Tag Archives: Oregon Children’s Theatre

Link: OCT does the Locomotion

Tyler Andrew Jones and Andrea White in "Locomotion" at OTC. Photo: Owen Carey.

By Bob Hicks

Today I posted this essay, Doing the Locomotion with kids’ theater, at Oregon Arts Watch. It’s about Oregon Children’s Theatre‘s terrific production of Locomotion, Jacqueline Woodson‘s stage adaptation of her National Book Award-finalist children’s book, which is something of a tree-grows-in-Brooklyn tale. In Bedford-Stuyvesant, to be exact, where a kid nicknamed Locomotion learns to deal with some tough stuff through the power of poetry. An excerpt:

… I like to drop in every now and again on a show for kids. No audience experiences the give-and-take between stage and seats more directly or honestly. If an audience of kids tunes out, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a bad show: It might just not be right for kids. But if you’re an actor or director it’s a good idea to pay attention to where the kids zone out, because maybe you’ve got a problem on your hands. And if the kids are with you, they’re gonna let you know. Loudly.

Above: Tyler Andrew Jones and Andrea White in “Locomotion” at OTC. Photo: Owen Carey.

Alice and that looking glass: Back atcha

"Alice & Wonderland: A Rock Opera" at Oregon Children's Theatre

By Laura Grimes

Yellow buses streamed down the Park Blocks in Portland and unloaded masses of schoolkids. Some wore striped tights and sparkly hair. They bounced along and filed into the Newmark Theatre where they chatted and wiggled until the lights dimmed.

Like the White Rabbit said: “It’s time to rock and roll!”

Continue reading Alice and that looking glass: Back atcha

‘Small Steps’ leaves a big footprint

Johnny Crawford as Armpit

By Laura Grimes

The pressure’s on. Mr. Scatter, otherwise known as my current first husband, has hightailed it outta town, and his responsibilities mean he probably won’t have a chance to write or find a wi-fi to post for about a week.

But you’re in luck. Before he left town, he got up early to write this review of Small Steps at Oregon Children’s Theatre.

Small Steps by Louis SacharI am more than a little envious that he got this assignment. I’m the one who’s had my eye on this show for months. I’m the one who bought the book. I’m the one who was trying to see how this could wedge into the schedule and — stink — he landed the gig, skedaddled with the Small Large Smelly Boy (also known as Felix/Martha in some circles), and I was stuck with chauffeur duty for the Large Large Smelly Boy who had a class at the same time.

At dinner after the show, the Small LSB niftily and oh-so-casually wove it into the conversation that he got to meet Louis Sachar.

Louis Sachar“Excuse me?” I said. “You got to meet him?”

I could tell he was stifling a grin and playing cool. “I got to shake his hand. It wasn’t big.”

“What? His hand wasn’t big?”

“No!” he laughed. (Got him!)

“I knew what you meant. And, yes, it was a big deal.” And, no, I wasn’t there.

But I got a report. You can read it for yourself. Mr. Scatter says it’s a good ‘un.

In looking at my schedule, I’ll be in town exactly one weekend day during the run that’s open to the public. Must sign off to buy a ticket … and then finish the book.



Top: Johnny Crawford as Armpit in “Small Steps.” Photo by Morphis Studios.

Bottom: Louis Sachar/Wikipedia

A trip to the moon on ‘Gossamer’ wings

Gossamer has lost weight since its robust Middle English youth. These days we think of gossamer as light, airy, elusive, delicate, evanescent. Yet in its original form it was a simple compound of the terms for goose and summer. A sturdy word, with physical impact. The squawk and peck and heft of a barnyard bird. The good green moss and fern by the banks of a summer stream. Things you hear and feel and smell and touch.

Yet all that is solid fades away, and in that disappearance is the essence of gossamer. Gossamer flits in and out of physical reality. Now you see it. Now you don’t. A memory, a tickle, a promise, a hint. A window between worlds, whispered.

