Fall Arts 2016

Fall Arts Guide 2016: What You Can’t Miss in Portland This Season

From Amy Schumer to Brian Wilson, Warhol to Wordstock, here are the season’s top tickets.

By Rebecca Jacobson August 15, 2016 Published in the September 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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It’s all-out Warhol at PAM, with a massive showcase that includes work from the pop artist’s drag queen series


Sept 1 Oregon Symphony Waterfront Concert

With cannons, fireworks, and Tchaikovsky’s rousing 1812 Overture, the Oregon Symphony sends out summer with a literal bang. It’s all free, too, with performances earlier in the day by Oregon Ballet Theatre, the Portland Opera, the Metropolitan Youth Symphony, and the Portland Youth Philharmonic. Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

Sept 3 Ages and Ages

The Portland quintet, known for big vocal harmonies and catchy handclaps, has just released Something to Ruin—their third album and most pensive so far, with a move toward synth grooves and electronic textures. Mississippi Studios.

Sept 5 Anderson Paak & the Free Nationals

In 2011, Paak was let go from his job at a Santa Barbara marijuana farm and became homeless. Four years later, Dr. Dre tapped the SoCal native—who blends R&B, funk, and hip-hop to sly, seductive effect—to sing on his Compton album. Not a bad turn in a half-decade, we’d say. Crystal Ballroom.

Sept 6–Oct 9 Trevor 

Remember Travis the chimp? Back in 2009, the pet primate—who’d starred in Coke and Old Navy commercials and could sip wine from a stemmed glass—mauled and blinded his owner’s friend. Nick Jones’s absurdist play leaps from that gory incident into an exploration of fame, fear, and the frustrations of communication. Artists Repertory Theatre.

Sept 711 Antigone Project: A Play in Five Parts 

Amid the toxic tumult of this election season, Sophocles’s tragedy—about a woman who defies unjust laws to give her brother a proper burial—feels extra fitting. Here, five leading female playwrights, including Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage and Portland-raised Tanya Barfield, have written short works riffing on the Greek myth. Artists Repertory Theatre. 

Sept 9–Oct 1 The Gun Show 

Newtown. San Bernardino. Orlando. As we continue to reel, this play by the Oregon-raised E. M. Lewis about her experiences with guns is particularly (and tragically) timely. CoHo Theatre.

Sept 10 Renée Fleming

Conductor Carlos Kalmar kicks off his symphony’s 120th season with a concert featuring the star soprano, who last performed in Portland in 2012. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. 

Sept 19—20 Neil DeGrasse Tyson

What makes Tyson the world’s greatest celebrity astrophysicist? Heaps of awards, a successful TV career, and a proclivity for shooting down the bogus science of your favorite space movies—in one famous Twitter tirade, he noted that Gravity should have been titled Angular Momentum. Keller Auditorium. 

Sept 2–Oct 23 How I Learned What I Learned

Since 2010, the King neighborhood company has produced six works by landmark black playwright August Wilson, who died in 2005. Now it’s landed the rights to his autobiographical solo show, which traces Wilson’s life as he comes of age in Pittsburgh, confronts the injustices of racism, and develops his powerful, poetic voice. Portland Playhouse.

Sept 22 Wanda Sykes 

The Curb Your Enthusiasm favorite (and voice of Granny, Ice Age’s elderly ground sloth) brings her sharp-tongued stand-up to Portland. Keller Auditorium. 

Sept 23–27 Portland German Film Festival 

Local cultural organization Zeitgeist Northwest takes over Cinema 21 for five days of German-language cinema. Past installments of the fest have included art-house flicks, restored East German films, and grubby documentaries about what Austrians do in their basements. Cinema 21.

Sept 24–26 Bluebeard’s Castle 

The Oregon Symphony launches a new series called SoundSights, with programs featuring work by Northwest visual artists. First up: Béla Bartók’s eerie short opera about a homicidal duke, with hulking glass sculptures by famous Washingtonian Dale Chihuly. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. 

Sept 25 Art Garfunkel

The famous duo’s curly-haired half unleashes his lilting countertenor. Revolution Hall.

Sept 28 Stacy Schiff 

The Pulitzer winner is a crackling storyteller, a skill she’s brought to bear in biographies of Cleopatra, Vera Nabokov, and Little Prince author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. In The Witches: Salem, 1692, Schiff traces nine months of hysteria and incrimination in that Massachusetts town. Powell's City of Books.

