Along the train tracks on NE Farragut, an eclectic crowd from all over the city and (inevitably in our globalized age) world assembled in the final glow of summer.
At this out of the way space, on the night before Portland’s largest performance festival kicks off (somewhere else), a close to full house was treated to a thoroughly compelling and unhinged performance by Miro Caltagirone and musicians Igor Stepniewski, Lew Caramella, and M.
If off the beaten path, non kitchen sink realism, and hand made is how your theatre mojo rolls…
If you seek out the small spaces where artists can take risks and actually say something…
Then this is the show for you.
Friday night is sold out.
So your last best chance to catch it is tonight (Thursday).
With an 8PM curtain and running at 75 minutes, there’s plenty of time to catch this tale of madness first and then bike cross town to The Julie Ruin, TBA’s opening night act at THE WORKS at 10:30 PM.
In DIARY OF A MADMAN, a short story by Nikolai Gogol, a clerk in a Russian department loses touch with reality as he confronts his own insignificance as a petty civil servant. As he grows more and more alienated from his immediate surroundings, he slips into a world of fantasy: a world in which a titular counselor can become king or general, in which dogs exchange letters, the moon is where our noses live, and the Earth is coming to land on it and crush all the noses. A world of frustration, disillusion and Weltschmerz that ends in unfathomable sorrow but where he can finally exist! While Gogol’s masterpiece was written as a commentary on the powerlessness of the individual in the face of the bureaucratic machinery of St. Petersburg in the 1830′s, his protagonist’s unraveling in a society obsessed with status and institutions resonates in 21st-century New York City as if it was written only yesterday.
Where is it again?
If this is your first time, allow some extra leeway. You’ll find it. It’s on the train side of the red building.
Home to the world’s largest theatre and arts festival, located at almost 56 degrees north (Portland=45, Oslo=60) on a moss-covered rock in the North Atlantic, formerly dull and drab Edinburgh is today the shining, intensely proud capital of a nation on the move.
As smaller progressive countries around the world lead the way and show what the future could look like, this is Scotland’s moment. On 18 September 2014 (timed strategically to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, when Robert the Bruce defeated an English army led by Edward II), a popular referendum will ask the Scots whether they want to be fully independent of the UK.
Whichever way they go, one thing won’t change. When it comes to the arts, Scotland is and will likely remain a world leader.
Tonight, NoPerks Theatre’s production of DIARY OF A MADMAN by Nikolai Gogol opens for three performances only at The Headwaters Theatre. The company’s members hail from Switzerland, the US, and Belgium, and the show has been performed several times in Europe, most recently at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this past August.
What’s it like to take a show to Edinburgh, where thousands of performances compete for the audience’s attention? Here’s a first person account from DIARY OF A MADMAN director Mathilde Schennen (B).
As it turns out, the show’s theme of “madness” was quite appropriate to the over the top free-for-all that is the fringe today…
My Experience in Edinburgh – Mathilde Schennen
The Fringe Festival was a very intense experience… you can have the worst and best things going on at the same time…
It was the first time for each of us: first time in Edinburgh, first time at the Fringe… with more than 3,000 shows around us… very scary!
Over the past years, the Fringe has become a huge commercial event. People come to see and sell shows… Everything is pricy and requests time to be organized. Very quickly the question came up: is it really a place for artists? Can they afford to be part of that?
We were going with the production of “Diary of Madman”, and the theme of “madness” was completely appropriate to the situation. We were in a complete theatrical madness. On one hand, it’s wonderful to see so many shows going on everywhere and to realize that people believe in theatre and live performances (music, comedy shows, physical theatre,…) more than ever. On the other hand, there are too many shows, too many people everywhere, a lot of pressure to deal with and too many things to be done by the artists themselves. A festival where you perform but also promote, produce, live and breath in group during a couple of weeks: a big and wonderful challenge!
What is the Fringe at the end? Each of us has to define it for itself. There are rules, you can follow them or not… You can find books telling you how to get prepared, how to promote our show and how to find a venue…
After months of preparation, we arrived in Edinburgh. We had to understand very quickly how everything was working. We were receiving lots of information at the same time and quickly we had to find a way to survive in this massive organization and collective hysteria.
My main concern was at the end how we would make this festival ours. We were in the middle of something uncontrollable and we wanted to enjoy what we could experiment. It had to be ours!!!
Thanks to the festival, we had the chance to perform the show and that was the essential. With the Fringe, our show improved a lot, was shared with a new audience and very well reviewed. Miro and the musicians, Igor, Luca and M, explored many new things everyday, making the show each time very unique, alive and enjoyable.
“Diary of a Madman” is a piece from the classical repertory (comic and tragic). Even if we worked on the play in a contemporary way with live musicians on stage with the actor, it was still based on a classic. Very few pieces (with that length of 1h15min, considered as long – the average is 50 minutes) like that were presented at the fringe. It was a little risky to have a show based on a classic and that long. Also we didn’t do that much of “flyering” (usually that’s what you would do in a festival) but people were coming to see the show. How was that happening? Was it because it was based on a classic (and there were not a lot of them…the festival is such a good place for “comedy shows”) or because people spread the word, or because of the great reviews, or just the program ? It is still a mystery how the audience came to our show.
