While opening weekend of On the Boards’ Northwest New Works Studio Showcase kicked off with “wit, wisdom, and women with Things to Say,” the second weekend followed just as strong, and with just as many Things to Say. The show featured three theatre pieces (by Helena Theatre Company, Feyonce/Wayne Bund, Erin Pike) and a dance work by Amy O’Neal.
The evening began with Helena Theatre Company’s Deserving Art, a witty short play by Ed Noonan that put human faces to grant reviewers, also known as the seemingly ineffable forces that be when it comes to “making it” in the art world. The piece satirized the grant proposal reviewing process at the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the politics that played into it. The panelists included a classicist program director who despises innovation (played by Kevin Casey), another program director who doesn’t actually have much say in anything (Colleen Casey), an “underground art” aficionado (Retta Leaphart), a performance art/site-specific enthusiast (Beverly Fox), collaborative project director (Pete Ruzevich), and a noted artist from Butte, Montana (Mike Casey).
Although the clever script mischievously poked fun at the art world, it also touched on important questions: if artists receive funding for their work, are they really free to make whatever they want? Does the capitalism-driven interest in product over process influence art-making? How does an artist “make it” in America? Just as it is in reality, these questions remain unresolved.
Next up was Feyonce’s Sass Manifesto, a statement about the intersection between drag and dance theater, directed by Anthony Hudson and written and performed by Wayne Bund. Manifesto was chock full of everything from fantastic drag lip-syncing (Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary”) to witty exchanges discussing the various kinds of drag (between Bund, Hudson and a computer voice of Judith Butler, philosopher who came up with the theory of gender performativity). The work ended with Bund touchingly recounting the events that led him to do drag, like watching Tina Turner music videos with his ill mother, finding out his father was a sexual predator, or his sister dressing him up as a girl when he was five. Throughout, Bund’s energy was magnetic—grandiose one moment and humble the next. Bund said he “never meant to do drag,” he just “wanted to be a diva.” That, he is.
After intermission came Thatswhatshesaid, an impressively sharp-witted one-woman theatre piece created and performed by Erin Pike. The work consisted of one long monologue created using only female dialogue from plays on the top ten most-produced plays of 2013-14 (a list compiled annually by American Theatre Magazine). The stage lit up on mysterious white and pink scrims and scattered circular white tables. Pike, in a 1930s powder pink evening gown, played everything from heartbroken lover, vulnerable daughter, seductive temptress, privileged but ignorant girl, to angry feminist, switching seamlessly between characters. But aside from her impeccably honest performance, the script itself became an interesting discussion of representation. Although stereotypical portrayals did occur, the amount of stereotypes in the play shattered the idea of a one-sided woman. Pike created a realistic representation of women: complex, alive, and vital.
Closing the show was Amy O’Neal’s Something light for the sake of the dark, a contemporary hip-hop piece set to the thumping club music of Portland-based Natascha Kmeto. O’Neal stood stoically in a black cutout hoodie in front of a pink lacquer-esque backdrop across the stage. As O’Neal crawled and slithered with Butoh-like slowness and smoothness, projections of abstract shapes appeared in the background and shifted along with her. O’Neal’s streamlined dynamic movement mimicked that of the music—bold and sexy, alternating between sultry melodies and heavy beats. She switched easily between the smoothness of contemporary ideas to the hard-hitting punches of hip hop. While her energy eats up the space and drags the viewer along with her, O’Neal’s internal focus makes it feel meditative. It’s her and only her at the club, and she’s getting down and dirty. You don’t want to look away.
NWNW Studio Showcase ran for two weekends, June 6 through 15. For more information see ontheboards.org.