Sept 29 Bianca Del Rio

Christened by the New York Times as “the Joan Rivers of the drag world,” the season 6 winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race has a mission to make brutal fun of just about everyone, all while painted in phenomenally garish makeup. Newmark Theatre.

Sept 29 The Music of David Bowie 

No one can replace the Thin White Duke, but vocalist Tony Vincent and a full band will put forth a valiant effort, playing the likes of “Changes,” “Under Pressure,” and “Space Oddity.” If there was ever an occasion to dress up for the symphony, even in casual Portland, it’s tonight. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. 

Sept 30 Jonathan Safran Foer

In Here I Am, the author of Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close takes us inside a Jewish family in Washington, DC, as their domestic struggles unfold against a backdrop of catastrophe in the Middle East. Powell's City of Books.

Sept 30 Trevor Noah

When the South African comedian took over The Daily Show from Jon Stewart, he stepped into some of the hugest shoes in showbiz—and is definitely still filling them. But even when he could hit a little (or a lot) harder, there’s no doubt he has charm to burn. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Sept 30–Oct 1 Different Trains 

The new music ensemble celebrates the 80th birthday of groundbreaking composer Steve Reich—behold, the power of tape loops!—with a program of his three string quartets. Oregon Rail Heritage Center. 

Sept 30–Oct. 22 The Nether 

In a not-too-distant dystopian future, men frequent an online realm to prey on virtual Victorian children. That’s the setting for Jennifer Haley’s disconcerting new play, which caused a critical stir after its London premiere—some deemed it sensationalistic, while others hailed its sly moral provocations. Imago Theatre.


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Tegan and Sara, Canada’s most famous identical twin sisters, play October 3.

Oct 3 Tegan and Sara

The Canadian sisters’ newest album, Love You to Death, is an infectious, 10-track spree of shimmer, bounce, and legitimate emotional ache—and proves the duo can do dance-pop as well as anyone else out there. Taylor who? Roseland Theater.

Oct 5–8 FashioNXT 

Portland’s schmanciest fashion event returns, with four days of runway shows featuring designers from around the globe.

Oct 5–9 All Jane Comedy Festival

Maria Bamford, the undisputed maestro of turning mental health issues into guffaw-inducing jokes, headlines the fifth installment of this all-women comedy fest. Also on the bill: Bamford bestie Jackie Kashian, who headlined All Jane in its inaugural year. 

Oct 6–8 Diavolo 

The last time these LA performers scampered and soared through Portland, their athletic choreography and enormous sets—the company’s tagline is “architecture in motion”—elicited gasps from audience members. In this new two-part program, the dancers maneuver around massive cubes and shifting flights of stairs. Newmark Theatre.

Oct 7 Brian Wilson 

Fifty years ago, a 23-year-old Californian released one of the seminal rock albums of all time. Now, to celebrate its anniversary, the Beach Boys cofounder plays Pet Sounds in its entirety—supposedly this tour marks his last performance of it. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. 

Oct 7–Nov 5 Head Hands Feet: Four Tales of Dismemberment 

Director Samantha Van Der Merwe excels at transforming fantastical stories into immersive theatrical worlds, which she’ll do four times over for this multimedia retelling of three grisly fairy tales and one Greek tragedy. Shaking the Tree.

Oct 7–29 On Democracy

“What does democracy look like in 2016?” That’s the question to which photographers—from across genres and formats—have responded for this open-call group show, which will be accompanied by debate screenings and a reading group on “political depression and the politics of heavy feelings.” 

Oct 8–15 Giants

The company opens its 27th season with a history-tracing bill: 1934’s Serenade, Russian-born George Balanchine’s first work choreographed in America; 1987’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, William Forsythe’s fiercely off-kilter ballet set to a thundering, electronic score by Thom Willems; and Giants Before Us, a world premiere by OBT resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte. Keller Auditorium.

Oct 8–Jan 21 Andy Warhol: Prints from the Collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation 

From the iconic (think Campbell’s tomato soup can and neon-hued Marilyn Monroe) to more obscure early works, this wide-ranging showcase of about 250 images is the Pacific Northwest’s largest-ever display of Warhol’s work. 

Oct 9 The Julie Ruin

Riot grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna (formerly of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre) and the band have unveiled a second album, Hit Reset, that balances aggressive punk anthems, danceable beats, and political proclamations. Wonder Ballroom.