Tuesday morning, in the faded light of a perfect autumn day, I drove into downtown Portland to the Dolores Winningstad Theatre to take in the premiere of Gossamer, Newbery Award winner Lois Lowry‘s stage adaptation of her own children’s novel, with a crowd of fifth through seventh graders. Yes, Oregon Children’s Theatre‘s production has its shimmery moments — it’s about dreams and the benevolent, more- and less- than human race that creates them — but director Stan Foote keeps things grounded in the physical. These supposed creatures of the ether, with their impetuous curiosity and sturdy country ways, seem like yeomen and women of the goose-summer days. They’re like characters from Piers Ploughman.

Little wonder. Lowry’s dream makers, who aren’t quite sure themselves exactly who and what they are, exist in the imagination — and in this formulation, “exist” and “imagination” carry equal weight.
They are caretakers of humans (and animals, too), and therefore linked to corporeality, even if they are only fleetingly embodied themselves. Like so many good stories for children — Mary Norton‘s The Borrowers, William Mayne‘s Hob and the Goblins — they give concrete form and personality to unexplainable things. And like the Christian transcendentalists of children’s lit, Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis (you could add Tolkien, but in spite of his grand-scale moral dualism he seems so much more thoroughly earthen to me), Lowry creates a world in which an unseen battle between good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, love and anger is just offstage of the human characters’ lives, determining the actions and reactions of what they see.

Continue reading A trip to the moon on ‘Gossamer’ wings

BodyVox jumps for joy about its new home

While we’re all worrying about arts organizations going bust (let’s just hope there’s life and vitality in the Portland Jazz Festival yet) and arguing about whether the city needs a covered plaza as a gateway to the downtown arts district, let’s take time out for a spot of good news.

BodyVox has a new home.

OK, right now it’s a big old mostly empty warehouse with 1890s brick walls reminiscent of a 1970s restaurant rehab (Art Scatter happens to be fond of old brick walls and brawny posts and beams, if not necessarily hanging ferns). But Jamey Hampton, who runs the popular dance and movement troupe with his wife and fellow performer/choreographer Ashley Roland, says the space will be ready for the company’s spring show, and adds that the troupe’s architects, Portland’s BOORA, are estimating a complete makeover by next June. Well, maybe some of the office spaces won’t be quite done by then, Hampton says: Depends on the money.

Portland is a talk-big, think-small town, and that’s both bad and good. The bad part is that it supports its large organizations poorly and doesn’t really think, despite its sometimes fawning press notices, that it can play in the big leagues. The good part is that modest-sized organizations such as BodyVox have learned how to get the most bang for their buck and have an impact far beyond the size of their budgets. It’s a corrolary to our economic self-image: We define ourselves as a small-business-friendly city because we don’t have much in the way of big businesses, and then turn that into an advantage.

BodyVox’s new building, which it rolled out in a convivial tour/party late Monday afternoon, is at Northwest Northrup Street and 17th Avenue, a nice, relatively quiet urban stretch that’s tucked neatly between the Pearl District and the city’s more traditional Northwest neighborhoods. Easy to get to, relatively easy to find a parking space, and a mortgage, not a lease. Nice work if you can get it, and BodyVox did.

The building, which began life as Portland’s Wells Fargo building (the main space was for carriage storage, and there were also stables and a dormitory for the drivers) and more recently was the printing and publishing space for Corberry Press, came to BodyVox through Henry Hillman, the arts supporter, photographer, glass artist and owner of several properties. As Roland tells the story, Hillman had been advising BodyVox in its hunt for a new, bigger space, and kept pointing out the shortcomings of several possibilities: too small, not at street level, too hard to rehab. Finally, Hampton said, “Well, what about your building?” And Hillman said, “Hmmm.” Hillman keeps his glass studio next door, and as a bonus has a decent parking lot that BodyVox can use in the evenings.

Continue reading BodyVox jumps for joy about its new home

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