Sorry Bucky

By Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen

“Why does everyone look so glum?” Someone asked as I exited the building after seeing the first performance of The Love Song of Buckminster Fuller.

“Was it that bad?”

“No, no. It was good. You’ll like it.” I heard myself saying. And, mostly I believed that, but a little while later, I realized the piece had actually made me feel profoundly sad.

Buckminster Fuller with models of the Standard of Living Package and Skybreak Dome

I knew a fair amount about Buckminster Fuller’s story before seeing the film (though it did answer some burning questions I had had regarding bathroom breaks during epic lectures). The performance beautifully illustrated a story I already knew, one we all already know—one about failed utopian visions and hair-brained, lovable inventors. The thing that made me so sad about the piece was that it made clear how fundamental it is that we equate utopian vision with failure, with tyranny and disaster. This is at best a boring equation, at worst it’s the greatest tragedy of our time. I feel like all I do lately is quote the anthropologist and activist David Graeber, but he has the most interesting thing to say about utopianism I have heard in a long time: “There is nothing wrong with a utopia unless you have just one.” Continue reading

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second city

Exhibit A: Portland 1

For 10 days each year, there are two Portlands at once, as if in parallel universes, co-existing, crossing over and collaborating for all of us that live, eat, drink, sleep and breathe the festival that we call TBA. Of course the first Portland is the one in which we have to get up in the morning and go to work, fight traffic, bring the kids to school, and go from here to there checking off each item of that day’s to do list. It’s a stable and quite awesome place to have to do all those things, and we who live here know how to make the most of it for the other 355 days of the year, but… Continue reading

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Being the Audience

Who are we, the audience, to the piece and to each other?

1.At the beginning of each performance I look around the room at all of us convened together, ready to pay attention to the coming event. Who are we to whom this show matters enough for us to pause our to-do lists momentarily and sit waiting to give our attention to something beyond our own responsibilities? What else do we have in common other than that we are here together? We will share a visceral experience of witnessing, but we will likely see, hear and remember very different accounts of the same event. Each of us is choosing to give over our bodies so that our lives can be temporally held in time by the structure of the piece instead of just holding our shape together through our own doing. For me being the audience is often a pleasant sense of surrender, even if it is surrender into discomfort.

2.When I look at the other people’s faces in the audience at Miguel Gutierrez’s show, we are all sitting scrunched on the floor of the stage, where he commanded us to settle, our legs and arms wound around us in hopes of not invading each other’s 1/4 inch of personal space while our smells: sweat, breath and the odors from inside of shoes betray our attempts at proprietary. Behind me a face looks back at me full of the uncomfortable sense that he is not the person this piece was made for. Miguel said at the beginning of his performance “you’re all artists here, right?” and as I get my bearings with his piece I realize it is even more specifically for an audience of people who are interested in thinking about what goes into making a work of art in order to teach that to others. I am that person at times in my life and so I feel willing to go along with wherever Miguel takes us, even if my foot is getting numb. Our physical and social discomfort as audience members is harnessed into being a part of the piece: Miguel’s live set design. But for that other guy behind me it all just meant he is stuck being out of place.

3.Sitting in the balcony at the Winningstad during El Rumor Del Incendio I feel the performance is being launched at me, but missing its mark. I think about how difficult it is for me to identify with the political motivations of the woman protagonist or with her various revolutionary comrades. While most of the play is a narration of Mexican historical events in Spanish with subtitles projected onto a screen, they never mention the back story of the political conditions that necessitated these particular people’s radicalization. I have neither the background knowledge of Mexican history or the personal allegiance to armed revolution to respond intuitively with sympathy to the characters. I ask myself why the artists chose to tell the story in this way with so much information and yet without basic context. Who do they envision us to be as their audience? How do they want us to respond to what they are presenting? Do they expect us to be so certainly the cultural left that we naturally side with all socialist activists? (Usually I am a pretty easy sell with idealistic political content.) This piece wasn’t composed for TBA audiences. It was first performed in the artists home country and has been touring Europe, Canada and the US. I wish I could hear the artists wonder amongst themselves how each of these different audiences will experience their work. By the next performance I see from them, Asalto al Agua Transparente, I feel trained into their staccato mode of performing and surrender much more willingly.

