Tag Archives: Newmark Theatre

O brave new world that has such lobbies in it!

Alder Street lobby at Artists Repertory Theatre. Photo: Jessica Gleason

Mr. Scatter has been inside more theaters over the years than Hamlet’s father’s ghost, and he is sometimes haunted by what he sees — not the plays so much as the spaces themselves.

Actors are a hardy lot. Give ’em a script and they’ll perform almost anywhere, from pond-side amphitheaters (Classic Greek Theater of Oregon) to 100-degree attics (the old Chateau l’Bamm) to the sidewalks of New York (buskers of all sorts, from break-dancers to sword-swallowers to mimes).

There are barns and basements and back rooms. Old churches, old schoolhouses, old movie houses (the fabled Storefront Theatre once moved up in the world into a gritty ex-porn theater, scrubbing away most of the grime and soiled dreams but never quite nuking the cockroaches). Even, now and again, buildings actually built as legit theaters. As often as not, actors and designers are fighting the houses they play in, trying to turn the unlikely into the inevitable. Whole theories of performance have flourished based on the absence or presence of sophisticated theatrical technology.

Sometimes spaces that audiences love are disasters behind the scenes. The 350-seat bandbox that was the Main Stage at the old Portland Civic Theatre unfurled the chorus lines of musical comedies almost into the crowds’ laps, creating an exhilarating closeness that concealed multitudinous booby traps backstage. Audiences loved the intimacy of the old Black Swan at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Actors who had to duck outdoors and race through the rain to make an entrance on the opposite side of the stage weren’t as thrilled.

The New Theatre, Ashland, arranged for "Macbeth" in 2002. Photo: David Cooper/Oregon Shakespeare FestivalA person develops favorites, spaces that somehow work for the kinds of theater presented in them. Spaces that have developed personality. Theaters need to be worked in, like a good pair of slippers. They need to develop their own memory-ghosts friendly and fearsome, and who is Mr. Scatter to deny the devout claims by some practitioners of the craft that a good theater must also have a resident cat?

Some Broadway and West End houses have all of that, although I’m guessing about the cat. The grandly old-fashioned Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, home to what in the West is called the Kirov Ballet, is shabby and imperial and somehow blissfully outside the dictates of time. In Ashland, the Angus Bowmer Theatre and the New Theatre, which replaced the Black Swan as the festival’s black-box space, are extraordinary theatrical machines that work for audiences and performers alike. The Stephen Joseph Theatre, Alan Ayckbourn’s home space in Scarborough, England, is the house that farce built (or maybe the house that built farce). At the Joyce Theatre in New York, all sorts of dance explode from the stage. San Francisco’s original Magic Theatre was more a verb than a noun. The original Empty Space in Seattle, a rickety third-floor walkup hard by the freeway, exuded adventure and discovery.

In Portland, I like the stripped-down intimacy of CoHo Theater, although I avoid the cramped back-row seats, which can crack your knees like they’re wishbones dried in the oven. I’m less fond than a lot of people of Portland Center Stage’s rehab of the old armory building — its industrial-chic public spaces seem a bit self-conscious to me, and I wonder how well they’ll wear — but I love how the building has become a genuine public gathering spot, inviting and important even beyond its main purpose of providing a space for shows. The Dolores Winningstad Theatre, when it’s used right (for budgetary reasons, it rarely is) can be terrific.

The grand interior of the Newmark Theatre. Photo: Portland Center for the Performing ArtsThe Newmark, the Winnie’s bigger sister at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, is sometimes slagged for the distance of its stage, the dryness of its sound, and the nosebleed pitch of its upper balcony. But it feels luxuriant, like a special place for a special occasion, and audiences love it. It re-creates the old-fashioned sense that a theater is someplace out of the ordinary — and that, I’ll argue, is a good thing for a city to preserve in at least a few of its performance spaces.

So imagine how Mr. and Mrs. Scatter felt, a week ago Friday, when they arrived at Artists Repertory Theatre for the opening-night performance of Holidazed, the seasonal comedy by Mark Acito and C.S. Whitcomb. We happened to enter through the Morrison Street lobby, which is a city block and a cascade of stairs above the Alder Street level, where the play was being performed.