Oct 12 Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

The big-band orchestra, led by star trumpeter Marsalis, hits the Schnitz for a one-night stand. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. 

Oct 13 Ursula K. Le Guin

The local legend—groundbreaking science fiction author, brilliant public intellectual, and fierce antagonist of Amazon and profiteering publishers—reads from Words Are My Matter, her brand-new collection of writings and talks. Powell's City of Books.

Oct 13–31 The Drowning Girls  

Get your Halloween haunts in Hillsboro, as the “Brides in the Bath”—three women who met their waterlogged ends at the hands of an Edwardian-era serial killer—rise from their claw-foot tubs. The Chicago Tribune called the 2008 play “morbidly funny and sometimes wistful.” Venetian Theatre. 

Oct 13–15 Camille A. Brown & Dancers 

Known for work that’s as muscular as it is socially aware, Brown returns to Portland with Black Girl: Linguistic Play, which delves into the black female experience via childhood games. Newmark Theatre.

Oct 13–15 Bolero +

Portland’s premier contemporary dance company unveils new work by three choreographers: British-born resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem, Lucas Crandall of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and the Hannover, Germany–based Felix Landerer. Lincoln Performance Hall.

Oct 14–15 The Intergalactic Nemesis

Dubbed a “live-action graphic novel,” this touring show out of Austin collides retro-cool radio drama with big-screen comic book panels to tell a story about a reporter, her sidekick, and a librarian who set out to stop an invasion of alien sludge monsters. Revolution Hall.

Oct 18 Geraldine Brooks

Leave it to Brooks—former foreign correspondent and Pulitzer-winning novelist, for 2005’s March—to make the Second Iron Age come alive (bloodthirsty violence! fine wool tunics! giants!). That’s precisely what she does in her latest book, The Secret Chord, a reimagining of the life of King David. Powell's City of Books.

Oct 20 Louise Erdrich

The acclaimed Ojibwe writer recently published her 15th novel, LaRose, which charts the fallout of an accidental killing on a Native American reservation in North Dakota. The Guardian called it “an astonishing novel ... told by a storyteller both formidable and tender.” Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. 

Oct 21 Emma Donoghue

The Irish-born author won huge acclaim for 2010’s claustrophobic Room (in a rare twist, the film adaptation earned similarly rapturous praise). In her latest novel, The Wonder, Donoghue delivers a psychological thriller set in 1850s Ireland. Powell's City of Books

Oct 21 W. Kamau Bell

Whether chatting with Ku Klux Klansmen in his CNN show United Shades of America, trying to puzzle out how to explain racism to his young, mixed-race daughters on This American Life, or talking politics with fellow comedian Hari Kondabolu on their incisive podcast Politically Re-Active, Bell is everywhere these days. Onstage, he’s a jovial performer who delights in stoking discomfort in his audience. Aladdin Theater.

Oct 27 Jethro Tull

In the crowded pantheon of Scottish rock-’n’-roll flutists who perform on one leg, Jethro Tull front man Ian Anderson is definitely in the top five. Keller Auditorium.

Oct 27 Casey Jarman

In his debut book, Death: An Oral History, the local writer (and, ahem, Portland Monthly music columnist, who’s off this month) interviews a slew of folks—cartoonist Art Spiegelman, songwriter David Bazan, a funeral industry watchdog—about the end of life. Powell's City of Books.

Oct 29–Nov. 20 The Oregon Trail 

Pack up the covered wagon (have you bought enough bullets and spare axles?) and head west for Bekah Brunstetter’s new play, which imagines intersecting experiences of The Oregon Trail: one of the iconic computer game and one of the dusty, treacherous thing itself. Gerding Theater.


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Double Dutch, tap dance, and hand-clapping games are the vernacular in Camille A. Brown’s Black Girl: Linguistic Play (Oct 13–15).

Nov 3–27 Alexander Chekmenev and Pablo Ortiz Monasterio 

Chekmenev’s photography offers a vivid glimpse into post-Soviet Ukraine, from portraits of homebound citizens having their passport photos taken to images of coal mining in the eastern part of the country. Monasterio, meanwhile, has created photo collages to memorialize the disappearance of 43 Mexican students in September 2014—a kidnapping linked to the drug war. 

