Every other week, the editors of American Theatre curate a free-ranging discussion about the lively arts in our Offscript podcast.
This week, American Theatre took Offscript on the road with a special recording in front of a live audience at the Hilton Portland Downtown in Oregon as part of Theatre Communications Group’s 2017 National Conference. Editors Rob Weinert-Kendt and Diep Tran were joined by Amy Wang, arts editor of The Oregonian, who gave us a run-down of the theatre scene and explained why theatre coverage is still important. She also told us how the Edward Albee controversy played locally, since it involved Portland artists (Amy’s take here).
Then we welcomed two local artistic directors: Dámaso Rodríguez of Artists Repertory Theatre, and Maureen Porter, managing artistic director of Third Rail Repertory Theatre. They talked radical seaons and real estate woes, and why Portland is an overlooked theatremaking hub.
Excerpts from the interviews are below:
Amy Wang on why The Oregonian continues to cover theatre:
“It’s discouraging to look nationwide and seeing headlines like The New York Times eliminating all of its regional arts coverage. It sort of gives you the feeling of: If The New York Times can’t staunch the flow, then what can smaller paper do?
“Theatre is a very high priority for us [at The Oregonian]. We have dozens and dozens of active theatre troupes in the Portland community. We also know that our readers highly value our theatre coverage. In surveys that we’ve done, they’ve consistently ranked theatre at the top of their desire for arts coverage. So we are committed to that. I personally strive to have at least one theatre story per week.”
Third Rail Rep’s Maureen Porter on what keeps her up at night:
“Given the world right now, I say to myself: Is the work that you want to do in relationship to social justice and change possible in the theatre? And I think it is, but it keeps me up at night sometimes anyway. There’s a lot of ways theatre in the country remains at a distance from many people. I think it is potentially a bridge—there’s a way in which it bridges—but there’s a lot of work to be done around that. I’m leading an organization that had a founding artistic director. There’s a lot of change and it’s really difficult, because one of the things I kind of want to do is unapologetically overcorrect for the white male paradigm of it, and then do that authentically and that is a complex thing. And I sometimes think, if theatre is the way, what does that look like?”
Dámaso Rodríguez on the Portland scene:
“It’s a cool scene. Of course the Broadway tours will come here in the Keller Auditorium, and then you have Portland Center Stage which is producing 10 to 11 plays a year, and it’s the flagship LORT theatre. They are three times larger in budget and physical space than Artists Rep, and Artists Rep is three times larger than the next Portland-based theatre. You have this, I think, kind of unique to Portland, very entrepreneurially, well-organized group of theatres in the several-hundred-thousand-dollar budget range that is producing great work. I feel like that maker culture—you see it all the way down the line in companies, even very small start-up companies. People may be getting out of college and staying here and doing some work, or moving back after grad school to do some work in the Pacific Northwest.
“A friend of mine, who was in Chicago in the ’80s, said, ‘Portland reminds me of Chicago in the ’80s in terms of its potential and the kind of vibrancy of the scene for such a small market.'”
This week we asked our guests for recommendations. Maureen had some local companies she wanted to shout out: the August Wilson Red Door Project, Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble, Defunkt Theatre, and CoHo Productions.
Dámaso gave some love to the Portland Playhouse, Many Hats Collaborative, Broadway Rose Theatre Company, Portland Center Stage (especially Mojada by Luis Alfaro, which is coming to PCS in November; it’s currently playing at Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Shaking the Tree Theatre, Bag&Baggage Productions, Milagro Theatre.