Based Art Festival (TBA) vied for audience attention. MusicfestNW has come and gone but TBA will linger until September 14, so if you haven't caught any of the incredible performance and visual art happenings around town, now's the time to do it.
TBA's visual arts space is housed on the bottom floor of the appealingly unfinished Leftbank building on N Broadway. In addition to work from Jeffry Mitchell, Portlander Corey Lunn, and more, the space has been built up to include small viewing rooms for screening some of the festival's film offerings.
Upstairs houses late-night performance space the Works, which so far this week has seen a Beyoncé impersonator; the Parenthetical Girls backed by a chamber ensemble; a shattering performance from Au's volunteer choir; raunchy hipster hiphop from Ice Rod; and the Portland Flash Choir. (As an added incentive for those who care about such things, the crowds at the Works are some of the most consistently good looking I've ever seen at a Portland venue.)
One of last weekend's highlights was Mike Daisey's absolutely staggering two-hour monologue MONOPOLY. The rotund, sweating Daisey, gesticulating and grimacing and swearing profusely, covered topics as diverse as the board game Monopoly, Nikola Tesla, Bill Gates, and bunnies—and connected them all into a hilarious, moving, and sophisticated take on the ramifications of corporate monopolies. Daisey will be performing another monologue this weekend, this one about the history of the Department of Homeland Security—don't miss it. (See "This Week in TBA" on pg. 33 for details.)
As exciting as it is to experience top-tier national and international performing artists, it's also a sheer, smug pleasure to see how well our local acts chalk up. Sojourn Theatre does the Portland art scene proud with BUILT, a site-specific, highly interactive show set in the South Waterfront neighborhood. BUILT takes an open-ended approach to the questions of urban planning, asking the audience to consider how Portland's projected population growth should be handled. Do we build up, cramming in condos until the entire city looks like the South Waterfront, or push our already straining urban growth boundary even farther out? Is it better to live in a brand-new condo with an energy-efficient stove and three-pronged electrical outlets, or a charming, poorly insulated old house with a big porch, a breakfast nook, and an ant problem? What does "better" mean, anyway? Better for whom? The show is interactive but never pushy, as Sojourn ensemble members guide the audience through a series of games, questions, and presentations, all geared toward encouraging audience members to identify the principles that underlie their assumptions about cities and homes, wants and needs. It's a stunningly successful example of theater's power to engage with contemporary issues in a meaningful, potentially transformative fashion. And it's homegrown, so suck it, France.
One of the most anticipated performances of the festival was Reggie Watts' Transition. Watts made a huge impression on TBA audiences last year with his incredible Disinformation, and the new show, developed at the urging of TBA Guest Artistic Director Mark Russell, is the most elaborate production to date from the big-haired, beatboxing performance artist. It's also not what most audience members were expecting: Watts is a phenomenally talented performer, fully capable of captivating a room for an hour with a completely improvised set of free-associating monologues and music composed on the spot, but Transition is a highly choreographed, conceptual ensemble work that combines video and sketches. As a friend put it, "I wanted to see Reggie, not Reggie and... four other people." This disappointment is understandable—I felt it myself while watching Transition—but it also raises the question of how audience expectations play into one's experience of a show.
Traditional audiences at traditional performances expect to be entertained, but there's nothing traditional about this festival, and audience members at TBA would do well to think beyond the "here we are now, entertain us" mentality. As avant-garde French choreographer Jérôme Bel puts it in his TBA show, Pichet Klunchen and Myself, a contemporary artist's job is "finding new forms of art that represent the contemporary world." The notoriously polarizing Bel went on to explain why he never gives unhappy audience members their money back: "If you want your money back, it means you didn't get what you were expecting. Which means you expected something." If there's one thought to keep in mind when plunging into the often confusing, occasionally boring, intermittently exhilarating whirlwind that is TBA, it's that one.