I love this idea! Great incentive, and a great way to expose dance audiences to the newer, smaller companies. I'll probably be participating.
Rodney- I really want to thank you for posting a response to the review. Not only do I think that this is a discussion worth having, but your thoughtful insights on your own experience as a performer in "Oklahoma!" are extremely valuable in a conversation such as this.
I have to agree with you and PCS blog commenter Anne Adams (from Portland Monthly) that the opportunity to see a play with an all African American cast "without the backdrop of racism or political agenda as its antagonist" has been rare in American theater.
The choice to let the performers of Oklahoma! simply "BE" is not only a progressive way to present the musical, but also a valid take on how color-blind casting is implemented on today's stage. I now find myself wishing I had thought to explore this argument in the original review—it brings me to questions that I think might be at the very heart of our discussion. Are we as audience members meant to view "Oklahoma!" through a colorblind lens, or are we to see it through the historical perspective of a black town in the South at the turn of the century? Or both? Neither?
I think my discomfort—and what I ultimately found troubling about the production—was that textually and aesthetically (from directorial and design perspectives) the show lacked a tone of realism that would have grounded it in the history that the setting was based on. As you have pointed out, PCS' and your own research have been extensive and I was hoping to see some of that research seep into the fabric of the play, especially in regards to that specific time in African American history. What would this town actually look like? Feel like? Smell like?
Perhaps I'm being a greedy audience member. Maybe that's asking too much of a production that first and foremost was an energizing and uplifting night at the theater. Please note that I don't want, in any way, for these comments to overshadow the fact that I found the performances in "Oklahoma!" wonderful and the play to be a fine production. I can't help but pick at motivations, though. Especially when they are based on history, and when that history is one that involves America's treatment of race and culture. Which I think we can both agree is a topic worth discussing and pondering through the theater and other forms of artistic expression.
Also - to keep the discussion going further, I'd like to point you and anyone else who is following the convo to check out Barry Johnson's review over at Oregon Arts Watch (http://www.orartswatch.org/theater-review-…) and also a Mercury Blogtown thread that is currently underway: http://blogtown.portlandmercury.com/Blogto…
A truly thoughtful and inspiring response, Rodney. Encompasses a lot of what I believe many readers felt after reading Noah's review. Nothing problematic, just actors BEING. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for your thoughtful mentioning of race and the effect it could possibly play in this new production of ‘Oklahoma’ by casting a predominately African American cast. However, with respect to you, the fact that our director Chris Coleman decided to cast a predominately black cast is enough, in my opinion. The fact that the Black cowboys and frontier women of the West during this historic period never get talked about or seen is enough.
On the first day of rehearsal my cast mates and I were relieved to find out that nothing in the original book or music was going to be altered, for the mere fact that we were an all black cast. But, we did however learn a great deal about our ancestors of that time through in depth research, dialect work (speaking in Southern dialect vs. Midwestern, and the importance of that.) and constant discussion during the entire rehearsal process through to production.
It seems, to me, that so many things in the show now ring with greater significance and truth; because I am portraying a black cowboy of that time not just a cowboy. The mere fact that I am a black cowboy already holds weight, significance and credibility. The stakes inevitably are higher from the moment “Curly” steps on stage in the silence, stands and breathes in the morning air, then sits to pour dirt out of his boot, before setting down to open his mouth with the now optimistically pondering lyric, “There’s a bright Golden haze on the meadow” through to the Act 2 line, “They are gon’ make a state out of this territory. They ‘gon put it in the Union. The Country’s a changin’ gotta change with it”.
It gives me chills to be able to speak such truth from that perspective, and it says so much about what it must have been like for the black settlers/cowboys of that time and the urgency of hope and promise they must have felt. And there are many moments throughout the libretto that echo that sentiment, with each and every character in the show.
Before rehearsals began, like every theater piece I embark on I do a fair amount of research on the subject matter that I will soon inhabit. I spent the entire two months prior reading various books on Black Cowboys, Black Frontier men, Jim Crow Laws, Slavery, The Black Exodus of 1879, among others; and a very special book which gave me the validation I needed to provide a thorough response to your piece. The book I am referring to is called, “Acres of Aspiration” by Hannibal Johnson. After reading it I then re-read the script to Oklahoma and found many new textures and layers that I did not see or hear before. I was very pleased to find on the first day that the creative team for Oklahoma had done thorough research and more to validate everything that would be done and said in this particular production.
