During a virtual concert presented by Portland Center Stage, indie string pop violinist Joe Kye takes a break from his zany, zesty sounds to talk about public shaming. “I think that we should work toward some kind of compassionate system, but I don’t know how,” he says. “That’s up to you, Google. Make it happen. Chop, chop.”
Compassion and empathy are recurring themes in PCS’s current catalog of free virtual events. In-person theater won’t return to the company’s stage until October, when Frida...A Self Portrait premieres, but its website is currently bursting with brilliant attractions—including concerts, poetry and visual art—that present radical empathy not as a challenge or chore but as a joy and a necessity.
Sometimes that means provoking frank conversations about policing, sometimes it means preaching the gospel of self-love, and sometimes it means reminding audiences of the healing power of pure silliness. During a time dominated by trauma, the company is giving us the artistic equivalent of an embrace that enlightens and nurtures on multiple levels.
Here are four must-watch PCS events—all of which will leave you feeling either smarter, happier or more hopeful than before.
Community Voices Project
The Community Voices Project is a ritual. Each month, PCS invites local artists to share a monologue, a poem, a song or a piece of visual art. Some, like Jasmine Cottrell’s heart-expanding poems “You Are” and “Whirlwind,” are original works, while others unleash new visions of familiar creations.
Currently available are Cottrell’s readings, Gerrin Delane Mitchell’s commanding delivery of a monologue from Robert O’Hara’s semi-autobiographical play Bootycandy, and Beth Thompson’s wild performance of Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” which includes dancing and delightfully goofy facial expressions that bring witty new meaning to Whitman’s description of “wonderful vigor.”
Daren Todd’s James Baldwin mural
At the Northwest 10th Avenue back entrance to PCS’s Armory venue stands a new 10-foot-tall mural of James Baldwin, legendary Black writer, activist and LGBTQ icon. It was painted by Daren Todd, who used a giant projection of Baldwin for reference (PCS has released a video that chronicles Todd’s creative process) and is part of an ongoing mural series. Passersby have until July to bask in the beauty of Todd’s imaginative design, which is so vivid that it makes you feel as if you’re seeing Baldwin for the first time.
Livestream concert featuring Joe Kye and Niema Lightseed
One of the highlights of Kye’s calmly showstopping concert is when he sings, “I’ve made mistakes/So have you.” While a lesser artist might have interpreted those words as a guilt trip, Kye uses them to soothe rattled souls. He has the kind of chill yet jovial vibe that makes you feel like everything is going to be OK.
The concert is defined by Kye’s inimitable style—he sings and loops sounds to create a quirky and enveloping sonic universe—but it also features a lovely rendition of “The Rainbow Connection.” Kye channels Kermit in a way that feels more like transformation than imitation—listening to him makes you believe anew that something glorious awaits the lovers, the dreamers and you.
Until the Flood
When Dael Orlandersmith’s one-woman play about the murder of Michael Brown came to PCS in 2019, it struck Portland like a thunderclap. Watching Orlandersmith play characters of multiple ages, genders and races as they reacted to Brown’s death at the hands of Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson was like running through an emotional gauntlet—a gauntlet that left no assumption unchallenged.
PCS is now offering a filmed version of Until the Flood by New York’s Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Some audiences may wonder what it’s like to experience it in the wake of Derek Chauvin’s conviction for the murder of George Floyd, but Orlandersmith’s play, which is based on her interviews with Missourians, is bigger than any single moment in time.
Until the Flood is not just about Michael Brown—it’s about all the Michael Browns and all of the people impacted by their deaths. That’s why it was unmissable in 2019 and why it is unmissable today.
SEE IT: Links to all of the programming listed are available at pcs.org/watch-now. Free.