Unlike myself, local theater does not have a reputation for being a cheap date. The reality, of course, is that many shows are in the $8-15 range, and lots of theaters offer "pay-what-you-will" nights. But any reputation, no matter how unearned, can be hard to shake, and the perceived cost barrier is the default explanation for why many people avoid the theater.
The budget cognoscenti know, however, that some of the summer's finest entertainment comes from Portland Center Stage's annual JAW festival, a free two-week festival dedicated to the development of new scripts. Scripts are selected from a pool of applicants, subjected to an intense ten-day revision process, and then premiered, in workshop form, in the festival's final weekend. These scripts will go on to make their formal debuts at PCS or elsewhere—it's a great chance to catch an early glimpse of interesting, challenging contemporary work. To take a local example, Storm Large's solo show Crazy Enough debuted at JAW last summer in rough workshop form that was in many ways a better show than the one now playing in apparent perpetuity at PCS.
The first four days of the festival, dubbed "Made in Oregon," are exclusively dedicated readings of works-in-progress by playwrights, while the final weekend showcases the work of the festival's featured playwrights.
The Pulitzer-nominated Will Eno introduces his newest work, Middletown. Playwright Kim Rosenstock's script has captured my attention on the basis of its title alone: 99 Ways to Fuck a Swan. And local author Marc Acito debuts a new work—his first play, Holidazed, was a heart-warmer of a holiday show that did not in any way anticipate the apparent subject of his new script: "Two gay penguins trying to hatch a rock in the Central Park Zoo." JAW always promises surprising site-specific works—past years have included a choreographed scene in the Armory's bathrooms, and a dance performance meant to be viewed from above. Admission is free and there are no reservations—seating is on a first-come, first-served basis, and although it's unlikely that any of this year's featured playwrights will attract quite the rabid fan base that swarmed the Storm Large workshops last year, it's still a good idea to show up at least 15 minutes early.