Ariana Jacob

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In-between things

By Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen

Every year I find myself treating the festival as a riddle, looking for the substantive reoccurrences in the performances, exhibitions, and public conversations, hoping I guess to unlock the hidden theme. This year is no different, although I feel as if I don’t have to look as hard. Over the past few days, I have fit in The Quiet Volume, Mo Ritter’s Understanding Witches Now, (part of) The People-Portland, El Rumor del Incendio, Miriam, Lisa Radon’s re-enactment of Alex Cecchetti’s Summer is not the Prize of Winter, and Miguel Guttierez’s Heavens What Have I Done. (All of which I have critiqued, partially re-enacted, and lauded in my kitchen, late at night, for an audience of one or two. It’s really the best place for unfounded claims and making a fool of oneself.)

Throughout the experiences of TBA 2012, I have been involuntarily tying mental threads, binding the overlapping objects and gestures I see. These physical echoes double themselves into recognition through and across performances and performing objects. I have found basins of water, debris, and fragile hands. Coins tossed defiantly from green bags and plastic sacks. (Artists don’t have to make cents!) Blindness, illiteracy, and the inability to speak. Cigarettes being tossed lit or unlit. Rubble and stones and pebbles and pieces of ground, propping things up or being knocked down. Writing on the wall, sitting on the floor. Cats and rabbits and fish.

Mo Ritter’s balanced key, from Understanding Witches Now, ceramic and steel

There is no key in all of these patterns of things. Art isn’t neatly riddlic (which is good because if it was, I would walk away). But for my brain these small concretes are how I anchor and organize the larger abstracts.

Simple-bound Hoko sinker stones

Precarity is everywhere: in the struggles of the creative worker laid bare (and rainbow-clad), in the process of re-telling a story, in balancing a column of objects or a community’s political opinions. All of the work I have seen teeter-totters between easy categorical units. (Someone I talked to, reflecting on the heavy abstraction in End Things, suggested the feeling of being stranded. I think that is one way to look at it.)

We are seeing the shape of things between studio and stage, artist statement and artwork, rehearsal and performance, audience and participant, a thing and its representation. The in-between is a romantic place, a place for reinvigorating a new phenomenology and embrace of reverie. This is where new imaginaries are formed. And that is the charge we have now–to create and learn to recognize new stories, histories, and images as our own. Ones that will support a slowly redemptive future rather than  a seemingly unavoidable apathy and cataclysm.

From Alex Cecchetti’s Summer is Not the Prize of Winter

When I brought my 2 1/2-year-old son Calder to Washington High School this afternoon. We walked amidst Mo Ritter’s sculptures and video screens. He repeated the question: “What is she almost about to do?” These things are just things, but (my interpretation of his inquiry is that) he recognizes that they are somehow more than that.

“We are constantly shifting between moving the object and the object moving us.

–Please don’t touch”


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This year—our final one occupying Washington High School—we’ve switched things up a bit for our beer garden buildout. Here, on the eve of the Festival, architect Ellen Fortin offers a little behind-the-scenes peek at her plan, and the work it took to make it all happen.

The plans…

“I have been working with other artists on creating temporary architecture for PICA for years—ever since the creation of the Dada Ball bar, complete with a 30’ high nautilus enclosure of white gauzy diaper fabric. It’s been a long history of making cool things with little money, borrowed materials, and lots of committed artists.

This is the last year that PICA will use Washington High School for THE WORKS. It has been a comfortable, yet sprawling site to transform over the last few years. Each year we take a different approach. To me, when walking the site, there is one great space: the WHS front entry, which is a stunning perch with a canopy of trees and a view of Portland in the distance. Everything should be THERE: the TBA entry, the Beer Garden, and access to the WHS performances, with more focus, more energy, and maybe a little tension in one primary place.

Wayfinding. In a big way. Photo: Mitchell Snyder.

We needed to create some shelter, clarity of direction, identity, and containment. We needed to focus on the performances. We needed to move lots of people, accommodate casual dining, and a very big bar. And of course, it needs to be temporary, quick, and cheap.

Experientially, we’ve created a kind of threshold at several key points as you move through the site. These transitions mark the entry to the TBA Festival, the Beer Garden, and finally to the interior WHS performance venues. These thresholds are a symbolic beginning and end, a boundary, a point at which you step through the looking glass and suspend disbelief. Have fun. We hope organic and spontaneous things can happen with this convergence.”

Megan Holmes painting light boxes.

The awesome team at ADX setting up our portals.

ADX really rallied around TBA and built us our beautiful light box entry way.

Guildworks rigging their sky sails.

Guildworks sails at night. Photo: Mitchell Snyder.


