Insights & Impetus on Artists & Cultural Adventures in Portland

Portland Creation Arts & Tony Fuemmeler

Posted by Nicole Lane on 05/21/2009


Defined by Merriam-Webster Online as:
1: the act of creating ; especially : the act of bringing the world into ordered existence.
2: the act of making, inventing, or producing: as a: the act of investing with a new rank or office; b: the first representation of a dramatic role.
3: something that is created: as a: world; b: creatures singly or in aggregate; c: an original work of art.

How perfect that I decided to look up this word as I began to write of both the creative development culture of Portland and multidisciplinary artist Tony Fuemmeler.

Do refer back to the definition as you read along.

One of the aspects of the Portland arts scene I love the most is that the creation of Art is a constant and a focus in our city. I often describe it with my sort of a make-up word as verdant “generativity.” [If you read the “about” tab on this blog, you’ll see that I promised new vocabulary.]

There exist stale versions of art here, sure, but on the whole we live in a city that prides itself on innovation and opens its arms and minds to the new work being done locally. There are many examples of access points in all the disciplines from art galleries and coffee shops to major festivals like the new Fertile Ground: City-wide Festival of New Work, PICA’s Time Based Art Festival, and PDX POP NOW!

On a regular basis, perhaps the best venue in the city to witness that verdant creative generativity of which I write is the Someday Lounge. Read their Viva l’Arte mission statement here.

You want diversity in one place? Go there. They are extremely open and encouraging of all kinds of performance Art – perhaps most importantly they are willing to let artists share their work. A year ago, I worked on an rich, multidisciplinary CD Release party for Barons in Trees there that integrated dance, visual art, clown and live-mixed video projection. That is exactly the type of work you’ll see at the Someday. From a very eclectic cross-section of musical acts, to theatrical performances like Opera Theatre Oregon, to the Shadow Puppetry show “Bugged” that Tony Fuemmeler just performed there…Someday Lounge has it all.

On Tuesdays, once a month, for free, the Someday hosts a generously curated show called the “Someday Incubator.” The evening’s program is to give developing artists and/or their project access to a stage and an audience. I have been to a couple Incubators, talent varies, but the compelling through-line is both the commendable intention behind the idea and the chance to see an artist try out their work.

Tony Fuemmeler.

 Please take a moment right now and follow this link to Tony’s website. He just put it up. Poke around!

I actually don’t remember when I first met Tony, but first got to know his work when he was  as a set and props designer for Insight Out’s The Yellow Boat, around the same time he was the stage manager for Sight Theatre Group (formerly known as CITE), for whom I’m on the Board of Directors. I recall being impressed, equally, with his ingenuity and organizational skills. He has worked with a number of theatre organizations around town as a mask and puppet-maker, puppeteer and designer including Oregon Children’s Theatre, Tears of Joy Theatre and Nomadic Theatre. Tony also teaches children about theatre, performance and mask-making in public school residencies and after-school programs around Portland. At the beginning of 2009, he worked as a stage manager for Holcombe Waller’s “Into the Dark Unknown” tour to NYC, Seattle and San Francisco. Most recently, he collaborated with fellow mask maker Jen LaMastra on making 60 (yep, 6-0) masks, four versions, for Blitzen Trapper’s “Black River Killer” music video. You can view his mask work on his website.
Part of what I find impressive about Tony, is the breadth of his talents. A graduate of the University of Kansas and Dell’Arte (yes, he is another one), he also has done work with artistic Masters in Minneapolis, LA and NYC. Let’s just say he works from a very strong foundation.

 I really got to know Tony as the director and co-creator of Insight Out’s production For:Give – an ensemble created work inspired by The Tempest. In the role of co-Production Manager and PR/Marketing Director, I had the opportunity to really learn how Tony ticks. From the outset on this National Endowment for the Arts and Spirit Mountain funded project, Tony blew my mind with his creative and well-researched vision. This work was ensemble created, which means they started with an idea (The Tempest), wrote a script and staged an original play from there. Tony’s ability to know where he artistically wanted to go, fluidly lead a creation process with a cast, playwright and design team, and take strong steps to get the work to performance was phenomenal to watch.

I’ve mentioned his organizational abilities, which are notable, but what is really at the heart of Tony is how he sees creation. I have observed his process on a number of projects. I see that he creates with a mix of what is part organically inspired, part academically researched, and which is always is extremely intentional.

Tuesday night, I was lucky enough to catch Tony’s current work in development Bugged, at the aforementioned Someday Lounge. This is a shadow puppetry piece he is creating with fellow puppeteer and actor Rollin Carlson.

bugged-img1The show was riveting, intelligent and entertaining. The gregarious audience was silenced and intent as they watched the show unfold. Guffaws and shout-outs were mixed with concentrated efforts to understand the content and the medium.

I have seen a few children’s shadow puppet shows, but this was most certainly adult. Intellect and Art, Technology and the Natural World, Fear, Love and Humor meet in the projected shadows of puppets, sets and people. This was the second of two public workshops to develop this work-in-progress. Tony and Rollin hope to have developed a full-length work within the year, so be sure to get on his mailing list.

Next up, Tony will be sharing his passion for mask making and teaching by offering two mask workshops in June. One, a 2-day mask making workshop, and another about developing a physical character through the mask. Although marketed to performers, these classes are open for all who are interested.

Join the creative development culture in Portland. Support the artists and organizations that make it so. In doing so, we all do our part to help Portland Arts thrive.


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