Fall Arts

20 Shows You Can't Miss in Portland in Fall 2017

From Joe Biden to George Saunders, cash-register exorcisms to garbage paintings, here's what you have to catch this season.

By Rebecca Jacobson and Fiona McCann August 14, 2017 Published in the September 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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Robert Dozono’s trash paintings are at Blackfish.

An Octoroon 

Sept 3–Oct 1, Artists Repertory Theatre
Artists Rep opens up its bold new season—the company’s 35th—with perhaps its most provocative work. Riffing off a wildly popular 19th-century antebellum melodrama, this Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins satire adds a black playwright to the historic cast in what the New York Times said might be “this decade’s most eloquent theatrical statement on race in America today.”

Rene Denfeld

Sept 5, Powell's City of Books
The local journalist and investigator follows up her acclaimed debut novel, The Enchanted, with The Child Finder, a gripping, atmospheric tale of a missing child with a vivid imagination and the woman—an expert who’s already found 30 other disappeared children, though not all of them alive—hired to locate her. 

Robert Dozono

Sept 5–29, Blackfish Gallery
Dozono’s paintings are garbage. Literally. When out fishing on the Clackamas River, the longtime Portland artist collects pieces of trash—think bottle caps, rubber bands, and toothpaste tubes—and affixes them to large-scale, eerily beautiful riparian landscapes.

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Bouchra Ouizigene explores Marrakech trance dance at TBA.

Time-Based Art Festival (TBA)

Sept 7–17
James Baldwin songs, a teen zine vomit confessional, meditations to help you grieve George Michael, Marrakech ritual trance dances, Sigourney Weaver jam sessions, and—say it ain’t so!—the last-ever drag ball spectacular Critical Mascara. It can only be Time-Based Art, PICA’s annual contemporary and performance art festival, now in its 15th year.

George Takei with the Oregon Symphony

Sept 16, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
Social justice crusader, social media mogul, and explorer of strange new worlds (hats off, Mr. Sulu), Takei also emcees classical music concerts. With this symphony collaboration, he joins the ranks of high-profile narrators of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait—Gregory Peck, Carl Sandburg, and Barack Obama have taken on the role in the past—which includes reading excerpts from the Gettysburg Address.

Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir

Oct 6–7, The Old Church
With the floppy blond mop and feverish speech patterns of a televangelist, Reverend Billy—a.k.a. performance artist Bill Talen—leads his flock in original gospel tunes about climate change, corporate rapacity, and deportation. From cash-register exorcisms to a recent sermon at Trump Tower, it’s part protest, part comedy, and part earnest call for community.

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Xuan Cheng and Brian Simcoe in OBT’s Rhapsody in Blue

Rhapsody in Blue / Never Stop Falling (in Love)

Oct 7–14, Keller Auditorium
Oregon Ballet Theatre opens its season with a world premiere, choreographed by Nicolo Fonte to Gershwin’s famous composition, performed live by Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale and Hunter Noack, in a new arrangement by Lauderdale. He’s later joined by the full Pink Martini band with China Forbes for a reprise of the 2014 OBT hit Never Stop Falling (in Love)

All Jane Comedy Festival

Oct 11–15
DeAnne Smith, a bow-tied (and occasionally ukulele’d) Canadian who buzzes about the stage with mischievous energy and swift, smart jokes, headlines the sixth annual installment of this all-lady comedy fest. 

George Saunders

Oct 12, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
Few authors anywhere get more hype than Saunders. But the man is truly a prose wizard, as reaffirmed in this year’s Lincoln in the Bardo, which the New York Times likened to “a weird folk art diorama of a cemetery come to life.” Up next? He’s penning a TV pilot starring Glenn Close as a zombie. We’re so in.

Paul Taylor Dance Company

Oct 12–14, Newmark Theatre
In 1997, Portland’s dance game got a serious upgrade: a presenter called White Bird arrived on the scene, bringing in hotshot companies from around the globe. Titan troupe Paul Taylor opened that season, and returns for this 20th anniversary celebration.

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A production photograph from the making of Coraline, part of the Portland Art Museum’s Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of LAIKA exhibit

Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of Laika

Oct 14–May 20, Portland Art Museum
The local pioneers of stop-motion animation—responsible for Coraline, ParaNorman, and Kubo and the Two Strings—get a star turn in this major exhibit. Expect puppets and props, plus behind-the-scenes photos, film clips, and a slew of screenings at the NW Film Center.

Forced from Home

Oct 16–22, Pioneer Courthouse Square
Can you recreate the refugee experience in downtown Portland? That’s what this free, interactive exhibit, created by Doctors Without Borders, aims to do, simulating a perilous boat trip and arrival in a crowded camp. It could be a gamified gimmick, but it met moving response on its East Coast stops last fall. 

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile

Oct 20, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
When news broke that wry Australian rocker Barnett was teaming up with America’s laid-back, smooth-toned fingerpicker Vile, lyrically attentive indie rock fans nigh on exploded with anticipation. The duo tours the resulting album this fall, with a pass through Portland for a Schnitz show. You’re gonna wish you’d been there.

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Songhoy Blues bring their basement party from Mali to the Doug Fir October 25.

Songhoy Blues

Oct 25, Doug Fir Lounge
This foursome originally hail from Timbuktu, Mali, but formed their band 450 miles away in Bamako after they were displaced when radical Islamists captured Mali’s north. Now they’re bringing their exuberant funk-meets-R&B sound to Portland. Expect a log-lined, joyous basement party to light up the encroaching dark.

The Beyond with Live Score

Oct 26, Hollywood Theatre
Just in time for Halloween, Portland’s favorite cinema brings back Italian horror composer Fabio Frizzi—joined by a seven-piece orchestra—for a screening of The Beyond, Lucio Fulci’s 1981 gorefest. Rolling Stone called Frizzi’s soundtrack “a crazy mix of rubbery bass, flutes and prog-orchestral ominousness.”

The King’s Mouth: Wayne Coyne

Nov 1–Jan 1, PNCA's Center for Contemporary Art and Culture
If you’ve ever seen a Flaming Lips show—and experienced the confetti, disco balls, glowing unicorns, and massive inflatable things—you’ve gotten a peek into the madcap mind of front man Wayne Coyne. Now you can fully crawl inside: The King’s Mouth is a floor-to-ceiling, head-shaped installation piece that invites viewers to lie back on plush red pillows for a spectacle of light, sound, and Day-Glo-tinged psychedelia.


Nov 11
Some 100 authors and several thousand readers coalesce around the South Park Blocks again for Portland’s one-day literary festival, which this year promises local authors such as Omar El Akkad, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Carson Ellis alongside some of their acclaimed national counterparts. Book lovers, mark your Moleskine calendars now.

A Christmas Memory/Winter Song 

Nov 18–Dec 31, Portland Center Stage
It’s fruitcake weather, which is why Truman Capote’s classic tale seems like an apt addition to the holiday calendar. It’s paired with a cycle of seasonal songs created by musical theater’s Merideth Kay Clark (a.k.a. Elphaba in the first touring production of Wicked) and Portland Center Stage production associate Brandon Woolley.

Joe Biden

Nov 30, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
Just when you think all hope is lost, Diamond Joe returns! The former vice president and (for some … OK, many) walking reminder of happier times stops off at the Schnitz to promote his new memoir, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose.


Nov 30–Dec 9, BodyVox
Motion capture isn’t just for Gollum anymore. The ever-inventive BodyVox—who previously incorporated lasers and green screens in their work—harness that technology, along with live video and infrared sensors, for a new dance show.

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