The stairs are new. They tie together the two buildings that make up the Artists Rep complex, which sits on a hillside and includes two similar intimate performance spaces, both in three-quarter thrust configuration. The theaters’ size and shape — seating is on a sharp rake, so even the highest seats are close enough to the stage that you can see the sweat on the performers’ upper lips — create the company’s style, which is in-your-face intimacy, with an overlay of white-collar comfort.

Artists Rep has grown slowly and cautiously: It started as a loose actors’ collective in a little upstairs space at the downtown YWCA, and moved with baby steps once it switched its home to what’s now called the West End of downtown, on the west side of the I-405 freeway and within easy yodeling distance of downtown proper, the Pearl District, and old Northwest. Over many years and a few relatively quiet campaigns the company’s expanded and improved its holdings, buying its original space on Alder and adding the Portland Opera’s old headquarters above it on Morrison when the opera moved into its own building near the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry on the east bank of the Willamette River.

The second building expanded the company’s space to a remarkable 89,000 square feet — a huge amount of real estate for a company of Artists Rep’s size and budget. It allowed the construction of a second stage, which sometimes houses Artists Rep productions and sometimes is rented out to other companies. And it gave Artists Rep ample space to gather its scenic and costume shops and its office and rehearsal spaces in the same complex.

The new staircase at Artists Rep, designed by Opsis Architecture. Photo: Jessica GleasonBut the two buildings always felt like two buildings — until now. Walking through the buzz of the upstairs lobby and looking down the stairwell into the Alder Street lobby below was a startling and heart-leaping experience. All of a sudden, little Artists Rep seemed grown up. The new stairwell — designed by the Portland firm Opsis Architecture, which has been working with Artists Rep through several phases of its expansion — takes what was two things and fuses them into a single, lavishly flowing building.

The photos at top and right give a sense of the skeleton of the united building but not of the way it comes alive when the theaters are in use and two sets of audience are milling about, laughing and gazing and murmuring the way excited groups of people do. The new space (an elevator will be added when finances allow) shoots sound up and down the stairwell, which has the accelerating quality of white-water rapids on a mountain stream. The old cramped Alder lobby is now unfettered, expanded in space and imagination, linking in creative ways to the action in the Morrison lobby upstairs. Suddenly theatergoers are in a space not just to scrunch their shoulders together and wait, but a space where something’s happening.

That’s exciting. And that excitement is bound to have a spillover to the upstairs and downstairs stages themselves (which, in case you’re worried, are well-insulated against the racket in the common spaces). What strange and wonderful ghosts are waiting to be created here?


PHOTOS, from top:

  • Artists Rep’s new Alder Street lobby and stairwell to the Morrison Street level, designed by Opsis Architecture. Photo: Jessica Gleason.
  • The New Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, configured for a 2002 production of “Macbeth.” Photo: David Cooper.
  • Interior of the Newmark Theatre of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. Photo: PCPA.
  • Another view of the stairwell linking the two buildings of the Artists Rep complex. Photo: Jessica Gleason.
  • Northwest Dance Project joins the PDX renaissance

    Wen Wei Wang / "Chi" / 2009. Photo: Blaine Covert

    Above and below: “Chi,” by Wen Wei Wang, Northwest Dance Project, summer 2009. The Project dances downtown Friday and Saturday. Photos: Blaine Covert

    It’s not all about Oregon Ballet Theatre.

    Sure, the OBT story’s fascinating. Scrappy little company grows into rising national star. Stumbles into economic abyss. Gets saved by outpouring of bucks and extravaganza featuring top dancers from around the country. Dumps its executive director after noisy staff revolt. A day later, triumphs onstage. It’s like Pauline’s perils. Or the Comeback Kid. And there could be cliffhangers yet to come.

    But while OBT’s sucked up most of the attention, Portland’s been enjoying a modest renaissance of dance. The two big pieces are OBT — a sterling company in spite of its backstage adventures — and White Bird, the presenting company that’s rejuvenated the city’s contemporary dance scene by bringing in a lot of the best the world has to offer.

