At the Works last year, Melanie Valera decided to do more than just play the same old set.
Inside the monolithic, long-abandoned Washington High School, Valera (AKA K Records' Tender Forever) was given a theater, a stage, and a budget. She called in collaborators—video artists and tech folks. They set up green screens and iPads, video cameras and projectors, which filled Valera's precious electro pop with extra life. It was charming, honest, catchy, and something more—a tactile exploration of technology's influence on our lives.
It was a genre-defying collaboration and a provocative concept expertly realized. In other words, the best of the Works.
The purpose of the Works, TBA's Dionysian late-night outpost, has become twofold: It is a salon, where artists, curators, and festivalgoers can carouse and congregate, as well as a venue, where artists and performers can collaborate in a grand theatrical space they might not otherwise be afforded.
"What we're really looking for in the Works programming is not just entertainment or wallpaper," says Kristan Kennedy, PICA's visual arts curator and Works co-programmer, "but performances that really engage the audiences in a different way that may be less formal."
But while Kennedy and co-programmer Erin Boberg Doughton love seeing artists and performers stretch out in the space, experimentation isn't required.
"It doesn't always have to be a multimedia experience," Kennedy says. Take, for example, Big Terrific (Fri Sept 16), a comedy group that hosts a showcase in New York City. "We would be fine if they just got up and attempted to make us laugh," Kennedy says of the program, which represents the first night of pure stand-up ever at TBA. "We respect them as artists and want them to do what they do."
One of the Works' returning artists is Portland musician Claudia Meza, formerly of Explode into Colors. Last year Meza curated Drum Machine, which mingled contemporary, explorative artists and more traditional musicians. The evening culminated in Meza's collaboration with Portland Taiko, a pairing that has continued since. Meza returns this year with New Musics (Wed Sept 14), and along with a melting pot of dancers, video artists, and classical and avant-garde composers, she will debut her latest work with Portland Taiko, an "in-progress wordless opera."
A similarly percussive program is scheduled for opening night (Thurs Sept 8). It's become tradition for the Works to begin with a "sweaty dance party," Kennedy says, and this year New Orleans' Vockah Redu will do the honors. Along with headliner DJ Beyondadoubt, the walls at Washington will rattle with the bass of sissy bounce, a punishingly heavy yet supremely energetic strain of gay Southern hiphop that's almost entirely devoted to an ass-jiggling thump.
Another promising evening comes courtesy of Fast Weapons Presents (Fri Sept 9). The showcase is curated by Nathan Howdeshell—hatched after Kennedy saw him perform a spoken-word performance at the shoebox-sized Valentine's, Howdeshell expanded his piece into a short play under the name Harry K. Additional performances include the debut of Gossip singer Beth Ditto's solo electro project, and a performance by Ghost Mom (featuring former members of Bikini Kill), as well as integration with Howdeshell's print project, Nudity in Groups. Look for it in the co-ed bathrooms.
Another local curator, Experimental 1/2 Hour (Mon Sept 12), is preparing to transform their local cable access show for a live audience. How their distinctive, vintage public-studio look of green screens, double exposures, and burned-out videotape will translate on stage is anyone's guess. On TV, though, the collage of live music performances, lovely stop-motion animation, and psychedelic art freakouts dovetail nicely.
Along with the Works performances and classrooms full of exhibits, Washington High is stocked with a beer garden and plenty of nooks and crannies in which to chat up artists, curators, pretty people, art buyers, and potential donors.
In its third year playing host, however, a stitch of Washington's mystique has worn away. Enamored with the place when TBA originally threw open the doors to the old school, festivalgoers had a tendency to overlook the art. "The second year we played off that," says Kennedy. "We understood what the energy of the audience was and we really worked to meet them halfway.
"It really shifts from year to year," Kennedy continues. "We can't predict what's going to be wild and what's going to be a demure night, so we try to program a mix of things so it's unexpected, whatever you find."
All events take place at Washington High School, 531 SE 14th. For complete listings, see our TBA calendar.