In the book, ‘Acres of Aspiration’ it “examines the life and legacy of some of America’s best known all-Black towns. Prominently in Kansas, then principally in Oklahoma, all-Black towns founded by Black seekers mushroomed in the post-Reconstruction era. Southern migrants formed their own frontier communities, largely self-sustaining. Black towns offered hope. Hope of full citizenship; hope of self-governance; and hope of full participation, through land ownership, in the American Dream.”
With that being said, these all black towns were built so that blacks at the time would be free of the racism and laws that once restricted them in the South and other places, where they could live without any of the hardships that we have come to know as the “Black struggle” and they could simply focus on HOPE and a better life; much like their white counterparts.
So the choice to keep the script intact and not put an agenda or statement of ‘race’ on it, to me, seems like the harder and less obvious choice and ultimately logical and accurate for the time and place in which the piece takes place. And gives people a chance to see a story on stage that rarely gets told in theater: an African American story about hope and love without the backdrop of Racism or political agenda as its antagonist.
I take great pride in the fact that we are doing something very special and ultimately important to who we are, not just as Black people but who we all are as Americans and all of our contributions to the History of this great country. With the end result being we’re no different. That is what makes this new production of Oklahoma to me seem fresh, timely and ultimately universal. Where at its heart and center is the universal theme of community and love. What is problematic in that?
I leave with a quote from a woman who spoke at our first day of rehearsal:
“ I have been called Nigger. I have been called Negro. I have been called Black. I have been called African-American. Now I just want to, BE.”
And that is what I feel we are doing, BEING.
Noah, forgive me. I disagree. The Civil Rights Act did not make the plight of the black american dissapear. As I understand it, this is the first professional all-black Oklahoma. It's 2011. This production allowed every single actor on that stage an oppurtunity to get paid to perform parts that otherwise would not be available to them. Again, it's 2011. Coleman didn't need to force the topic of race - it's already present in reviews like this.
I was just in Ashland, actually, and saw Caesar, Love's Labour's [sic] Lost, and Measure for Measure. I tend to agree with your review of Caesar. In general, it felt like the performers were somewhat distracted, and I suspected it was because Pirates was taking their attention, but what do I know. Not musical theater, that's for sure.
Anyway, I wasn't a huge fan of LLL, partially I don't like the play as much, and I didn't care for the themes they chose to emphasize--I see it more about the limits of formal education and the need to be broad-minded, than about "coming of age".
But both it and Measure for Measure were full of the energy and inventiveness that makes OSF productions American and special. I really enjoyed Measure for Measure, and would strongly recommend it. Although the physical sets were underwhelming the innovations and performances were just great. But then again, I felt the harder themes of the play got somewhat submerged in the energy. Of course, Shakespeare is very hard to do right, yet almost always worth the time and the ticket.
PS: Do not eat at "Grilla Bites" on the main drag. They'll fuck up your order, which would suck anyway, and don't give refunds. However, the asian crepe place near Market of Choice is cheap and good, if you don't mind dining near teenagers. Cafe Nomyen.
Great show John. Can't remember a thing you said (other than Alan Smith and your dad's winkle!) but nonetheless.......
Best. Performer. Ever. A true genius. Even caught him improv'ing on a street corner at Last Thursday once.
Talented. Ingenious. Delicately irreverent. Reggie is just want the cynicism of the United States of America needs. Now. Long live Reggie and his traveling improvisatory stance on pop political affairs and the mundane set against his breaks beats and timbre that make it oh-so enjoyable to swallow.
It's so weird how the most innocuous little topics will incite the most rabid comments. Digging on some of the tag names, though -- here's atcha, hookerwithapenis and homo666. As soon as flamingtesticles signs on, it's a home run.
Comedy Is OK is the best comedy show in town. It's $5. Try it, you might like it.
Read up on this new invention, and how it might be used to make your 800 word rant decipherable. Other than being visually inaccessible, its pretty accurate. It was wrong for me to mention Ron Funches.
"Comedy hurts when it's bad. Much more than a shitty band, an awful comedian has the potential to turn audience members away from the art as a whole."
This is a good highlight of the double standard, but I just wanted to chime in that fear of shitty comics is about 30% of the reason I stay away from shows by unproven talents: fear of an obnoxious crowd is the other 70%.
The fake conversation format of stand-up really invites the drunks/assholes/dum-dums to try to participate, and it is really, really annoying, even worse than the "Freebird!" dickbags at concerts.