Nov 4–6 International Roller Derby Championships

The phenomenally fierce women of the Rose City Rollers brought home a world championship trophy last year. Can they defend the title on their home turf? Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Nov 5 Wordstock

The beloved literary festival—comprising readings, lectures, panel discussions, workshops, and a book fair—was reborn last year as a single-day shindig at the Portland Art Museum. It was almost too popular for its own good, with many oversubscribed events turning away rain-soaked crowds. This year’s installment adds five stages along the South Park Blocks (including the 2,776-seat Schnitz), which Literary Arts promises will more than double the fest’s seated capacity

Nov 5–6 Sitka Art Invitational

More than 130 artists from the Northwest gather for this showcase and sale of nature-inspired work, from quirky clay sculptures to vibrantly hued paintings to delicate wood carvings. Miller Hall, World Forestry Center. 

Nov 9 David Sedaris

America’s foremost chronicler of Macy’s Christmas elves and Costco shopping trips hits Portland for a night of prickly humor and chatter. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. 

Nov 10–15 Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival

Filmmakers from across the region—Alaska to British Columbia to Montana to southern Oregon—step into the limelight at this showcase, now in its 43rd year. Expect screenings, an expo of cinematic gadgets, and a filmmakers’ “un-conference.” Whitsell Auditorium.

Nov 11 Iris Dement

The Arkansas-born country-folk musician sings with a plaintive voice and emotional oomph. (Back in 1995, Merle Haggard called her “one of the greatest singers I have ever heard in my life.”) On latest album The Trackless Woods, she sets the work of 20th-century poet Anna Akhmatova to music. Aladdin Theater.

Nov 17 Don DeLillo

Literary Arts invites one of the giants of contemporary American literature onstage for a conversation with filmmaker Noah Hawley, who’s adapting DeLillo’s Zero K for the big screen. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Nov 17–19 Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group 

Wilson calls his style “post-African/Neo-Hoodoo”—the choreographer draws from traditions of the African diaspora and incorporates body percussions and expressive vocalizations. In Moses(es), he explores leadership and obedience via the story of the biblical figure. Lincoln Performance Hall.  


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Perennial Portland favorite W. Kamau Bell hits the Aladdin October 21 for a night of stand-up.

Dec 1 Amy Schumer

The raucously funny comedian with an uncanny knack for subversive social commentary swings through on her world tour. She sold out Madison Square Garden, so we recommend hopping on tickets, stat. Moda Center. 

Dec 1–12 Japanese Currents

The NW Film Center tosses the spotlight on Japan’s impressive cinematic landscape, with screenings of contemporary films from across genres. Whitsell Auditorium. 

Dec 2 Michael Chabon

In new novel Moonglow, Chabon—lover of swashbuckling adventures and epic historical tales—imagines a sprawling deathbed confession that darts around the globe and through time (and was, in fact, inspired by Chabon’s final conversations with his own grandfather). Powell's City of Books.

Dec 3 A John Waters Christmas

The naughty-minded filmmaker behind Hairspray and Pink Flamingos has turned his one-man holiday celebration into a beloved annual tradition. (He’s been performing it since the early aughts.) For those who prefer sleaze to sugarplums, it’s the perfect Christmas pageant. Aladdin Theater.

Dec 3–5 Turangalîla

For the second show in the SoundSights series—featuring music alongside work of Northwest visual artists—Messiaen’s romantic composition meets the video animations of Pacific Northwest College of Art’s Rose Bond, known for site-specific installations. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. 

Dec 8–11 Adrienne Truscott

Performing pantsless—and underpantsless—is a good way to get attention. But that only partly explains the power of Truscott’s Asking for It, a searing (and hilarious) solo show about rape culture that blazed through town last year. Truscott returns for an encore performance of that piece, along with One Trick Pony, inspired by Andy Kaufman. Expect wrestling clips and penis jokes. The Headwaters Theatre.

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In La Belle, Imago riffs on Beauty and the Beast—with hand-crank-operated puppets (Dec 9–Jan 2).

Dec 13 Robert Glasper Experiment

For Grammy-winning pianist Glasper, jazz mingles easily with R&B and hip-hop—you might also have heard him play keys on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Tonight, he’ll take the stage with his multitalented band, along with several special guests. Revolution Hall.

Dec 9–Jan 2 La Belle

Elaborate puppets, a large whirring ship, original music, extensive shadow play—little wonder this show has been in the works since 2013. The wildly creative minds behind the Frogz and ZooZoo menageries unveil a new Beauty and the Beast–inspired romance, set on a steamship in the 1920s. Imago Theatre.

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