Adventure Calls: Fall Arts Preview

Adventures, like the people who embark on them, come in many shapes and sizes.

You could find yourself shimmying up a set of towering circus poles or stepping into the cockpit of a one-person airplane. You might wind up dancing your way across New York’s storied stages, or even chasing down elusive treasure a bit closer to home.

Whenever and however an adventure comes calling, say these Portland entertainers, there’s much to be said for striking out boldly. This fall, they’ll be taking to the stages of Portland and beyond to inspire other budding adventurers to their own personal feats of derring-do.

Be prepared for amazement: This family-friendly performing arts lineup will take you sky-high.

Northwest Childrens Theater and School: Soaring to New Heights

Birds and aviators are both creatures of the air, relying on wings and a broad view of things to help them navigate the world.

It’s only natural, then, that when staging an original theatrical history of women in aviation, you call in an acting ensemble composed entirely of bird puppets, right?

Northwest Children’s Theater and School Artistic Director Sarah Jane Hardy and Associate Artistic Director John Ellingson think so. They’re the masterminds behind The Starlings, a roving flock of
30 puppet birds of varying size and temperament designed to interact directly with theatergoers.

Families can get up close and personal with the birds (and their puppeteers) at NWCT’s fall show, The Starlings Present: Amelia Earhart’s First Flight. The Starlings will act on stage, but they’ll also take tickets and usher, and perhaps even treat the house to a crash-course in flight.

The story of women in flight features plenty of outsized adventures, but you can be brave without being too bold: the bird puppet called Little One (puppeteered by Ellingson) is proof of that.

This bird suffers from a chronic case of stage fright, but he remains determined to push past his fears. “Sometimes, when you want to do something very exciting, it can be scary,” Little One explains. “I get more scared than the other birds. Once you do it, though, it feels really good. There is this moment before, when you don’t know if it’s gonna be fun, you’re not sure you’re gonna make it. But then it’s exciting and you want to do it again.”

This show aims to encourage children to see themselves as storytellers, capable of rising high, says Hardy: “It’s an experience they couldn’t have in the cinema; it could only happen if it’s happening live in the community. Every show will be different, every performance. We want kids to feel brave, empowered and inspired.”

« See for Yourself » 

The Starlings Present: Amelia Earhart’s First Flight runs September 23 to October 15 at the Northwest Children’s Theater’s Mainstage.

« Also playing » 

Cinderella, running December 2 to January 1.

Oregon Childrens Theatre: Bolder choices, bigger rewards

When adventure comes calling, says Forest Grove high school sophomore Grace Malloy, a little feistiness definitely comes in handy.

This fall, Malloy stars in a mash-up of the Judy Moody children’s book series, reimagined for the stage by Texas-based playwright Allison Gregory.

Malloy, who’s eyeing a career on Broadway, can seriously relate to Judy, who overcomes a series of personal challenges while embarking on a fateful treasure hunt: “We both have a lot of spunk. I enjoy her imagination; a big part of the show is she can take a very simple thing and turn it into something huge, which is something my mom has always accused me of. She’s also very driven and knows what she wants, and she tries very hard, which can sometimes lead to trouble.”

This isn’t a story about the virtues of perfect behavior, agrees Gregory: “Judy Moody is like every kid. She’s bright, she’s ambitious, she’s flawed and she’s moody, she’s curious and she has a great sense of humor.”

Every adventurer needs a sidekick (whether she wants one or not), and when Judy’s joined on the hunt by her pesky younger brother, the adventure becomes a lesson in teamwork.

“There’s a really lovely sort of mutual respect between them that only shows itself after they’ve been through something difficult,” says Gregory.

The Portland production kicks off a year-and-a-half-long rolling premiere commissioned by seven theaters across the country, including Oregon Children’s Theatre, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this season. Gregory was hand-selected for the project, and she’ll be retooling her script based on what she learns from each respective staging.

Both writing a play and starring in one can challenge you in ways you never imagined, agree playwright and actor.

“It’s about making bold choices,” says Malloy. “[Acting] has helped me get out of my comfort zone and try new things, in theater and in regular life.”

Pursuing your dreams always entails risks, adds Gregory, but good things come when you lead with your heart: “You have to go in knowing that the path you forge is going to be unique to you.”

« See for Yourself »
Judy Moody and Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt runs October 21 to November 19 at the Newmark Theatre.

« Also Playing »
Pete the Cat: The Musical, running January 20 to February 18, 2018.

Sound Adventuring

Enjoy a kid-sized dose of musical
merry-making at these fun fall events.

Oregon Symphony Kids Concert: Star Wars Spectacular Embark on an epic space-and-sound saga, showcasing the triumphant and now-iconic compositions of John Williams, beginning with Princess Leia’s Theme. November 12, 2 p.m., Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Portland Youth Philharmonic: Beethoven’s 5th See some of Portland’s brightest young classical musicians in action at this concert, also featuring works by Chopin and Dvořák: November 11, 7:30 p.m., Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Metropolitan Youth Symphony: Music from the Americas Embark on a musical journey with the MYS symphony orchestra, featuring a classic from Gershwin, plus selections from the Latin American musical tradition: November 12, 7:30 p.m., Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

The Circus Project: Rising high with body confidence
Eight-year-old Matea Condron’s own high-flying adventure began right at home, at age 3, when her father hung her from a pull-up bar. The tiny Matea swung and she shimmied, seeming instantly at home in the air, and she’s been climbing the literal walls ever since.

