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.