    And there’s much more.

    The popular dance/movement troupe BodyVox, which tours the country, has opened its new dance center in Northwest Portland. Another contemporary troupe, Polaris, has its own new digs. The Portland Ballet, a well-regarded training company, is once again readying its charming holiday production of La Boutique Fantasque — this time with live accompaniment from the Portland State University Symphony performing Rossini’s playful score. Ghe downtown dance center Conduit, despite its own bump in the road, continues to serve the contemporary scene well. Veterans such as Mary Oslund, Josie Moseley, Gregg Bielemeier and Linda Austin are creating vital new work. Movement-inspired theater companies like Do Jump and Imago (which reopens its innovative teeter-totter version of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit on Friday, with a terrific-looking cast) cross disciplines audaciously. Mike Barber’s Ten Tiny Dances pop up all over town. The aerialists of Pendulum Dance Theatre keep on floating new ideas. Newcomers like POV Dance, which specializes in site-specific work, are turning out some dizzying stuff — in the case of POV’s August piece at the Conduit benefit, literally: The performers were poking over and out from the four-story open stairwell at the Pythian Building as the audience gazed over guardrails, stomachs flipping.

    What we have here, folks, is a scene.

    And there’s more. Like, for a pretty big instance, Northwest Dance Project, the brainchild of choreographer and teacher Sarah Slipper, which got its start in 2004. Slipper, a Canadian who did her training there and in London and danced with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, came to Portland as ballet mistress for OBT back in the James Canfield days. Although deeply rooted in classical ballet, her temperament, like Canfield’s, is more contemporary.

    photo: BLAINE COVERTNorthwest Dance Project began as a summer training program for young and mostly professional dancers, ages 16-25, who came to town from across the country to work with leading national choreographers for a few weeks and then put on an end-of-workshop public performance.

    That still happens. Dancemakers such as Canfield (now at Nevada Dance Theatre in Las Vegas), Nashville Ballet’s Paul Vasterling, Bebe Miller, Susan Gaudreau of BJM Dance Montreal, Lucas Crandall of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Washington Ballet’s Septime Webre have offered classes.

    But things have expanded. Now the Project has an eight-member resident company that does some touring: It’s doing a residency next month at the Flying E Ranch, a 20,000-acre working dude ranch in Arizona’s Sonoran desert that also hosts arts groups, and follows that with a performance in Tucson. And it’ll perform Friday and Saturday nights at the Newmark Theatre in downtown Portland.

    This summer the Project moved into its own new studio space in a handsome old ballroom just off North Mississippi Avenue at 833 North Shaver Street, right across from the popular Equinox Restaurant and Bar and barely a skip from the hot spots Gravy and Cup & Saucer Cafe. This part of town is hopping, and a lot of people peek in from the sidewalk to watch the dancers jump. The studio’s bathed with natural light from its big windows, and out back, behind the studio mirrors, the view opens to a sweet little pocket park. It’s a good place to call home.
    Continue reading Northwest Dance Project joins the PDX renaissance

    Monday scatter: Ballet blues, theater dreams, Gypsy Rose Lee

    Update: After posting this I ran into Jon Ulsh, OBT’s executive director, who pointed out that OBT isn’t cutting all live music: There’ll be some, but not the full orchestra. That’s an important distinction. Even a pair of pianists can make a huge difference, as OBT’s recent premiere of Christopher Stowell’s version of The Rite of Spring showed so satisfyingly. Cutting the full orchestra, Ulsh said, saved $300,000. That still left $1.7 million to cut elsewhere. After explaining the cuts, he excused himself. “I’ve got to go raise some money,” he said.

    OBT Nutcracker, 2007The news today isn’t good, and it isn’t unexpected: Oregon Ballet Theatre, faced with tumbling income because its ordinary donors don’t have the money to give anymore, is slashing its budget by 28 percent. That’s an overnight cut from $6.7 million to $4.8 million, as Grant Butler reports in The Oregonian.

