"WHAT WE'RE MAKING is not just a live event or live television, but living television," explains Jemma Nelson, co-founder of the New York City-based performance company Big Art Group. Nelson and Artistic Director/Co-Founder Caden Manson are walking me through the ideas behind their grand-scale, community-oriented project The People—Portland. It is the fifth time the group will be putting together an iteration of The People series they started in 2007, a project they customize for each community they work with.

The show is described by the duo as a mash-up of live theater, real-time footage, and footage from interviews of Portlanders that the Big Art Group and PICA conducted in May. The Portland interviewees were asked to describe their perspectives on concepts such as community, justice, terrorism, and democracy.

"Democracy" is a term that both Manson and Nelson reference a great deal during our conversation, thanks to The People's source material: Aeschylus' three-part tragedy the Oresteia, which culminates with a public trial of its main character, Orestes. "It's often considered not just a theatrical document, but a founding document in the Western canon," Nelson says of the Oresteia. "It has these things to say about justice and community and democracy, in an ancient way, and we wanted to play with that and think about how that could be relevant to contemporary times"

Like the ending of the Orestia, The People—Portland will be performed in a public setting, with actors from Big Art Group's company, local participants, and the Portland interviewees taking part in the spectacle. The end result is something that Manson and Nelson hope will be a sort of "social sculpture," in which ownership of the piece resonates with the public as well as with the artists behind the process. But given how opinionated Portland's population is, one wonders if resonance or dissonance will be most felt in the end.


Big Art Group

The People—Portland

Washington High School, Thurs Sept 6-Sat Sept 8, 8:30 pm, $15-20, pica.org