The people love it! Photo: Wayne Bund.

The result… Photo: Mitchell Snyder.

A huge amount of thanks goes out to Ellen Fortin Design + Architecture, Makenna Lehrer, Megan Holmes, ADX, Guildworks, Bill Boese, Eco Productions, and all of the volunteers who made this year’s design for THE WORKS into a reality. We could not have done it without you!

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A few years ago, then-Mercury writer Patrick Alan Coleman shared his packing list for a TBA “survival kit”—essentially, all that stuff you can cram in a tote bag to keep you running between venues for 10 frantic days of the Festival. Most of the staff have been doing this work for years, so we’ve got our own TBA essentials dialed in pretty well at this point. Taking a cue from Coleman, we decided to share some of our own personal survival kits. Maybe you could learn a thing or two for your own “pro” experience.

Angela Mattox, Artistic Director, plans ahead like the seasoned professional she is:

Disposable Flask
Facial spritz
Mini Super glue (for shoe malfunctions)






Kate Merrill, Institutional Giving Manager, has her priorities straight:

Photo of my 3-month old Lily, to remind me that TBA is as easy as pie compared to my other job

Steve Reich Pandora play list, to blast on my headphones and keep me awake when writing grants during the day.





Helmy Membreño, Artist Services Coordinator, keeps it caffeinated:







Patrick Leonard, Communications Director, needs peace of mind that he’ll be fed and get to where he’s going without a hitch:

Replacement bike tubes
Patch kit
Bike pump (bad history with TBA flats)
That magic, early morning window of time before the other staff get in, to write the daily newsletter.
iPhone and camera
Morning coffee, staff lunches, and late-night beer garden snacks with my people.

Roya Amirsoleymani, Membership Coordinator and Office Manager, believes in the isotonic healing of coconut water:








Erin Boberg Doughton, Performing Arts Program Director, is resolutely practical:

All Festival, Front of House and tech staff contacts in my phone.
Phone charger.
Festival pass, driver’s license and keys on a lanyard so I don’t loose them.
A water bottle, nuts, string cheese, and crackers for eating on the fly.
A roll of quarters for quick meter plugging running around between venues.
EmergenC packets for warding off colds.
Hylands Calms Forte for stress and insomnia.
Little notebook and pencil for taking notes and making lists in the dark during performances.
Sweater, hat, and scarf for cold nights in the beer garden.

Casey Szot, Volunteer Coordinator, needs her wheels:








Kristan Kennedy, Visual Art Curator, just needs magic and comfort and style:

One smooth flat stone
One TBS of Manuka Honey a day
Taxi Magic
My “squares” (Phone and Camera)
Hoop Earrings
Pink Wine and Ice Cubes

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To help you navigate this year’s Festival, we’ll be sharing regular posts on some of the “through-lines” of this year’s program. Whether you have a particular interest in dance or site-specific projects or visual art or film, we’ve got a whole suite of projects for you to discover. So buy a pass and start making connections between this year’s artists. In this edition, we’ll draw a map to the great home-town acts at TBA.

One of our goals with TBA is to always put local, emerging artists on the same stages as renowned, national and international artists. It’s so important to us that we present our city’s talent in front of all of the audiences and visiting presenters. Each year, TBA has launched artists to national attention, helping them secure gigs across the country and around the world with our peer organizations and festivals.  This year, we’ve got a whole new crop of home-town favorites, just waiting to be discovered by local audiences and visitors alike.

Claudia Meza seems to be everywhere at TBA this year. She’s running not one, but three related projects for the Festival: an interactive sonic collage of tape loops on casette players, a QR code walking tour of unnoticed sounds around the city, and a live concert of local musicians performing compositions in response to this sonic landscape. At the heart of all of these projects is a real love for the everyday sounds of life—the way in which water flows, echoes occur, or traffic rolls by—and the sounds of Portland. For her closing weekend concert, Meza has rallied a great crew of other local musicians and collaborators, including Luke Wyland of AU, Matt Carlson of Golden Retriever, E*Rock and more. Keep your ears open! Continue reading

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This year’s TBA will be tastier than ever, thanks to the hard work of the inimitable Lola Milholland and her co-workers at Ecotrust and Edible Portland She’s arranged a series of nightly chefs, snacks, and blind tasting games under the banner of TBA EATS. Here, Lola writes about what she’s excited to eat at the Festival. 

Scene from the beer garden at TBA:10. Photo: Wayne Bund.