    These are the times we live in, and Scatter partner Barry Johnson talks about their effect on the city’s arts scene in his Portland Arts Watch column this morning on The Oregonian’s Web site, Oregon Live.

    Oregon Ballet Theatre is very good: This rising company has been making a genuine mark nationally. But in today’s shell-shocked economy it’s not enough to be good. You also have to have a cushion. And that, OBT does not have. It has no endowment, and its always-thin budget is brittle to the point of breaking. Butler reports that the number of full-time dancers will drop from 28 to 25, which isn’t precipitous, although none of these dancers is exactly striking it rich, and three more high-quality artists will now be out of work.

    As troubling from an artistic view is the sacrifice of live music for at least the next season. Maybe that doesn’t seem like such a big deal — maybe the world of contemporary dance has got you used to the idea of canned music — but they call it “canned” for a reason: It’s prepackaged, unchanging, from a dancer’s view metronomic, or at least predictable: It doesn’t have the edge that live musicians supply. Ballet thrives in the thrilling uncertainty of the moment, when conductor and musicians and dancers all respond to the others in real time and everyone’s attention is heightened. Great ballet requires live musicians. Now, the dozens of talented musicians who make up this orchestra are out of a job, too.

    Live music, including full orchestration, has been one of the prime aspirations and foundations of Christopher Stowell’s vision for this company since he took over as artistic director. I’m sure he hasn’t changed that determination. But he’s had to put it on hold. Sometimes being able to establish a holding pattern is a triumph. At least for now, this is putting the brakes on a company that was going places. Now, it’s hunker down and survive.


    If a recession or a depression is something that we think ourselves into, maybe it’s something we think ourselves out of, too. For years it’s been obvious that both Oregon Ballet Theatre and Portland Opera need a better place to perform. Although both dip occasionally into the 900-seat Newmark Theatre, home base for both companies is the cavernous, 3,000-seat Keller Auditorium, a hall that puts performers and audiences alike at a disadvantage. It’s too big; it swallows sight and sound.

    Over the past year I’ve talked a few times unofficially with the ballet’s Stowell and Portland Opera’s general dirctor, Christopher Mattaliano, about the possibilities of creating a new theater for the two companies to share — something actually designed for the art forms rather than as an all-purpose barn, which is essentially what Keller Auditorium is. Stowell and Mattaliano happen to get along very well, and for the long-term health of both companies, both men would love to see this happen.

    A new hall would be as intimate as the economics of the business would allow it to be — somewhere between 1,400 and 2,400 seats, and if that seems like a wide range, it is: There’s plenty of room for honing this dream. It could also encourage other partnerships: the development of a full-time orchestra for the ballet and opera to share; combined marketing; even (and this last part is me speaking, not Stowell or Mattaliano) combined administrative and fund-raising services.

    Is this a crazy time to be bringing this sort of thing up? Yes, and no. Obviously nobody’s going to start a bricks-and-mortar campaign now, with the economy circling into the sewer. Portland Center Stage is still roughly 9 million bucks short of paying off its move to the Armory, for crying out loud, and the meter seems stuck on that one.

    But I keep remembering that Portland voters approved construction of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts in the midst of the city’s last bad recession, in the early 1980s, when the city’s and state’s economies weren’t as diverse as they are now. Sometimes people think biggest when things look the worst. And I know that if you don’t have goals even in the toughest of times, you won’t get anywhere. Call this one a dream deferred — temporarily.


    Gypsy Rose Lee, 1956/Wikimedia CommonsOn a lighter note, a trip to North Portland for a puppet show got me thinking about the great ecdysiast Gypsy Rose Lee, she of the most celebrated stage mom in show business. (That would be Momma Rose, in the musical Gypsy.) You can see the results of my puppet adventures, as related in Monday’s Oregonian, here.

    The puppet company Night Shade was performing at Disjecta, the warehouse-like arts space in the shadow of the Paul Bunyan statue that marks the rapidly reviving Kenton district (a revival sparked partly by the Interstate MAX light-rail line). The district does have its holdovers, which is part of its charm, and one of them is a strip club across from Disjecta called the Dancin’ Bare.

