PORTLAND, ORE.: Theatre leaders and artists from across the U.S. and the globe will gather in the Pacific Northwest next week (June 8-10) for Theatre Communications Group’s 2017 National Conference. The three-day convening will bring theatre practitioners together to discuss best practices, to participate in skills-building workshops, and to experience the vibrant theatre community in P-Town.
The theme of this year’s conference is Full Circle, and at the center of it all will be a focus on Portland’s involvement in maker culture—a movement at the intersection of art and technology that promotes hand crafting and human manufacturing. As the first conference after last year’s divisive election (not to mention a harrowing recent hate crime), the convening will bring theatre people into the circle of what brings people together: creating stories, building worlds, and sharing experiences. Resourceful theatremakers, artisans, and crafters are all part of this wider circle.
The city of Portland, with its environmentally conscious focus, is a leader in the worldwide maker movement because of the desire for local products and environmentally sustainable practices. Just this week my trusty umbrella of three years, which has survived many New York City rainstorms, sadly broke. I sent the umbrella back to its manufacturer, a family-operated company in Portland, and a new umbrella handle is being built for the colorful canopy. Now that’s eco-friendly artisanship.
Conferencegoers can attend field trips in Portland to visit artist’s studios and workshops, even try their hand at some crafting. Attendees can also see Portland’s maker culture at the Portland Rose Festival, which will showcase homemade floats at the Grand Floral Parade on June 10.
Jen Mitas, executive director of Hand2Mouth Theatre, says visitors can get a feel for the maker culture on foot. “Wander over the Hawthorne Bridge from downtown to the city’s Central Eastside Industrial District—long protected as an ‘industrial sanctuary’—which is now an up-and-coming neighborhood with a mix of light industry, makers, arts spaces, start-ups, and restaurants.”
The jam-packed schedule of the conference will require lots of energy and certainly some caffeine. Portland’s nickname of Stumptown is fitting for the nearly 3,000 coffee shops in its 145-square-mile radius, so conferencegoers will certainly have their pick of where to fuel up. Amy Wang, arts and books editor at the Oregonian, recommends a java joint in walking distance to the conference headquarters. “Stumptown Coffee is one of Portland’s biggest exports,” Wang writes. Visit its flagship café and impress your caffeine-loving friends.”
If you have more time to kill, Benjamin Fainstein, literary manager at Portland Center Stage, recommends a coffeehouse that also offers a bit of nightlife. “If you’re feeling springy, take a stroll across the Burnside Bridge to Portland’s colorful East Side. Reward yourself with a beer and game of ping-pong on Rontom’s spacious back porch and garden, or get caffeinated and check out the haunting after-dark delights of Rimsky-Korsakoffee House,” he says.
Activities and attractions in Portland are as bountiful as coffee beans. If traveling in a group, visit one of Portland’s many one-stop places. Arianna Jacques, resident acting company member of Hillsboro, Ore.’s Bag&Baggage Productions, recommends the Zipper in Northeast Portland. The food court has numerous restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and even a nail art salon.
Multi-purpose places seem to be Portland’s thing. If you’re keen on burning calories while sipping craft beer, try BrewCycle. What could be more fun than that? “A group-powered cycling brewery tour! With beer!” raves Jacques. “The most fun you can possibly have while exercising!” If you have kids in tow, visit one of the breweries that offer play spaces for children. “One of my favorite things about Portland is that most of our brewpubs are kid-friendly,” says Beth Lewis, managing director of Bag&Baggage Productions. “HopWorks is my favorite brewery in town and although their main location is in SE Portland, I much prefer the Bike Bar in NE. It’s smaller and they have a small play area in the back for the kids.”
If you need a place to rest and recharge, Cassie Greer, associate artistic director of Bag&Baggage Productions, recommends a garden. “The Lan Su Chinese Garden is a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city. Come for the koi ponds, thoughtfully curated art, and interpretive tours—stay for tea, sake, and snacks at the teahouse!”
Wang offers up another tranquil spot: “The Portland Japanese Garden recently reopened after a $33.5 million expansion conceived by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, best known for designing the stadium for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. New additions include a Cultural Crossing Village and a tea café.”
For those looking to get the PDX experience that you’ve seen on television, you can do that too. “Thanks to ‘Portlandia,'” notes Lewis, “Portland’s comedy scene is on the rise, and my favorite place to go to see improv is Curious Comedy Theater, Portland’s only nonprofit comedy theatre.”
If theatre is on your must-see list, check out the TCG member theatres that call Oregon home.
For even more spots to add to your itinerary, visit TCG’s extensive Portland guide and check out the map below.