Tag: Catherine Newman

Jeanne’s Love Letter to Portland

by on Mar.28, 2011, under Uncategorized

Dear Portland (aka PDX – can someone explain this to me?),

I hadn’t seen you in 15 years, and I’d heard that you changed a lot since then. My somewhat vague memories of you involved visiting family – my aunt, uncle, and 4 cousins. We went to the zoo and hung around their house for a few days before camping on the Oregon Coast.   My impressions, unfortunately, were not comprehensive.

My current idea of you, before embarking on the FACT/SF tour, was formed by the IFC show Portlandia – ‘I dream of the 90s’ is a great clip of the show – watch it!   It’s a sketch comedy show, written by and starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, that takes liberal shots at your ‘different-ness’.  And, although the show is hilarious, I doubted that it was truly representative of you and your populace.

I was eager to see you in your present state and form my own opinions.


The trip started out grim. We met at 5am, commiserated in our exhaustion, packed up the van (which was SWEET – thanks Justin DeBois and Enterprise!!) and were on the road by 5:45am. Highlights from the drive up include: Black Bear Diner (biscuits, yum!), new Britney album (she went dub, but I’m not mad – except for that treble/bass song…), snow (not super exciting for this Midwest gal, but thrilling for others), incredibly gorgeous scenery, and, of course, quality time with the dancers and Charlie when I was in between naps.

We arrived just at the tail end of rush hour and headed straight to Performance Works NorthWest. This quaint, experimental theater was right up our alley. Tucked away from downtown on the East side of the river, PWNW was a great play space to re-set The Consumption Series.   Linda Austin (the director/owner of the space) was open, gracious and accommodating – allowing us plenty of time and space to realize the work in our new surroundings.

After filling our tummies with vegetarian borscht and Guinness (it was St. Patrick’s Day, after all) we got down to the business of prop building. If you’ve seen The Consumption Series, then you will remember that there were several ‘dancer dummies’ used throughout the piece – as dance partners and tangerine/cigarette receptacles. It took us until midnight, but we were able to finish all five dummies and even set lights before leaving. Exhausted and ready to fall asleep on our feet, we still had to drive to the house that the FACT/SF ladies would be staying at.

I say house, but I really mean palace. High in the west hills of Portland sat the Ross home. Danielle Ross, our curator, had opened up her parents’ home, her own apartment, and a friend’s apartment for us to stay at. The ladies (Catherine, Erin, Maggie, and myself) were staying at Danielle’s parents’ home – or as I came to call it, the VIP suite. Her parents, Dennis and Yve, were unbelievably generous and supportive. Arriving at their house at the state I was in, I would have been able to sleep anywhere – couch, floor, bathtub, whatever. The fact that there was a bed, futon and deluxe air mattress (aka the ‘marshmallow’) with clean sheets and blankets was overwhelming in and of itself. Pile onto that incredible views, continental breakfast, internet and TV and it might as well have been a Marriott. We ended up with the sweetest digs.


Tech. We got to the space around 10am and dove right in. Charlie warms up the dancers while I watch and secretly judge. Around noon we start running the piece. There are many possibilities of how to use the space, and negotiating these always takes time. PWNW used to be a chapel. The ceilings are peaked and the stage is long and set proscenium-style. There was a lot of adjusting that needed to happen to retain the original ‘feel’ of the piece (which was set site-specifically ‘in the round’ at Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory). But, being the ace team that we are, solutions were reached and everyone got to take a break around 3pm.

Charlie and I went for a drink…we needed it. Opening night in a strange city is a tad nerve racking.

Back at PWNW an hour later, and Danielle arrives with dinner – eggplant lasagna (omg YUM) courtesy of Dennis Ross, plus salad and olive loaf. I was in food heaven. It was too bad the dancers weren’t allowed to eat (JUST KIDDING!).

Pre-show was pre-show and I won’t bore you with the details – warm up, last minute touch ups, etc. We were to go on after intermission. The show, Alembic #12, was part of a series of guest curated events at PWNW. This event was Danielle Ross’ baby. She performed her work (strikingly minimal, super interesting use of story and text, stunning video component, LOVED), in the first half and FACT/SF would go on in the second act. Before we got there I liked to think of us as ‘headliners’ but really this evening was about symbiosis. The works complemented each other in a really lovely way.

The house was smallish for Friday, but I find Fridays are hard nights to turn people out wherever you are. The performance was great – not perfect – but that’s never the goal. I was sooo proud of the dancers, three of whom were making their FACT/SF performance debut! The audience seemed to like it as well, although it’s always hard to tell with smaller crowds. Regardless, Charlie and I were pleased and really that’s all that matters to me.

After the show we went to the Doug Fir – a sort of bourgy, north woods lodge. The drinks were delicious and our booth had fur-lined walls, but we ended up being surrounded by some real jerks. I got a drink spilled on me (okay, it was water, but still cold on my bum!) and laid into one of the guys about bar etiquette. Just to be clear, when you spill a drink on a lady, water or otherwise, IMMEDIATELY run to grab a dry towel and offer to get her next round…really, is it that hard to be chivalrous? The good news is, these were the only less-than-stand-up citizens I encountered all weekend so, well done, Portland.

After a long day (and night) we head back to our villa in the hills for some well-deserved rest.


It’s the designated FACT/SF ‘free day’. I spend the afternoon with my aunt visiting my cousins, cousins-in-law, babies and chickens (apparently everyone has a chicken in your fair city). The other FACT/SF-ers do as they please exploring and shopping. I did make it into Powell’s Books, which is enormous and overwhelming and soo satisfying.

We meet back at PWNW a little after 4pm (some people got a bit lost). More brush-up, warm-up, notes, etc. – mostly boring dancer stuff until doors open. This was our fullest night of the run. Every seat was filled and the energy was AMAZING! I also exercised my videography skills, documenting out triumphant performance (clips coming soon!). We received some really wonderful feedback after the show and even some encouragement to come back next summer for the Time-Based Art Festival (we’re looking into it as I type).


Super low-key morning/afternoon at the Ross house. We were all happy to laze around. There was some minor discussion of doing a nature walk and brunch but we settled on enjoying the hospitality and some much needed rest. The weather over the weekend was typically overcast, although there were some glimmers of sunshine here and there. Sunday was a perfectly drizzly day, ideal for lounging in PJs and catching up on my Town & Country reading.

Before leaving for the space we surprised our hosts with flowers and California wines…it was, seriously, the least we could do.

Back at PWNW and more pre-show preparations. By this point it was business as usual. Personally, I was feeling a little worn down – I think we all were. But we kept face and put on a good show. The house was almost as full as Saturday and, again, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, so it seemed we pulled it off! A few lucky audience members even walked away with a bit of the performance – literally – by taking some of the ‘dancer dummies’ off our hands.

After the show closed we all went for a drink (Linda, Danielle, FACT/SF and entourage) at a bar near by. It was great to have a chance to talk to these amazing artists (and people) outside of production mode. I will never be able to say to them just how grateful I am for the experience they provided for us. I think we gained a lot of perspective on this trip. Keep your eyes peeled for FACT/OR (you know, once we set up those franchises).


Ahh the drive back to the Bay. Bittersweet, really. Portland, you are truly a gem. Nothing compares to you. Highlights from the ride home include: Della’s (what kind of a diner doesn’t serve tuna melts?), more snow, and musings of things to come.

I miss you already.


Jeanne and Team FACT/SF

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