Portland is known nationwide for their food, wine, and art. Having already spoken to people in both the food and beverage industry in this city, the obvious topic lacking in Hey Hank News is art. This is the first in a series all about art and artists in Portland.
Theater Company ART (Artists Repertory Theater) is Portland’s second largest theater company and one of Oregon’s most successful playhouses. Resident Artist and member of the acting ensemble Michael Mendelson has been with ART since the founding in 2008.
Mendelson started as an actor right after grad school in 1989. He received a BFA from Wayne State University in Detroit and an MFA from the University of Washington’s Professional Actors Training Program. He came to Portland Oregon in 1991.
“The life of Portland theatre is in good shape. There is a strong group of professional artists and a vast group of semi professional and amateur artists both on and off stage,” Mendelson told HHN. “I have no idea where it will be in 5-10 years. The notion of theatre and its purpose in society is every[thing is] changing. I don’t think it will ever go away but the ways in which we tell stories is a constantly changing thing.”
This idea that art is unpredictable leads to the question of what makes good art? Art is opinion based. One person can despise a show that another person loves. One person can even love a show for the same reason another person hates it. The value of art is placed on the opinion of the person watching. Despite all subjectivity placed on the value of art, there are a few things that are known to be successful in a show.
“Great artists make great theatre. Something that both entertains and enlightens. Good taste. An experience that alters me somehow, whether it opens my heart or head is not necessarily important as long as what I experience is honest, visceral and immediate.”
Just as the quality of a show may change depending on any given night, who’s watching, the energy of the audience, or the mental state of the actors, the way Mendelson prepares for each show also changes night in, night out.
“I arrive about 1.5 hours before curtain. After getting settled, I’ll start warming up both physically and vocally. By the time I’m in performance I trust the emotional journey lives in me somewhere so I don’t do much but think about the journey I’m about to take and then do my best to forget it, so I have a sense of discovery in the moment during the performance. It’s a private preparation time for me.”
The next time you are watching a show onstage, let your mind wander and ask yourself what it would be like if you came a week later and saw the same show? Would the show change? Would you enjoy it more or less? What parts of art are definable and what parts are completely dependent on the imagination?
“Every show is a different animal so every process is going to be slightly different depending on the journey,” Michael Mendelson tells us.