Each artist is promoting his show. So each day I was surprised to receive tones of flyers. I couldn’t say “no” to one of them, knowing how difficult it was to flyer for a show… humility was needed …
We didn’t go out so much at night. We were performing at 8.20pm and after the show, we wanted to cool down, eat together and have a drink. I was surprised how early the places were closing. At the end of the performance, only a few places were still open…We had to hurry if we wanted to eat something.
Some places were open very late at night… exceptionally during the festival…They were connected to big venues, very present during the festival, such as Pleasance Theatre, Underbelly, Assembly, Gilded Balloons… They say they are part of the Fringe but it’s like they play another game. They are more big theatrical structures/ institutions with a curated program and big budgets… they are big machines, very well organized… destroying a little the idea of an open fringe festival…
Around them you have many truck-food options (indian, “crêpes”, “hamburgers”…), they have large place to eat and drink and if I remembered well they were closing late so many people were meeting there at night.
In terms of food, the choice was very limited and not very inspiring. I think I did a special “gluten diet” during two weeks. My diet was: croissant, bread, pasta, crêpes, potatoes and fish and chips. Horrible diet …
We had our best “fish and chips” when we left Edinburgh during our “break day”. We took the train and in 30 minutes we were next to the water. I cannot remember the name of the village. We wanted to be at “the beach”. We ended up in a very small village along the sea, very charming with a wonderful pub, playing cards and eating fish and chips.
I forgot to mention the city: Edinburgh! Known as the “Athens of the North”, Edinburgh is a beautiful city, with a very strong history, a wild nature, incredible Whisky, Culture and Beauty everywhere.
In terms of nature, I remember when we arrived, we discovered the view of this incredible mountain/ volcano. Once he saw it, Miro named it “the elephant”. It had the same shape as an elephant sleeping… beautiful. We all did our “pilgrimage” on the top of it, sometimes in group, sometimes alone… when we needed to revitalize ourselves differently…
“DIARY OF A MADMAN is a stimulating and resonating performance. NoPerks Theatre brings together all the right components to make Gogol’s short story modern and poignant. They have mastered a sense of troubling intimacy and discomfort which is not easy to forget.” Full Edinburgh review
Starring Miro Caltagirone
Directed by Mathilde Schennen and Rafael Svarin
Featuring live music by Caramella, Igor Stepniewski and M
Hidden away in the sonic shadow of some still quite active train tracks on NE Farragut, The Headwaters Theatre is the kind of under the radar performance space you’d be forgiven for not knowing about or being able to find (the first time).
But it has also been the location in recent years of some of the most adventurous and rewarding theatre in Portland.
Despite the procession of notable pieces through this venue, you have to pay pretty close attention to find out what’s happening at Headwaters.
Using a special counter intuitive logic familiar to long time Portland theatre goers, sometimes the best shows are the ones you know almost nothing about.
When you are attuned to these under the radar events, the absence of info – normally a bad sign – is in fact evidence that the show will be outstanding. The less info – the better the chances of an exciting show.
Perhaps as a result of the constantly increasing security and elevated threat levels of our age, performance details for shows at the NE Off Off Burnside space are closely held and only released at the last minute on a need to know basis.
For those of you without the time and technology to constantly monitor Headwaters and detect the first early rumblings of pending avant garde shows, staying in the know can be challenging.
So in an effort to better inform Portland’s citizens about activities in this unruly arts border zone, we have applied for and received a federal grant normally available only to the nation’s gleaming industry militarial complex.
And now, from high on Mt. Hood, our newly installed Department of Homeland Security -funded Theatre Early Warning System (TEWS – the feds love acronyms) has just reported the first radar blips for a brief, three night run of Gogol’s DIARY OF A MADMAN by NoPerks Theatre in two weeks at Headwaters.
Exhaustive searches of off limits (our grant approval documents mistakenly included all sorts of login codes) federal databases reveal almost no info (that we can tell you about) on this operation.
Except that they are from New York and “Schweiz”.
That’s Switzerland, people.
And sponsored by Voodoo Doughnut.
And the show itself is a fundraiser for Nangu’s Grocery, “an income-generating gathering place and affordable store”. Located in Babati, Tanzania.
Still with us?
More recently declassified info, such as the artistic team, looks extremely promising:
Mathilde Schennen – Director, Brussels – New York
Rafael Svarin – Assistant Director, Zürich – New York
Max Usata – Actor, Bienne – New York
Igor Stepniewski – Musician, Biel-Bienne
Lew Caramella – Musician, Zürich
M – Musician, Puerto Rico – New York
Now, you might think, if unfamiliar with the theatrical Waziristan region on the city’s northern fringe:
“The show has almost no marketing, is on for three nights only, and is timed to coincide exactly with the well publicized kickoff of Portland’s largest annual performing arts festival (PICA’s TBA), a nuclear powered circus which will be sucking all the oxygen out of any other show in town for two weeks. ARE THESE PEOPLE CRAZY?”
Well, “madman” is part of the show name.
But see, what you have to do here is put on the 3D glasses and take every contrarian indicator as yet more evidence that YOU CANNOT MISS THIS SHOW.
Normally all the signs would keep you away.
But in this case, flip the circuits, and realize you can’t miss it. Because if you do, it’s going to be that one crazy show that no one saw and everyone wishes they had seen.
The only way this production could become more intriguing is if NoPerks narrowed performance times to one show only at 6 AM on Christmas morning.