The Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble—that’s PETE to their friends—stages inventive and unusual new works (Deception Unit, How We Learn) as well as fresh adaptations of more traditional fare (Uncle Vanya/a whole lotta Chekhov). But! PETE also offers a yearlong unique and intensive training program known as the Institute for Contemporary Performance (ICP). Each year’s cohort puts on a showcase at the end of their term. This year’s performance, Lost. Found., features the seven artists of the 2018/2019 cohort in an imaginative new work featuring clown ballet, an undetermined number of paper flowers, Ancient Greek stand-up, non-existent time, the grim reaper, and possibly 15-20 Styrofoam heads. We can’t wait!
We asked each cohort member a handful of questions about the show, their experience in the program, and the Portland arts scene.
Pieces: FUNances for Artists, Clown Bolero
Artpunk Club: What is it about theater that really does it for you?
Julia Brandenberger: My artistic awakening came from the ballet world, which I was entrenched in for the first part of my life. I found improvisational storytelling in my early 20’s and discovered that I am a comedian. Once I broke open the different capacities within myself to perform I found that immediacy and direct presence with an audience were my preferred methods of reaching people and making art. Experiences in studying psychology, theology and intentional communities have shaped the way that I seek to engage audiences. In particular, studying theology at Pendle Hill Center for Quaker Studies shaped the philosophical ideas that I engage with. Studying traditional sweat lodge ceremonies has shaped the aesthetic of darkness in many of my pieces, making a physical practice of working with the unknown and moving in the dark.
I recently moved to Portland from Philadelphia, where I first learned how to make hybrid dance theater and devised performance with Headlong Dance Theater. This is where I also first encountered clown, which has made a huge impact on my artistic life. I’ve come to hold this true above all else: Art must be at service to humanity, not the other way around. My objective is to use art as a tool to better know myself and the human condition, through the medium of performance.
AC: What personal or professional goals inspired you to undergo an intensive yearlong training program?
JB: When I first moved to Portland I knew that I had to get involved in the devised theater clown/performance making community here. I didn’t really know where to start but when I heard about the ICP program I had a hunch that this was going to be a good next step for me in so far as getting me connected to the right people and right resources. It has absolutely helped me to get grounded and more familiar with the theater scene and connections here than I otherwise would have been. It is also given me a community and a few very trusted friends out of this experience.
AC: What should audiences expect from Lost. Found.?
JB: For my pieces audiences should expect to be surprised, be laughing and also feeling a sense of camaraderie and reflection in the characters. In FUNances I would really love to have the artists in the audience feel like their behind-the-scenes work is being noticed and mentioned and seen. The piece is really about the unseen work of being an artist and everything that it takes to make this an actual career, which is extremely crazy. For Clown Bolero I would love for our audiences to see intense passion and fun coming together in the same arena for a bit of wildness to ensue. I would love ballet dancers in particular to come see this piece.
AC: As an audience member, what’s your favorite show from the last year of Portland theatre?
JB: Nacera Baleza’s “Sur le Fil” in TBA was one of my favorite dance pieces that I’ve ever seen.
AC: What’s next for you?
JB: I will be bringing a Philadelphia favorite—SoLow Fest, a DIY festival which is completely free for artists to enter—to Portland. This festival helped me to see the importance of holding up and supporting other artists, which I now tie heavily into my personal and artistic mission. I am bringing SoLow Fest to Portland in hopes that it will give the same opportunity for artists that I had in Philly.
There’s still time to enter!!! Festival submissions are being accepted thru May 13th at https://www.solowpdx.com/join
The Festival is set for June 13-23.
The opening preview party is on June 11th at Curious Comedy at 7:30.
This is a free event, please come and check out the festival!
AC: You have 3 genie wishes to be used on the Portland Theatre Scene. What do you wish for? (No monkey paw catches)
JB: My first wish is actually more of a broad wish than Portland specific, as in I believe that there are things that our government could do to make this happen. If I had my way I would have it so that artists were funded researchers, we could have paid stipends and living wages in order to do our research, not just for producing shows. Producing shows and relying on that as a means of surviving as an artist just isn’t viable. Plus so much of our work is unpaid (the emailing, the networking, the booking). I wish that we were paid for our administrative time, our rehearsal time and our performance time.
My second wish is affordable theater spaces. I would love it if the cost of putting on shows where are at a rate that was more comfortable for the majority of makers. I wish the cost of producing wouldn’t put artists out and make them afraid to commit to making their work. Performance Works Northwest does a great job of offering a low-cost but beautiful performance space.
Wow if those first two came true what else could I do… I wish that it was as easy to get hired in a dance piece or piece of theater as it is for me to get a Field Marketing job. In Field Marketing, all I have to do is walk up an introduce myself and opportunities are thrown at me. I wish opportunities abounded like that in the art world and it didn’t feel so competitive. However, if it were cheaper to produce and we were making a living wage doing our research I’m positive that abundance of opportunities would follow- we’d all be freer to give and offer more to our community.