A real risk/reward proposition

The Artists Repertory Theatre hosted the 2014 Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance, an event dedicated to the exposure, encouragement, and exhibition of new and experimental contemporary theatre acts, from June 20 to June 22.

In addition to encouraging the production of bold and original content, another emphasis of the festival was its commitment to covering a broad array of performative stylings.

Jerry Tischleder, the festival’s director, said the event was devised to get people from different disciplines working together.

Tischleder said artists were asked to provide a description of what they wanted to create, background on their artistic identity, and video samples of a finished work as well as a studio work in progress.

The festival began with Laura Heit’s The Letting Go, a visually mesmerizing and haunting piece of work interspersed with puppetry, animation, projected shadows and eerie, ethereal sound design.

Heit sought to build a performance that transformed perceptions between the live, recorded and the living-departed. Heit’s work mesmerized, blending multiple artistic practices seamlessly to produce a cohesive whole that juxtaposed the harrowing with the soothing.

The Neutral Fembot Project’s Untitled #__________ was a frenetic and powerful performance. Untitled #__________ explored the process of renowned American-born visual artist Cindy Sherman, whose work deals extensively with the notions of contemporary identity and self-representation.

Through examining the in-between moments and vulnerabilities separating persona from identity, the performance provided a vicious and stirring insight into the fragility of these ultimately fleeting disguises through the use of various costumes, wigs, meaningful posturing and presentation.

Ilvs Strauss’ Manifesto was a poignant and often humorous performance centered around the notion of womanhood and conception. The performance was presented with no set and only minimal use of props and costumes. A prerecorded voice-over drove the narrative forward.

Strauss managed to convey a moving and deeply personal look into the conundrum of birth, gendered expectation and existential angst using the example of a California red sea cucumber as a vessel by which to explore these topics.

The second half of the festival began with Erin Pike’s That’swhatshesaid, written by Courtney Meaker. The performance utilized nothing but female dialogue taken from the most produced plays in America.

Pike’s performance veered from one extreme to the other, encapsulating a chaotic spectrum of emotion that served to demonstrate the largely supporting role of women across modern theater. With no male characters to interact with, the performance dissolves into psychosis, reiterating predefined female tropes and in the process, highlighting just how one-sided and gender-biased many of these works really are.

Lucy Lee Yim’s Devastation Melody was a gradually evolving dance that sought to address the idea of the body as a means for transporting physical aspects of sadness and sorrow. Yim’s performance was interspersed with shifting wordplay, alternating between elements of the inquisitive and the performative.

“I think that contemporary dance, what really attracts me to it is this questioning of political values and aesthetic values,” Yim said. “I find that, more so than with any other art form, there’s this exciting amount of questioning that’s happening that feels really important.”

The festival ended with the Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s (after thought), a work-in-progress production taken from a wordless play designed with specific attention given to the aural and the physical. The performance involved extensive physicality, heightening tension and sheer, unadulterated experience with little in the way of overarching narrative.

Risk/Reward easily lived up to its name. The festival provided an insightful glimpse into an original, experimental and often unorthodox array of productions from a selection of talented artists venturing into exciting and unknown territory.

View the view trailer here: