Fall Arts 2019: Essentials

20 Can’t-Miss Portland Shows in Fall 2019

From Thom Yorke to Margaret Atwood, dystopian dance to symphonic hip-hop, here’s what you have to catch this season.

By Rebecca Jacobson August 27, 2019 Published in the September 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Thom Yorke

Thom Yorke

Joined by longtime producer Nigel Godrich and visual artist Tarik Barri, the Radiohead front man’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes tour promises intricate bleeps and bloops, trippy graphics, and hopefully some wonderfully weird swaying and swiveling. “If there were ever a rock star to affirm the power and necessity of dancing, to return it to the realm of vital human expression, it is Yorke,” wrote the Washington Post’s dance critic after seeing the show last December. Oct 22, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

A Night of Symphonic Hip Hop Featuring Wyclef Jean

Back in 2001, Jean became the first rapper to perform at Carnegie Hall. (It would take 11 years for Jay-Z to be the second.) Now the Fugees front man swings through the Schnitz to perform alongside the Oregon Symphony. Norman Huynh conducts. Sept 22

Margaret Atwood

The literary world can hardly contain itself waiting for the September 10 release of The Testaments—Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale—and you’ll have two weeks to chew through it before the Canadian icon touches down in Portland. She’ll be joined in conversation by Portlander Omar El Akkad (author of a dystopian novel of his own, American War). Sept 25, Keller Auditorium

Time-Based Art Festival

Buckle in for 10 days of mind-exploding (and occasionally head-scratching) contemporary art and performance. On the bill at PICA’s 17th annual fest: dystopian dance, meditations on nuclear disaster (pictured above), protest poems, experimental pipe organ concerts, and a genre-bending opera about transaction and desire. Sept 5–15, PICA

Union PDX

This brand-new dance fest, produced by contemporary company push/FOLD, promises three world premieres from Portland choreographers: a ballet-based work by Carlyn Hudson, another by Amy Leona Havin inspired by Gaga (a movement philosophy that emphasizes instinct), and a mixed-discipline piece by push/FOLD artistic director Samuel Hobbs. Also on deck: artist talks, master classes, and youth outreach. Sept 26–29, Hampton Opera Center

Rene Denfeld

The Portland author has already channeled her background as a private investigator into two engrossing novels about missing children and death row inmates. In her third, The Butterfly Girl, Denfeld revisits the protagonist of The Child Finder—herself a skilled investigator—as she’s drawn to a 12-year-old girl fleeing a dangerous home. Oct 1, Powell’s City of Books

Summer Cannibals

Can’t Tell Me No, released in June, isn’t what the fiery Portland rockers originally planned for their fourth album. But when front woman Jessica Boudreaux decided to junk a completed record—she’s said she did so to prevent an abuser from profiting—the group reconvened to engineer and produce 11 new tracks themselves, resulting in a sound both scorching and vulnerable. Sept 28, Mississippi Studios

All Jane Comedy Festival

Now in its eighth year, All Jane consistently draws some of the sharpest women—both locals and out-of-towners—in comedy today. Previous headliners include Fortune Feimster, Jackie Kashian, and Maria Bamford. Oct 2–6

Future Ancestors

For this exhibit exploring black and indigenous art, Portlander Lisa Jarrett—who’s used handfuls of her own hair in previous work—traveled to Hawaii with Lehua M. Taitano, a Chamuru artist and writer from Guam, where they collaborated with the Oahu-born Jocelyn Kapumealani Ng. This show features large-scale photos of the three, plus audio recordings, to probe cultural myths, ancestral history, and representation. Oct 5–Nov 24, Ori Art Gallery

Mother, Come Home

When his mom dies, 7-year-old Thomas finds solace in a fantasy world. His dad, meanwhile, spirals into delusion. That’s the premise of Paul Hornschemeier’s Mother, Come Home, a graphic novel published in 2003 by Portland’s Dark Horse Comics. Now, theater company Third Rail delivers a multimedia-rich adaptation to the stage. Oct 5–12, CoHo Theatre

OBT Roar(s)

Oregon Ballet Theatre kicks off its 30th anniversary season with a trio of visionary works from decades past: In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, William Forsythe’s fiercely off-kilter 1987 piece; Stravinsky Violin Concerto, George Balanchine’s abstract, introspective work from 1972; and the revival of Dennis Spaight’s Scheherazade, the first ballet choreographed for OBT. Oct 5–12, Keller Auditorium

Hidden Stories

Boom Arts consistently brings captivating performances from around the world to Portland, and up next is this show from France’s Begat Theater, copresented by local troupe Hand2Mouth. Set on the city’s streets, audiences will don headphones, privy to a handful of stories as they traipse through downtown in what Begat calls “an invisible performance” exploring secrets and anonymity. Oct 11–13

Caleb Teicher & Company

Yes, Teicher is a tap dancer. But the 20-something plays with a slew of other percussive and vernacular styles, including Lindy Hop and jazz, which he injects with oodles of charm and virtuosic skill. At this White Bird–presented show, his company performs work set to live recordings of Ella Fitzgerald, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and more. Oct 17–19, Lincoln Hall


What happens when an online ancestry search reveals that your fiancé’s ancestors kept your forebears as slaves in antebellum Kentucky? Playwright Brittany K. Allen chomps into that thorny question, assisted by a hip-hop dance class chorus, in this world-premiere production at Portland Center Stage. Oct 26–Nov 17, The Armory

Brenda Mallory

The mixed-media artist and Cherokee Nation member transforms unremarkable, often discarded objects—linen firehose, rubber drive belts, honeycomb packaging paper—into striking sculptures. In this solo exhibit, Mallory digs into “ideas of reclamation and reformation.” Nov 6–Dec 21, Upfor Gallery

Clown Down: Failed to Mount

Gloriously potty-mouthed drag clown Carla Rossi (a.k.a. Anthony Hudson) takes the stage for an hourlong investigation of mental health, environmental destruction, and the dangers of shoddily constructed Swedish furniture. Nov 14–17, PNCA


In August, the indomitable rockers dropped their new, St. Vincent–produced album, The Center Won’t Hold. A looming question as of midsummer: who will replace force-of-nature drummer Janet Weiss, who announced in July she was departing the band? Nov 19–20, Crystal Ballroom

Lindy West

One of our reigning queens of cultural criticism, West follows Shrill—her dagger-sharp essay collection-turned-Hulu series—with The Witches Are Coming, which tackles patriarchy, the myth of reverse sexism, and the maddening ways our culture refuses to hold men accountable for objectively awful deeds. Nov 21, Powell’s City of Books

Arvie Smith

Smith, who turns 81 in September, is one of Portland’s boldest and most technically skilled painters, taking on McDonald’s ads, lynchings, and Shirley Temple movies in blazing color. For this solo exhibit, expect about 13 works, including a diptych depicting Donald Trump on a carousel, flanked by a tiki-torch-wielding Pinocchio. Dec 7–Feb 2, Disjecta

Trevor Noah

The oh-so-dimpled Daily Show host brings his Loud & Clear arena tour to the Moda Center for riffs on race, politics, and his South African childhood. Dec 14

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