Performance in the raw

When you go to see stand-up comedy, a local band, movie or play, you probably don’t think much about what went into it before it was presented to the public.

When you go to see stand-up comedy, a local band, movie or play, you probably don’t think much about what went into it before it was presented to the public.

For those unfamiliar with the workings of the creative process, or those who like to watch others’ processes, there is a place where people can see performances still in development. And, for artists, there is the chance to try something out in front of a test audience.

ScratchPDX is a local “performance lab” that provides just that. Artists of any genre can come there and perform, then answer questions and receive feedback from the audience. The show is set up and hosted by two couples: Don Kern and Carla Grant, and Molly Grant and Barnaby King. Both couples have been involved in the same improvisation scene for quite some time, from which this event was born.

Molly Grant and her British husband served as the comic hosts at the last installment of the event on Jan. 26, providing interludes between acts and doing interviews with the performers afterward.

The lineup consisted of three acts, followed by an intermission, then three more acts. It is difficult and even a little unfair to review pieces still in development, but an overview might give you an idea of what type of artists perform at the space.

The first act was a brief monologue followed by a short film called “Xylophonus Funk,” that combined live-action with stop-motion animation/claymation. The acting was poor in both the monologue and the film, but the stop-motion work was excellent and whimsical.

The second act was Richard Hanky with “Traditional and Contemporary Santur.” The Santur is an ancient Persian instrument that is the ancestor of the hammer dulcimer. He played a medley that got better as it went along. The last act before the intermission was “My Portland Move Diary” a stand-up piece chronicling one man’s journey from Cleveland, Ohio, with his now ex-girlfriend, including the breakup. This observational humor was spot-on, sometimes enough to make you fall off your chair laughing.

The intermission was followed by an improvised ambient music and interpretive dance piece by Kerry Ratza and two friends using the guitar and voice to create ambient noise. The dance itself, entitled “Tension/Release,” was very abstract and would definitely stretch most people’s definition of what they see as art. This was followed by a short little act involving Dave Clay in a costume that was simply a humongous pair of pants, called “Mr. Happy Pants.” The character had an Eastern European accent and was a likeable loser, trying and failing at both magic and comedy.

The last piece of the night was by Tuesday Group, the middle-aged theater troupe that performs at Hipbone. Their piece was based on a single paragraph of text from an old fascist document, repeated over and over in different combinations with movement of various sorts. It seemed more like an acting exercise than anything resembling a performance.

For those who are tired of super-polished performances, ScratchPDX is the place to go. And, if you have something you’d like to try out in front of an audience before you go any further with it, this is the perfect opportunity.

So far this year, ScratchPDX is held on the fourth Saturday night of every month, starting at 10 p.m. The location is Hipbone Studios, located at 1847 E. Burnside No. 104. For additional information see