    Here’s what the club’s reader board said:

    Amature Night

    Hot Girls Cold Beer

    Well, Gypsy Rose Lee was a literary-minded stripper (note her firm familiarity with the keyboard in the photo) and I can’t imagine that in the heyday of burlesque she’d have put up with a misspelling as glaring as that, any more than she’d have put up with any amateurs horning in on her profession.

    And when Gypsy Rose danced, she danced to live music.


    Quick links: I’ve also been hitting the galleries lately, and have a couple of reviews in this morning’s Oregonian. The print-edition reviews are briefs. You can find the longer versions online at Oregon Live:

    — Photographer Paul Dahlquist’s 80th-birthday show at Gallery 114, and photos by Terry Toedtemeier from the 1970s, at Blue Sky. Review here.

    — Glass art by Steve Klein and Michael Rogers at Bullseye Gallery. Review here.

    A bridge too far: Connecting Portland’s performance halls

    “While you’re catching up on weekend papers,” our blogging compatriot Mighty Toy Cannon of Culture Shock writes, “I’d be interested in your comments on the Oregonian editorial regarding the renovation of the Schnitz and the possible enclosure of the Main Street Plaza (Saturday, August 30).”

    As Mighty Toy points out, the editorial got lost not only by running on a Saturday but also because it was buried beneath the flurry of news about vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin (pre-grandma version) — and wasn’t that an artfully worded baby announcement, by the way.

    The editorial’s gist is this: Even though most Portlanders could care less about the symphony and opera and ballet, these things are important to our economy and our sense of civic pride. The city’s most prominent performance space, downtown’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, is in need of big fixes — at least $10 million, maybe a lot more — partly because its acoustics are subpar, and it’s used 60 percent of the time by the Oregon Symphony, a group for which acoustics are exceedingly important.

    So far so good. But then the editorial gets down to what really seems to excite its author: the possibility of reviving the idea of some sort of bridge between the Schnitz and the theater building that houses the Newmark and Dolores Winningstad theaters right across Main Street. It’s an idea that was part of the original 1982 blueprints for the Portland Center for the Performing Arts but was scrapped for financial reasons. And it would include permanently blocking off Main between Broadway and Park Avenue to create a plaza that would connect the two buildings.

    “In the offing now,” the editorialist writes, “is an opportunity to finally connect the two buildings, to animate their too-often-dormant lobbies, to cleverly create downtown’s long-sought ‘gateway’ to its cultural district.”

    OK, first a little history. When the performing arts center was being planned in the early 1980s, it was all to be built on land donated by Evans Products adjacent to Keller Auditorium, which was then known as Civic Auditorium. That plan would have created a Portland version of Manhattan’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts — an arts cluster near downtown but not quite at its center. And except for the old Civic, all the halls would be built new, so the acoustics and seating would be up-to-date and you wouldn’t run into any of the surprises and compromises that go along with historical renovation. (The Schnitz at the time was known as the Paramount, and was a shabby onetime vaudeville and movie house that was being used for rock ‘n’ roll concerts.)

    But downtown business and political interests pushed through a swap so the new center would be housed instead along a stretch of Broadway that had become run-down, creating an economic spur to help the center of the city out of its recession doldrums. The Paramount, with all of its problems, became the key player in the switch, and the city took over the block across from Main to build its two smaller theater spaces. Economically, the plan worked like a dream (for the business district, at least: the arts center itself, and the companies that used it, still suffer because the center’s financial structure covered only the costs of construction, with no regard for maintenance or operation).

    Flash forward to 2008 and the latest push to create a “gateway” to the cultural district, which also includes the Oregon Historical Society and the Portland Art Museum along the South Park Blocks. And forget for the moment the nasty realities about actually funding any sort of project, because that’s a subject far too complex for this post. As the Oregonian editorial stresses, it would require plenty of individual, corporate and foundation support in addition to tax money.

    Continue reading A bridge too far: Connecting Portland’s performance halls