Earlier this week, I was sitting on the Ecotrust roof with chefs Jason French (Ned Ludd), Naoko Tamura (Chef Naoko’s Bento Café), and a co-worker, watching them pick up small cups that I’d filled with different bite-sized leftovers from dinner the night before—buckwheat crepe, quick pickled cucumber, romano beans with shiso, and an aprium (apricot-plum)—and, with their eyes closed, shoot them back. They opened their eyes and searched small bingo boards looking for the ingredients they thought they’d tasted.

This was our trial run of Blind-Tasting Bingo, a game that Jason, Naoko, and Johanna Ware of Smallwares will each host during TBA:12. Each chef will prepare 15 “one-bite wonders,” as Jason has been calling them. Under the lights of the TBA beer garden, the 25 people who sign up will taste their way through, eyes closed, searching within their tongues and noses for clues to what in the world these chefs have concocted.

Blind-Tasting Bingo is one of several food experiences that PICA has added to the TBA WORKS this year. The most involved is a kitchen, built onsite, where a different chef will cook each night. Many visionary, talented Portland chefs have stepped up to prepare the kind of food you’d want to eat in the late-night TBA frenzy, featuring late-summer Oregon produce. (Full schedule below! Gosh it’s going to be good.) If you haven’t made it out to their brick and mortar restaurants, do not miss this chance to eat their food for beer garden prices. It would be a shame if you ate before coming–save room!

Continue reading

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To help you navigate this year’s Festival, we’ll be sharing regular posts on some of the “through-lines” of this year’s program. Whether you have a particular interest in dance or site-specific projects or visual art or film, we’ve got a whole suite of projects for you to discover. So buy a pass and start making connections between this year’s artists. In this edition, we’re bending an ear to some of the more experimental sounds at TBA.

Laurie Anderson. Photo: Lucie Jansch.

From street corners to late-night stages, TBA has filled Portland with avant garde composers and experimental musicians year after year. We’ve hosted improvisational marathons in a gallery window, comic beatboxers, pop cellists, a guitar “orchestra,” and a dance and music suite in public fountains. This year, we’ve invited a few legendary musicians, as well as a few young composers, spanning generations to show the range of contemporary sound art and music.

Perhaps the “grand dame” of contemporary music, Laurie Anderson returns to Portland to complete her trilogy of solo story works, which she presented with PICA in 2002 and 2006. Dirtday! finds Anderson back with her violin and her wry observations on modern life, reflecting on this past decade since 9/11. “Politicians are essentially story tellers,” says Anderson, “they describe the world as it is and also as they think it should be. As a fellow story teller, it seems like a really good time to think about how words can literally create the world.” Luckily for us, she tells these stories with considerable grace and stirring sounds. Continue reading

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To help you navigate this year’s Festival, we’ll be sharing regular posts on some of the “through-lines” of this year’s program. Whether you have a particular interest in dance or site-specific projects or visual art or film, we’ve got a whole suite of projects for you to discover. So buy a pass and start making connections between this year’s artists. In this edition, we point out the projects in this year’s TBA for audiences looking to get a bit “more involved” in the art.

Ant Hampton & Tim Etchells, The Quiet Volume. Photo: Lorena Fernandez.

Undoubtedly, part of what makes contemporary performance so compelling is the number of artists working outside of the confines of the theater. Whether performing in alternative spaces, like street corners and office buildings, or interacting directly with the audience both as volunteers and unwitting participants, these artists can realize projects unlike anything from a traditional company. Think about past TBA projects like Back to Back Theatre or Offsite Dance Project or Tim Crouch to name just a few artists from recent years. Each of these artists made us think differently about the spaces of art and the daily world we live in. If you’re one of those audience members who leaps at the chance to step on stage or catch a performance under a bridge, then you’re in good company for TBA. Read on for a few of this year’s projects that take art beyond the proscenium arch and—sometimes—out into the audience.

Local musician Claudia Meza approaches her project as a tool to turn audience attentions back onto the world around them. Riffing on John Cage’s theories of sound and the city, Meza has coordinated a walking tour of Portland’s sonic space, hand-picked by local musicians and composers. Follow a map around town to tune into the sounds we usually ignore, or pick up your smartphone when you stumble upon a QR code, placed at prime spots around the city. Wrapping up the project on the closing weekend of TBA, Meza will host a free outdoor concert in Industrial SE, featuring compositions inspired by the sounds of Portland. Continue reading

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