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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why Can’t Us?*

posted by on November 11 at 10:45 AM

Portland’s got a new theater festival.

A fringe festival, you ask? Nope, even the big theaters, like Portland Center Stage, are playing along?

A Shakespeare festival, you ask? (Because what ever would we do if we weren’t doing Shakespeare?)

Nope, it’s a new works festival. You know, those new works that so many of you (on Slog, at Shitstorm) argue aren’t practical to produce because nobody will come see them. Or because they will, nine times out of ten, be bad.

Not only is Portland not afraid of new plays, it’s got a whole festival dedicated to them, while we’re still fretting about whether we can resurrect our fringe festival.

Portland has just rocketed into the future and put our collective hand-wringing to shame.

*If you don’t know the story of “Why Can’t Us?”—a genuinely funny story of civic shame that backflips into civic pride in Philadelphia—see here.

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I think the new and more challenging works that Peter Boal has brought to PNB in recent years can serve as further proof that if you do new works people will respond. Even if the new stuff occasionally sucks.

Posted by boxofbirds | November 11, 2008 10:54 AM

Sorry Brendan, but I'm far too busy producing new work with my theatre company to worry much about whether or not we're experiencing some sort of mythical "new works gap" with the theatre folk down south.

Posted by COMTE | November 11, 2008 11:27 AM

I heard Portland is also building a monument to Andrew Ryan.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | November 11, 2008 11:58 AM

Having both worked in theatre in Portland and Seattle I have to say that Portland's theatre scene sucks. It's part of the reason I move back here where I can perform at places like Comte's Theare.

Posted by Sir Learnsalot | November 11, 2008 12:37 PM

Wow. I come see theatre in Seattle all the time, at least monthly. I also see plays as I travel around the country (as a playwright) in small towns and large, mostly in New York. I'm stunned that Seattle has such disparaging remarks for Portland. Perhaps there's a gut check that needs to happen about your theatre scene. I wouldn't look down on Portland at all, if I were you.

Posted by GladObamaWon | November 11, 2008 12:48 PM

Kiley, seriously. Enough with the mischaracterization of Shitstorm.

You were there. I was there. We both know that nobody was saying there was no point in doing new works.

I understand that you've taken on the mantle of Sole Arbiter of Artistic Truth in this matter, but you aren't even *trying* to give a portrayal of reality on this. And the result is that you're becoming pretty fucking tedious.

Posted by natopotato | November 11, 2008 12:54 PM

natopotato: I believe a Mr. Greg Carter made the argument that new plays usually sucked and weren't worth the trouble. (And that every play, by virtue of being a live performance, is inherently "new.")

Somebody else, I can't remember who, said nobody would come see new work. I think he was sitting in the third or fourth row.

So you may not have agreed with those arguments, natopotato, but they were articulated and applauded.

Posted by Brendan Kiley | November 11, 2008 1:29 PM

Glancing through the list just now I counted 9 new scripts that are being self-described as "fully staged" by companies of various sizes, one of which is an adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland". Half or more of the festival's "more than 20" events appear to be workshops and readings, which are great, but hosting a reading of a new play isn't the same thing as producing one. Great for Portland? Yes. A quantum leap into the future? I'm not convinced. Yet.

It may not be an apples-to-apples comparison, but it's worth mentioning that if you'd gone to both weekends of the (25th annual) Northwest New Works Festival this year you would have seen 18 new performances including 0 readings.

And Brendan @7, what happened to non-attribution?

Posted by mge | November 11, 2008 2:26 PM

1) I must admit that I don't possess such detailed memories of the event, but I do maintain that if there was an "applause" demonstrated for the opinions you mentioned, it was in the clear minority. To characterize the general mood as being slanted against the production of new works of theatre is misleading, and irresponsible journalism.

2) New works generally *do* suck. And by "suck", I mean "do not demonstrate the depth or resilience of the so-called Classics". Unless you're grading on a curve, you generally have to wade through a number of "bad" productions (each of which undoubtedly has its positive elements), before you find yourself watching a wire-to-wire "good" play.

3) I guess the Statute of Limitations has run out on the Shitstorm guidelines, eh? That whole, "you can quote people, but don't attribute the quotes" thing? Good to know for the future, Brendan.

Posted by natopotato | November 11, 2008 2:34 PM

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