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Ready to see some theatre?  You’ll find plenty of resources here.

We recommend you check out Third Rail, defunkt, Liminal, Action/Adventure, Back Fence PDX, Boom Arts, Curious Comedy, Late Night Action, Water in the Desert, The Liberators, Risk/Reward, Our Shoes Are Red, and PETE.

Now See This

Recommended: SPEECHLESS at Siren Theater

Friday, February 5th at 8pm

Improvised business presentations?  Oh yes.

Dylan Reiff (Kickstand Comedy, Tunnel Improv)
Kirsten Kuppenbender (Lez Stand Up)
Bri Pruitt (Late Night Action, Earthquake Hurricane )
Jay Flewelling (J Names, Comedy Grab Bag)

Tickets $10

Speechless

Portland Theatre: Small and smart vs. big and bland

As in a lot of smaller regional cities, the theatre scene in Portland ebbs and flows on the tides of individual artists’ careers.  Over the years, a pattern has repeated.  It goes like this.

Passionate upstarts with a vision set sail and create a new company.  All of a sudden, from out of nowhere, great theatre is on the scene.  It can be as good as it gets.  Anywhere.  Really good.  The audience finds out about it, and the new ship starts gliding smartly o’er the sea.  Good times.

Growth ensues.  Growth is good, right?  The problem with growth in the world of theatre is that there is a huge difference in scale and quality between putting on an authentic experience in a basement that seats 50 and upsizing to a real space for 200.  As we learn (often at considerable discomfort), just because you can do one does not mean you can do the other.  When theatres grow, and the financial pressure to fill those seats increases, storm clouds gather.

After a few years of success on the S.S. Hot New Thing, the reef of institutionalization appears off the port bow.  Ahoy!  Focus now shifts away from creating something memorable for the audience and toward keeping the lights on and “supporting our artists” – the performing arts equivalent of a call to eat your brussel sprouts.  Because, you know, you’re supposed to.

As the top of the success bubble approaches, staffs swell in size.  “Outreach” and “education” (which grants pay for) flourish, while ticket prices contribute less and less.  Shows are now often dull and flat, but companies carry on as if they’re world class.  The ship starts to groan and list, and it is exactly at this moment that promising companies come to grief on the rocks.  They disband, go bankrupt, start performing for high school kids, or (even worse) continue drifting along in an artistic doldrums.  Good theatre has become:

DEADLY THEATUH

Sorry Peter Brook.

Compounding and complicating this life cycle dynamic is the ongoing shipwreck of real media, which makes it hard for normal civilians to follow what’s good.  Could you live in a town with no theatre critic?  You already do (assuming you’re in Portland).  With the transformation of The Oregonian from newspaper of record to online watering hole for C list (A listers have many more attractive locales to frequent), semi-literate, right wingers highly skilled at clicking through 60 popup ads per minute with one hand while banging out illuminating comments for the ages with the other, remaining mainstream theatre “coverage” is now indistinguishable from paid native advertising.

“Events reporters”, pulled off the latest cat-in-tree stakeout for 300 quick words on theatre, rhapsodize about how favorably Portland’s scene compares to London and New York – while never having actually seen theatre in London or New York.  The blogosphere isn’t a whole lot better.  One source recommends every show (we’re talking hundreds) he has ever seen.  EVER.  If you put on your Christopher Guest cardboard VR goggles, this small town boosterism can be extremely entertaining.  “Corky!  We love you!”  (SW) Broadway, here we come.

As such, navigating the seas of the Portland theatre scene is an all hands on deck affair and not without its hazards.  If you want the good stuff, you have to scan the horizon tirelessly for small incoming craft.  Because that’s where the action is.  Keep looking, get your sea legs.  Mind the reefs and steer clear of the stalled gunships and over rigged barges littering the harbor.

At the moment, aside from the companies listed at top, there is not a whole heck of a lot exciting happening.

But if your idea of a fun night out is:

  • gutsy senior citizens dancing and singing
  • franchised touring productions of the latest Broadway cheese
  • men in tights mauling British accents to demonstrate their undying love of THE GREAT ONE (Shagspeare)
  • endless workshop readings of plays that will never see the light of day
  • literal bullets (as opposed to points) in the head

You’re in luck.

Remember, good and even great theatre will always exist as long as motivated individual artists are plying the waters.  They’re out there.  Go find them.

Sailing On

The heyday of this site is astern, but to see where PTS voyaged during the peak years of 2012-14 check out Greatest Hits and Show Diary.  You can also use the tag cloud in footer as a map of local waters.  This directory of Portland theatres should be fairly current.