Risk/Reward shines in year seven | Big crowds and outstanding offerings in near all women festival

It comes for one weekend every June, so there’s not much time for word of mouth to spread. You just have to be ready. The annual Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance, originally spawned by Hand2Mouth Theatre, blew into town at Artists Rep this past weekend and set the Alder stage abuzz with six provocative and varied pieces.

For whatever reason (festival director Jerry Tischleder thinks it’s because several Portland-based acts were included in this year’s lineup, and could mobilize their fans), audience turnout was way up this year, and two of the three shows were sold out. Even Sunday night was pretty full. If you’re going to run out of programs, it may as well be because more people than you ever expected turned out.

And it’s easy to see why they did. Above all else, Risk/Reward gives you something totally different. It’s exciting, unexpected, high-powered. This is the kind of event where after each piece you turn to the person on either side of you and start talking about what you’ve just seen. The performance is deeply personal and hand-crafted. It’s about as far away from typical fare in the commercial theatre as you can get, and something about it feels wonderfully authentic and genuine. And in an interesting twist, this year was dominated by women.

Laura Heit – THE LETTING GO Unlike so many performance pieces with video where you feel the artist just wishes they were making a full video and not doing live theatre on stage, the use of projection and video here is always a fully engaged live experience. The lushly effective toolbox employed (puppets, projection, animation, music) almost overpowers the story at times, but as we watch figures fly over night skies and through open windows of tiny houses, we are in a place of wonder. Like a power pop song that takes you over and introduces a whole new world you had not seen, this is gorgeous, transporting storytelling.

The Neutral Fembot Project – UNTITLED # _______ Push Leg members Camille Cettina and Anne Sorce are joined by Grace Carter and Allison Rangel in this wildly funny exploration of three women’s changing costumes, postures and possibilities – as one frumpy overseer lugs mobile boudoirs around for them. Riffing on visual artist Cindy Sherman’s work, the women are consciously costumed and rearranged for us. A non verbal language is quickly evolved. Delicate wisps of Matthew Barney float in the air.

ilvs strauss – MANIFESTO Sharply original and ever surprising exploration of women, inside and out. With the help of a giant red sea cucumber. Strauss holds the audience close as she performs to her own recorded narrative. From nothing – everything.

INTERMISSION

Erin Pike – THAT’SWHATSHESAID Holy shit. When you least expect it – expect it. Fresh from intermission, and into the teeth of a gale. Using only actual women’s lines taken from the most produced plays in America, Erin Pike is a ferocious feminist killjoy in this hurricane strength indictment of the weak roles available to women on today’s mainstream stage. A physically demanding and tour de force solo performance. Given the zeitgesit on this topic, this show could (like the performer) have serious legs.

Lucy Yim – DEVASTATION MELODY A quiet but intense piece of repetition and physical and mental sculpting. As several phrases are repeated, they change, and some of the actual words seem to break apart and reassemble in our minds.

Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble – (AFTER THOUGHT) A sonic world of characters moving in slow, infinitesimal motion, with two highlighted in the foreground, manipulating white dust. Effective light shifts train us to adopt the rhythm of the piece and anticipate the repeated cycles.