socially appropriate gesture, that her gaze lowers towards the audience. She smiles. She is more accessible to the world and yet further from her self. This simple, slow change in her gaze took my attention away from my empathy for this character putting on socially acceptable mask and toward the question, “Am I complicit in the self-injuring performances given by others around me simply by agreeing to be their audience?”
Aside from my own fascination with how different artists are driven to engage with their audience, it was also simply wonderful to see five deeply disparate forms on the same stage. Goodman’s dance and Hudson’s drag narrative are followed by Lim’s violent ritual of meditation and connection. And, after a brief respite, we sink into Portland’s SNKR and their visual sonic landscape. I was immersed in the color, rhythm and vibrancy of their video creation and struck by the artistry of how they were able to co-mingle the architecture they created on stage with the architecture of the video media. I had no sense of “This piece is about…” and I didn’t need it. I was simply drenched in the moment at hand. Their work gave me new hope for how video and live performance can work together. Finally, Ilvs Strauss’ Doin’ It Right dived into my home vocabulary. Weaving subtle gesture, dance and relationship through a score of music and pre-recorded text, Strauss narrative simply and honestly invites the audience to peer into her personal exploration of that never simple question, “Is there such a thing as right and wrong?”
Thematically, this year’s Risk/Reward line up is all wound up in the experience of where we come from, how we’re negotiating that history, and the immediacy of sharing these questions with the people in the room today.
I walked into the theatre calm, free of expectation. I walked out riled up. Riled up with questions about and appreciation for these artists, the structures and media they created to share with this unsuspecting audience. An audience who didn’t know what they came for. Who didn’t have to enjoy every moment of it. An audience just has to show up and be willing to offer their presence as generously as the performers do each night.

Artist Profile: Frédérick Gravel

ON DEMAND: Frédérick Gravel – Usually Beauty Fails

Deux couples 300CR

Portland, get ready for Frédérick Gravel!

I was lucky to catch Usually Beauty Fails at the PuSh Festival in Vancouver, B.C. in late January. I had heard rave reviews and some skepticism when the piece toured to Seattle at On the Boards the week prior (where the film we are screening was captured). I was in awe of many parts of this piece – the raw energy of the performers, the incredible live music, the casual humor in Gravel’s addresses to the crowd, and the incredible intimacy that traveled back 30 rows to where I was sitting. Hopefully we will see Gravel’s work live on our stages soon, but until then I’m excited to be able to bring this film version of Usually Beauty Fails to Portland!

BIO

Frédérick Gravel is a dancer, choreographer, guitarist, singer, and lighting designer whose work is presented not only in underground performance spaces in Montreal and New York, but at scholarly symposia as well. Gravel cultivates artistic ambiguity, cultural meeting points, the mixing of disciplines, and post-modern irony. He plays with the contemporary zeitgeist; flippant and skeptical. He is complicit with the audience, thumbing his nose at the avant-garde; at the exclusive preserves of the elite. In lucid, offhand fashion, he takes popular culture and establishment culture out of their assigned roles and brings them together.

PERFORMANCE SYNOPSIS

Socio animalus. Three musicians plugged into the power grid, six dancers ready to explode, the energy of Pop to intensify the beat, the energy of desire to set things ablaze. Quebec’s Frédérick Gravel ignites bodies and blows up the stage in Usually Beauty Fails, a surrealist and unbridled metaphor about our relation to beauty, the shock of love and the challenges of relationships. The performers’ combination of physical restraint and furious involvement produces a nervous dialog made of projected bodies, ruptures, false starts, repetitions and aborted gestures. No more gender-related clichés, all individualities are asserted: desiring and desired beings make use of symbols and their own bodies to better arouse the audience. The choreographer-dancer-musician grabs the microphone to distil with humor and impertinence a speech about dance and humans as social animals. An audacious integration of popular culture and choreographic art; an invigorating and carnal work that posits conflict as art and elevates reality’s imperfections to the rank of most efficient aesthetic.

Once more bringing together dancers and musicians in a space where choreographic show and concert are interwoven, Quebec’s Frédérick Gravel plays with the codes of contemporary dance and pop culture to question their respective canons. Built upon a series of short scenes in the manner of Gravel Works (which itself preceded Tout se pète la gueule, chérie), the work goes by like the songs of a sweet and savoury album about the fury of life, our unease at experiencing beauty and the difficulty in finding harmonious contact points in relationships.

Inspired by the aesthetic of videos where the desire to please is so strong that they become quasi-pornographic, the choreographer exacerbates frontality and tackles the game of seduction in group movements where dancers are as vulnerable as provocative. It is difficult for the public to remain indifferent to this silent appeal. But from one sequence to the next, the atmosphere transforms itself, we are plunged into another universe : guitarist, dancer and sometimes also singer, Gravel grabs the microphone in between two songs, like an irreverent M.C., and takes a few jabs at contemporary dance clichés as he breaks the fourth wall.

In the sections where the duo embodies the paradox of relationships that the body calls for but that the mind refuses, he refines his aesthetic of the accident, using physical constraints to generate conflicts that in turn produce movement. Combining choreographed and reflex gestures, the dancing results from a succession of frictions, accidents and failures that reveal the nature of beings endowed with wild vitality and unstoppable perseverance despite their repeated setbacks. No exuberance, no lyricism, no crisis nor any other theatrical construction. The movements are raw. The hips and the eyes carry the strong emotional and sexual charge. Dancing bodies in the instant of instinct. Animality and candor of the human beings stripped of his or her masks and judgment filters.

As a choreographic entity integral to the show, the live music sets the tone and gives a color and a direction, or on the contrary, appears to break an image, sweeps through a scene like a tidal wave. Perfectly integrated to the mise-en-scene, the bodies of the musicians bring us back to the reality of the show’s space-time, offering the spectator a perspective on the fiction created through the abstraction of the dance.

Like all previous works by Frédérick Gravel, Usually Beauty Fails was created in close collaboration with all members, dancers and musicians of GAG : the Grouped’ArtGravelArtGroup. (Text: Fabienne Cabado / Translation : Michel Moussette)

WATCH OUR VIDEO TRAILER FOR USUALLY BEAUTY FAILS

WATCH AN INTERVIEW WITH FRÉDÉRICK GRAVEL ABOUT USUALLY BEAUTY FAILS

FIND US ON FACEBOOK

READ A REVIEW OF USUALLY BEAUTY FAILS BY VANGUARD SEATTLE