Condron’s found an outlet for her acrobatic impulses at The Circus Project, a Northwest Portland-based center for contemporary circus arts. Here, she’s developed a body confidence that belies her years.

“I just love being in the air,” says Condron. “It makes me trust my body more, and that feels good for me.”

In her two years here, she’s developed a special love for the aerial hoops known as lyra and also the silks: long billowing strands into which she locks her feet and twirls up to 20 feet into the air.

Like Condron, the Circus Project was born eight years ago, when founder Jen Cohen set out to create an intensive circus arts training program for Portland’s homeless youth. The mission has since expanded, but the core focus hasn’t changed: to transcend social barriers while inspiring personal transformation.

“[Circus arts] is a combination of athleticism and all the benefits you get from being physical with your body; and it’s also a creative art with the benefits you get from expressing yourself, performing and working in a team,” explains Circus Project Managing Director Kirsten Collins.

These days, Condron can be found climbing the door jambs and hanging off the chairs at home as she improves her moves and dreams of a Cirque du Soleil debut. For now, though, she’s focused on mastering the lyra and perfecting those all-important footlocks. She recently joined Orbits, a new Circus Project company, and she eagerly awaits her next performance.

The girl can’t help it; the circus is in her blood.

“Two seconds after I start performing, I’m like, ‘Okay, this is awesome, let’s keep going,’” says Condron. “And at the end of the performance, I’m like, ‘Why isn’t this longer?!”

« See for Yourself » 

Watch performers young and old take to the air at the Circus Project Open House, set for Saturday, October 21, 4 pm-7 pm, at The Circus Project, 1420 NW 17th Ave.

Bold Moves: More great dance-inspired shows to see this fall.

Oregon Ballet Theater: George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker® Join Marie and her Nutcracker Prince as they battle the Mouse King and voyage to a magical land ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy, all set to the tune of Tchaikovsky’s brilliant score: December 9-24, Keller Auditorium.

NW Dance Project: Fall Performances: Renowned international choreographers and dancers will delight audiences with a show featuring everything from ballet to hip-hop, with Chinese and European influences:
October 19-21, Lincoln Performance Hall.

Gotta catch ‘em all

This fall brings some fan-favorite big names to town for one-off shows — catch them quick, before they’re gone!

Shopkins Live! Shop It Up: Based on the wildly popular toy line, this fizzy tale takes place in “Shopville” where fan faves including Kooky Cookies, Slick Breadstick and Shady Diva are getting ready for the annual fashion pageant. Naturally, hijinks ensue, all set to music and dance routines. Pro tip: The VIP “party package” gets your kids in to an afterparty where they can take pics with characters from the show. Saturday, November 4, 1 pm at Keller Auditorium.

PJ Masks Live: The motley band of superheroes from the Disney Jr. hit cartoon series take to the stage, with a rollicking show that finds our heroes — Catboy, Owlette and Gekko — saving the earth from their predatory arch-nemesis. Watch out for eye-popping onstage tumbling that should have kids nearly bouncing out of their seats. Wednesday, November 29, 6:30 pm at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Portland Metro Arts: Let the music move you

Sometimes the adventure picks you, says Portland Metro Arts (PMA) executive director Nancy Yeamans, especially when it comes to dance and choreography: “You can’t stop it! A piece of music will possess you. It will beat its feet until you say, ‘Okay, fine!’”

This art form can definitely get under your skin, agrees 18-year-old PMA dancer Nailah Cunningham: “When I think about choreographing something, I’m hearing the piece of music over and over. I’ll even listen to it at night before I go to sleep.”

Cunningham’s spent her childhood dancing at PMA, a not-for-profit Southeast Portland studio offering dance, music, theater and visual arts classes.

PMA offers everything from pre-dance, ballet and tap to jazz and hip-hop and has its own in-residence dance company, the Metro Dancers.

The goal is to make quality arts education and performance accessible to everyone, especially children, with a focus on practice; not competition, says Yeamans: “We teach technique. And the proof that we’re on the right track is our dancers actually go into professional companies.”

Case in point: Cunningham herself. At PMA, she’s danced as everything from a mechanical doll to Humpty Dumpty. Now, she’s preparing to take literal flight: Cunningham recently received a scholarship to the Ailey School, a respected New York-based dance-training program.

She’ll be joining the historically African-American company in a moment when the dance world finally seems to be embracing diversity: ballerina Misty Copeland recently became the first African-American female principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater.

Cunningham sees that as progress long overdue: “It’s good, but it’s also sad. We had a black president before we had a black [ballet] soloist.”

To date, 14 PMA alumni are dancing professionally or teaching at universities around the world, says Yeamans, but dance training benefits every kid, whether or not they land on New York’s stages: “Who’s the coolest kid in the class? It’s not the one with the snappiest clothes; it’s not the genius child. It’s the one who can run, skip, hop and jump. [Kids] have to be happy in their bodies.”

« See for Yourself »
The Dance Mosaic Repertory Concert, featuring choreography from across PMA’s 40-year history, is set for November 18, 3 pm, at Portland Metro Arts, 9300 SE Stark St.

Erin Bernard

Erin Bernard

Writer & Photographer at Erin J. Bernard Writing Studio
Erin J. Bernard is a freelance writer, editor and photographer who just can’t get enough of the Pacific Northwest.
Erin Bernard

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