Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Very Portland White Christmas

Tonight, I saw a show that reminded me of the magic of Portland: A White Album Christmas. It featured the Wanderlust Circus and the Nowhere Band (an ensemble of fantastic musicians). This isn’t the first time the show has been performed; apparently, it’s a bit of a Portland tradition. The idea is that they play the entire Beatles White Album. During intermission someone noted that it’s something the Beatles never performed live. Throughout the year the ensemble puts on a few other shows that are the complete albums of other epic musical masterpieces.

The show’s storyline was that of a traveling circus. The players are the immortal kind, though what caused it I have no idea. Rest assured, they weren’t vampires. That just wouldn’t go with the vibe of the show. It’s one of those things you just believe because it’s Portland and really anything is possible. There are punk rock clowns that try to thwart the performance, naturally. There’s even a time machine element that’s reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode. Of course, the scent of patchouli invaded the air. Ah, ambiance. The acrobatics, aerialists, juggling, contortion movements were amazing – swings, ropes, belly dancing (maybe not acrobatic, but something), hula-hoop’s, and human pyramids even the best cheer leading squads couldn’t accomplish. Things thrown between the audience and the stage performers accompanied the performance of the song Helter Skelter. I won’t say more because that would be like a magician revealing the secret to a trick. Yes, it was magical.

During the break, as theater goers assembled outside cast members mingled. I heard one such player reveal that his costume, a way too big black and white suit was originally purchased for an event where he refereed a glitter bomb fight. Ah, Portland.

The Culture of Art

That’s what gets me to the point of writing this post. When I first moved here, I longed for theater. I went all the time when I lived in New York. It was lacking here, but compared to New York it would be lacking anywhere. There’s a reason Broadway shows scoop up all the Tony awards. Perhaps instead of calling them unsophisticated, I should have said they weren’t authentic. There’s nothing wrong with that. Except that sometimes you don’t know that until you see a glimpse of what it should be. Every town has its own vibe, own sense of itself, and as the saying goes: To thy own self be true.

Seeing White Christmas tonight reminded me of that. It reminded me of the Portland I came to seven years ago. Weary of all the tattoos and people wearing pajamas during the day, I wasn’t exactly sure what this place was all about. Tonight, I get it. Perhaps that’s because I see daily how it’s starting to disappear. This place is a bit of an artist’s playground, with the freedom to express yourself how you see fit – no judgment. It’s not about making money and working all hours of the night. It’s about working to live the life you want. That life can be filled with anything… outdoor activities, art projects, crochet bombing, music, creating films, getting a ton of tattoos, etc. You think it and you can duct tape your way through it until it turns into something special… something like White Album Christmas.

An Evolution of Sorts

Portland is changing, which makes it an exciting time to live here. Watching a city going through growing pains and seeing the decisions it makes that will affect it for years to come is fascinating. You could see it in New York when you look at the transportation. Clearly, someone at some point never wanted freeways going through it, but cars weren’t going away. So you end up with a town with highways surrounding the city and a ton of public transportation that can often times get you to your destination faster than a car. It’s progress despite the multiple visions people had for the city.

Portland today isn’t the Portland I initially came to seven years ago. It’s not good, or bad; it’s just different. Apartments are going up everywhere you look, traffic is an issue, cocktail prices and rents are on the rise, and parking is hard to find. More companies are setting up shop here. That’s just progress and that’s ok. There are still tons of mom and pop shops, there’s plenty to do, and people are still putting on shows like White Album Christmas. My wish is that through this change, the city doesn’t lose itself completely. There is an artist spirit and creativity here that should never be demolished in place of something new. The bumper sticker says “Keep Portland Weird,” I’d change that to say “Keep Portland, Portland.”