Did you attend Cheap Date? I didn't...because they were SOLD OUT when i got there. How dare you imply that these comics would put on a show that didn't meet or beat the standards of any other show in the city that night. They are amazing comics and the fact that they refuse to associate with the likes of you is a testament to many of us of your incompetence. "Young" comics...examine yourself and your material HONESTLY and ask yourself...would i feel satisfied as an audience member if i was the only person performing and had paid to see myself perform? If the answer is no then you are stealing from the public and being untrue to yourself and your art by allowing someone to pay you to do a set no matter how enticing it seems. He is right about one thing...one bad performance can put a sour taste in an inexperienced audience member's mouth and can deter them from seeing standup again at that venue. However, in my experience working during paid and free shows, that phenomenon increases for every dollar paid to see the show. You may perform in front of a "200" person audience and get paycheck for doing so...but more than likely, if you do something like that too soon in your career, you will lose the RESPECT of that audience...and ultimately you are not respecting yourself. I started my journey into the world of comedy by watching others...attending countless open mic's and just sitting in the audience supporting my friends. Those comics earned my respect because i saw them putting their blood, sweat and tears into their work. Watching them take the sting of every silence and enjoy the elation of every laugh. Watching them grow as comedians and progress from the bottom of an open mike list to being asked to do a showcase. Watching their art develop...had any of them been lured into one of these paid gigs too early in their comedic development I venture to say that it would have done little if anything for their career but give them a false sense of accomplishment and deter them from putting everything they had into perfecting their art. The process is grueling...but those refined by fire will emerge beautiful. To the comment above...there is no reason that a young comic in portland shouldn't be able to perform in at least 3 shows a week if they put in the work and contact the appropriate people. I have watched comics who are consistent and strong and have put in the work be rewarded for that with invites and performances in many of the showcases around town. Yes there are clubs that "edit" their shows and yes it can be frustrating as a comic. But to say that they are holding back art is going a little far. There are plenty of showcases or open mic/showcase combinations that are run by wonderful, hard-working people who are happy to give new comics a shot. You are almost certain to grace helium's stage the first time you sign up on their open mic list and when you get discouraged by not being chosen every week remember that the comedy scene IS flourishing and continuing to grow as you pointed out and that the up and coming comics deserve the same chance which means someone else will have to sit out. Are there politics involved, i'm sure there are. But if you don't like it, move on and put your time and talents elsewhere. But those "big names" deserve to get paid and i hardly doubt that the "large" payments they receive are enough to park a luxury car in their driveways. Just because they are paid does not mean they themselves are doing anything to discourage younger comics...in face many of them fully support younger comics or spend their time teaching and grooming them...and most of them are well loved and respected by the community. Which leads me to my last rant....@hookerwithapenis...How dare you use Ron's name to further your BS argument. He is an amazing person with a big heart both for people in general and for Portland comedy. He works hard for himself and his family and certainly deserves more respect than that from a piece of crap like you. I would rather get on a stage with him for free in front of a 3 person audience than be associated with one of your shows no matter how much you paid me. And i think there are several of us that feel the same...maybe more after this article and discussion so i guess in a way i should thank you. To all those working their tails off to "make it"....i congratulate you and keep up the hard work. To those who want an easy hand out for crappy sets...you will never get anywhere and you are shooting yourself in the foot.
We take our battle to the streets! Well, the court of pulic opinion.I think the original author whoever it may be delivers an honest critique while remaining fairly on-point and objective. I'm guessing the four are Harvy's, Helium, Curious and Brody. I'm glad I got that by the way. For a second there I thought the Crab Bowl bay have been being recognized as a legitamate comedy club. My thoughts on the showcase's however, the "old guard" which only realy took office about a year and a half ago, consisting of many of the names mentioned in the article, are agains the showcases, unless they are their own. And the reason for this is simple the big names in Portland Comedy are gettin' paid. Paid large by the large comedy houses. They discurage the younger from comedians fron doing the showcases in a feeble attempt to control the comedy scene. But what really happens is. The younger comedians are getting more and more showcases that the big names not only refuse to go to, but also aim to deminish. And what happening is the younger comedians are getting more stage time in nicer venues than the open mic's. Rooms conducive to more realistic experience in the real world where the the folks come out to see some crazy comedians. Every attemp to hold back art backfires and explodes in your face, no Fruedian refrence intended. But all in all comedy is bustleing and continues to grow. In part by the big names and big name comedy houses, but also in part to all the hard-working small show producers who help foster a new generation of stand-up comics.
