Sunday, November 20, 2005

Crabby, Crabby, Crabby

In recent weeks, I've seen at least ten local productions. In all but two or three of them the acting was more than serviceable, if occasionally unpolished, with a handful of impeccable performances. The best performances were by actors who seem to make up a coterie, which shows up again and again in the most well-excuted local productions. Traits these actors share are impressive training and wide experience in theater outside of Portland, with stints in either New York City or regional theater. These actors appear to be 'director proof.'

Performances that I'd deem solid, but more rarely inspired, were by actors with solid training--often an MFA-- and a lot of local experience. In them, we can see bad habits and raw talent vieing against one another, sometimes one quality wins out, sometimes the other does. They are often actors who have been adored by local theatergoers over the years but haven't worked much out of town. A lot depends on the director.

The worst performances were by actors with little, if any, formal training (and often they don't believe they need it). Some of these actors have considerable experience in local theater. However, I would bet few of them have wide experience as theatergoers, especially outside of Portland. There is nothing a director could do to make them better.

Why am I sniping like this? Bluntly put, I'm in a crabby mood after having seen several bad shows in a row. I'm irked at having shelled out a lot of money for shows that do not deserve $18-40 ticket prices and impatient with how sloppy these shows have been, and I don't mean only the acting: I've seen several sets not well-built (lacking attention to detail, not money to build them), messy work by the lighting sound operators, and uninformed personnel at front-of-the-house. To add insult to injury, I'm going to see some of these shows win their "Drammy" next year, God help us.

Again and again, the better actors around town tell me that there are too few good directors in Portland. Judging by the work I've seen over the last two years, this seems right (there's no helping the worst performances, but that's true everywhere.) These actors also tell me that they do think that the over-all quality of work in Portland is improving. I think that's true, though the local talent pool still seems "wide, but shallow," as one prominant local artistic director once put it. I'd say the talent pool could use some dredging; i.e., it needs better training and higher expectations of itself, as well as more good directors.

Of course, it's too easy to snipe, but it's also cathartic. I'll probably delete this posting before the day's out.



Followspot said...


The disparity of actors might be true, but the lack of strong directors with real vision seems to me the more immediate challenge to Portland theatre. I wonder if it has to do with Portland's affinity for "actors' theatres" ... where theatres are built by and around actors who might be good bad or otherwise.... unlike, say, a theatre that is mission oriented .... I don't know for sure -- just pitching ideas to think about.

Meanwhile, I'm dying to know what you saw that put you in such a funk.

Hang in there. That's the thing about theatre. It's like the weather. It's always changing.

Anonymous said...

Wow ~ undoubtedly there are some productions in Portland that don't merit the professional tag; but I have to say I'm a bit miffed at your seeming sense of arrogance and audacity to tell us what theatre should be in Portland. I gather you feel the need to do this having recently graduated from a professional training program and so are sensitive to all the facets that go into making a successful production.
If you're going to call some theatres unprofessional, have the moxie to let us know which ones and why.
Smaller theatres like 3rd Rail, SRT, Vertigo, Profile, Lakewood, DeFunkt, Sojourn, Sowelu and others put out excellent productions. Sometimes they miss.
Believe me, it's o.k. to rant but you have to realize there are theatre companies out there who put out plays simply for the love of the theatre and to fulfill dreams ~ not for any great accolades. This may result in criticism of the low production values, etc. Some of it could be fair, but also I think you need to go in with different expectations of these 'family' or 'neighborhood' houses. Less of a critical eye...just RELAX and enjoy it. If it's bad write THEM a letter telling them so and why.
I can write more, but I think you get my point.

David said...

Your coments are fair enough. Actually, I don't mean to give offence. And, I'm speaking from my own point of view, certainly (by the way, I HAVEN"T graduated from a professional acting program; I'm putting my training together piecemeal, with classes here and there, nearly all of them local.) I greatly respect little theater and the obstacles which can sometimes be unsurmountable.

Admittedly, I've just seen a string of shows with which I wasn't pleased, so my view is colored. If I have any point worthwhile making, it's that Portland theater people need to get out of town more to see how it's done elsewhere. The rest of my little diatribe should probably be taken with a grain of salt, as you have certainly done.

Also, I do know it may be unfair of me not to mention aspecific productions with which I've been unhappy. I do mention specific productions from time to time, usually when I know I have something good, as well as critical, to say. To tell you the truth, I haven't quite figured out how to talk about specific productions when I, myself, am involved in local theater, and have made my identity public, and want to work in this town (making my identity public may seem like a bad choice, but I'm committed to making my honest presence in the world, even when it doesn't--or, especially when--reflect well on me.) In due course, I hope to develop the kind of critical vocabulary, which I aver is lacking in the local scene.

On a final note: was this posting REALLY that harsh? Did you note that I have praise for some performances? And that my comments about the different 'rungs' of Portland actors are meant more diagnostically than prescriptively? At least, I think this post does that.