I'd like to clarify something. I've never believed--or said--that just BEING in Portland makes actors worse, or that by living in Portland, one is per se not a serious actor. Far from it.
But, I do think that too many Portland actors unwittingly collude in producing a local acting style that obscures talent and makes truly engaging performances more rare than they ought to be. There is a lot of 'pushing' on Portland stages--and not a little yelling--which feels like a local mannerism, to me. When an actor who has worked a lot elsewhere performs in a cast made up of mostly locally-trained and locally-experienced actors, this insistent pushing is most visible (one, small company from which I see this kind of pushing much less often, is Defunkt.)
I've heard many experienced, local theater people attribute the less satisfying acting in Portland to weak directing, a point on which we'd all probably agree, for the most part. I've also heard, many times, blame put on the unavailability of good training, locally. Everyone gets a little Stanislavsky and Uta Hagen--that is, they know what a "beat" is--but too few work to develop their physical and vocal instruments. Again and again, I go to shows in which I strain to understand the actors through poor diction, fuzzy and weak vocal production, and insistent physical habits--e.g., there's a lot of 'turtle acting' out there, people sticking their necks way out in front of their bodies, arms stiff at the sides (again, I'm as guilty as the rest.) Some dedicated voice work and a few dance classes would go a long way, for many of us.
I also believe Portland actors would be well served by seeing more theater in other cities, regardless of the quality of local work. NYC is a $250 round trip air fare on Jet Blue and you can get a room at the Westside Y for $65. Not cheap, but doable, particularly in small groups. Seattle is just up the road. Chicago, Minneapolis, Louisville, are all cities to which Portland actors should be making occasional junkets, one way or another. I ran into a Portland director at the Humana Festival in Louisville, last year. She didn't disagree with me on this point.
I'm not particularly worried about the best of Portland theater, although I still feel not a little frustration, at many ART and PCS productions. At the top of the heap, we certainly have some fine actors, even if they do tend to get over exposed by being cast so often in the most visible productions (my 'willingness to disbelieve' gets frayed, when I see the same actors again and again, a problem familiar to anyone who has seen a lot of repertory theater. I was quite fond of the company at The American Rep, in Cambridge, MA, during the eighties, but even they grew tiresome, in time.)
The smaller theaters worry me more. Melissa is right to be thankful for having many community theaters at which actors can get on stage (see her comments below), in the first place (I'm one of them.) And she's right that bad acting is a world-wide epidemic, not a local phenomenon. But, it's the less satisfying work being done at smaller theaters which costs us audiences, in the long run. Recently, I've skipped seeing several shows because I felt burned this fall and winter after spending $15-$25 to see a lot of work that made me wish I were home, watching HBO. I just got fatigued. Truthfully. Has that not happened to you?
Hopefully, this post is more useful than my earlier pot shots. I mean to voice notions that help raise the bar for our work. By doing so, I show Portland actors the respect they deserve by taking them seriously, by expecting their best.
Again, with fondness for all gypsies,