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




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.



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!


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.


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.


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.




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.


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.


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.





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.


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.


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.”





Artist Profile: Pepper Pepper

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

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.


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.


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.





Artist Profile: Donal Mosher & Shannon Stewart

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

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.


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.


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.





Artist Profile: Linda Austin Dance

Linda Austin Dance (Portland, OR): A world, a world

Photo by Jeff Forbes.

Risk/Reward Festival welcomes back one of Portland’s most cherished choreographers, Linda Austin, with a work-in-progress excerpt of A world, a world, a dance comprising the 3rd chapter of a three-year arc of work collectively titled (Un)Made. This final chapter is structured around the performers’ relationships to two interrelated worlds: one, saturated, fractured, information-heavy; and the other, more spacious, minimal, and meditative.


Linda Austin, whose career spans nearly 35 years, is a choreographer and performer who creates both improvisational and highly choreographed works that are non-linear, poetic, and often laced with humor, deploying movement that often disrupts the “dancerly.” Her working process brings each performer’s vulnerabilities, strengths, accidental awkwardness, and elegance into a web of relationships with other bodies, objects, environments, sounds, and media.


This excerpt of of A world, a world will reference the first “world”, in which a patterned mural matches performers in similarly patterned costumes. Body blends with body, body is camouflaged against setting, borders between one being and others are blurred. The dancers produce a constant low-level, barely or sporadically decipherable humming, mumbling, and singing of a textual collage from news headlines, songs & poetry, periodically going to headphones mounted on a movable step unit, to receive and channel sound bites referencing the worlds of politics, pop culture, “high” culture, science and philosophy, riffing on these sound bites until they need another “hit.” The dancing references sports scrums, folk dance-like patterns, trance and other motifs in which the individual “disappears” into group, setting, or inwardly into self, inspired by social, cultural, and natural spheres. Throughout, borders of the self are interrogated through the push-pull between autonomy and “groupness.”





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!


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.






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.


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

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., @marcusyoussef,

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 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.







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)


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.