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Monday, July 25, 2011

On Portland Playhouse's Move and Oregon Arts Watch

Posted by Alison Hallett on Mon, Jul 25, 2011 at 3:44 PM

This is a bit of a bummer: Local theater company Portland Playhouse will be temporarily moving from their home in Northeast Portland's Old Church, according to a press release sent out last night. The press release cites "zoning issues" and explains that at least the first show in Portland Playhouse's 2011/2012 season will be staged at the World Trade Center.

For the full story, we turn to Oregon Arts Watch:

I talked to Brian Weaver, artistic director of Portland Playhouse. He said a neighbor complained about access to on-street parking, and the complaint kicked off a chain reaction with the Bureau of Development Services. The church had a conditional use permit in the neighborhood, which is zoned for residential use. The theater, though not a commercial use, is also not a church, so the company had to apply for a conditional use permit on its own. That will take a minimum of three months, if things go smoothly, and possibly as much as nine months. And it’s possible that the theater won’t receive the permit at all, though Weaver sounded confident on the phone. The conditional permit would fit under the “community services” provision of the city’s zoning rules for a residential neighborhood.

The move, according to the same piece, will cost the company an estimated $12,000 in Actors Equity fees, which tie an actor's pay rate to the size of the house they're performing in.

Wow, Oregon Arts Watch, that was an informative, timely article about local theater. And there are more of those on your site, I see, including reporting from JAW and an announcement that PICA has recently named their first permanent artistic director since Kristy Edmunds left in 2005. So just what you may ask, is an "Oregon Arts Watch"?

Oregon Arts Watch is a new arts journalism nonprofit, founded by the estimable Barry Johnson, a former editor at both the Oregonian and the Willamette Week whom I firmly believe to be one of the most thoughtful and committed arts writers working in Portland. After taking a buyout at the O, Barry began investigating new models for funding arts journalism—he has the old-fashioned notion that writers should be paid for generating "content." He landed on a model that taps into the subscriber base of extant arts organizations, figuring that people who are, say, season subscribers at Portland Center Stage are likely to want to read about the plays they go see. Partnering organizations kick in a buck or two per member, and in exchange their subscribers get free access to the site and various perks. Basically, he's trying to keep arts journalism alive because newspapers aren't—he's also got former Portland Monthly art critic Lisa Radon and classical music critic Brett Campbell on board.

There's a distinct fine-art bent to the site right now, but Barry assured me that things like film and comedy would be equally at home on the site.

Here's an excerpt from their plain-speech mission statement:

The arts remind us that we are in this together. That we aren’t alone in our particular thoughts and feelings. That things can be made right and whole, if just for a moment. They remind us that the individual can do great things, and so can individuals acting together. And somehow, they resolve the great tension of American life, that between the rightful autonomy of the individual and the responsibilities that come with belonging to a group. We can’t imagine a good outcome to our dire problems — as a community, a nation, a planet — without the complex lessons the arts teach us.

Maybe I should be thinking of this as competition, but I just can't bring myself to. There's not much professional—by which I mean paid and edited—arts writing going on in this town right now. A rising tide, etc.

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