Anyone who reads this will know for a fact that you are crazy and inexperienced. Why don't you post your real name? And who are these favored sons? In every scene there is a section of kooks who think of stand up comedy the same way the movie "Hackers" thought of hacking. I smell corn.
Portland has a fantastic, burgeoning comedy scene. I don't think it is anywhere near a bubble. Austin is a similar city in size and spirit and supports a comedy scene that seems to me to be 10 times as big as ours.
We haven't even started to understand that there is comedy beyond stand up in Portland. At Curious Comedy Theater, we do fantastic improv and sketch comedy (as well as stand up) and people don't even know what that is yet. New York, LA and Chicago all understand the varieties of comedy and Boston, Austin, and other smaller cities are following suit.
Bridgetown, Helium and Curious are bringing consistently good to great comedy and many of the smaller comedy shows cropping up - whether stand up, sketch, or improv - are great, too. The ones that aren't good won't last. The ones that are good to great will.
I look forward to the conversation evolving from reactions to the newness of a comedy scene in Portland to actual reviews of comedy - what is solid and what isn't and why - like we see for music, movies and theater. I know we are getting there. Slowly but surely, we are getting there.
"Ian Karmel who, after taking the contest a year earlier, has become perhaps Portland's most recognized stand-up." This is like saying that someone has becoming the world's most renowned mime. That being said, Ian is without a doubt in the top tier of Portland comics.
If you ask the average Portlander who their favorite local comedian is, they'll ask you to leave em alone. This is not a reflection of Portland's comedic talent, but rather a condemnation of the logistical side of Portland's funny side. Indeed, before a bubble can pop, it must first inflate. With four legitimate comedy clubs in the city, one could assume that the bubble has reached a threshold. Not true.
For the sake of the argument thought, let's say that the "bubble" does pop. What does this mean?
It means that 3 of the 4 comedy clubs shut down. Since someone like Ron Funches is rumored to receive $50 a weekend at Helium, I doubt this will throw Portland comedy into a depression. The open mic nights will continue, and the booking companies that put on profitable shows will continue unabated, even boosted by the lack of expensive competition. Sorry, but when a Corona costs $5 at a venue, its business model lacks credibility.
But for the organizations that are serious about expanding and improving the Portland Comedy Scene, any noticeable "pop" of the bubble will be nothing but an opportunity in disguise. There is an abundance of bars in Portland, many with stages and sound systems that suit comedy. The venues that can accommodate more than 100 people are crying out for entertainment options that will pack their bars during down nights. These are the showcases that will bring in audiences and enhance the reputation of comedy in Portland in the long run, at a grassroots level.
Indeed, this is where newborn booking companies come into play. They will be the ones that get 200 people into a venue on a Wednesday and pay the comics for their talents. They will be the ones that lift the comedy scene into a regular weekly attraction around Portland. No working class couple is trying to go to Helium where they can buy a $9.50 six ounce martini, especially during a recession.
Let's thank Allah for something called "Creative Destruction." As Augie Smith has pointed out, nobody can make a living as a comic by just doing gigs in Portland. And even though, as one would have it from the author's past articles, there may be only six or seven comics in Portland, our city still has the potential to renew a type of cheap, live entertainment: affordable, accessible and engaging stand up comedy shows, that happen multiple times a week at venues spanning the Metro Area. Such a concept would hopefully intrigue the author, but again, judging by his past articles, the author may have already picked his horses. As a writer myself, I doubt that, and am willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt.
Let's be real: artistically, Portland has ALWAYS punched above its weight, and rightfully so. We are overdue for a comedic breakout. But an article like this, that focusses on a comedy show that isn't even the biggest in its area this week, does no justice to just how burgeoning our city's comedy scene is.
The author is correct that comedy tends to be a bubble-bust dynamic, but one would hope he branches out beyond his usual suspects. After all, the Oregonian certainly has, and they're practically a non-profit organization now. The least the Mercury can do is be honest to the actual comedy scene, and not just to a few favored sons.
Ian Karmel is the best. He was my instructor for the "standup comedian" course at the Brody Theatre. Great training, solid advice; not to mention fun. He got me off in the right direction; the rest is up to me.
For once, Andrew R. Tonry, you and I totally agree. Sincerely, Shawn Fleek
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