Portland's TBA Festival (Time Based Art) is always sort of an enigma to me. Not one of those juicy, colorful, let's bite into it and see how tasty it might be enigmas, either. It feels sort of gray and convoluted. It's the sort of enigma that you kick gently like a tire to see if it's alive then go about your business.
The thing is, Time Based Art should theoretically be something that's right up my alley. Yet in all the years that I've lived here "working" in the arts, I've never bothered to go to any of the events. This year, I decided to give it a go. But I've got three problems:
One. Lil ol' me, Miss Calendar's Clear Til The Nuclear Winter, has got some plans. Like weddings and visitors and stuff.
Two. I'm feeling too broke for even the (many) free events. I can only cough up $10 to see one of the performances. If I wanted to go to a stage performance that both fits my schedule and my budget, my choices are narrowed down to NIL.
Three. Most of what I've read about the events has me asking, "WHO CARES?" What is worthy of my 100 thin dimes? Because I will be paying in change, FYI box office representatives.
I can put aside the difficulties posed by the first two problems. But the third creates a some fundamental difficulties. Here I am ready to be shaken, stirred and moved by an exploration of what human creativity has to offer, and I look over the materials that will help me explore the festival and I'm asking why I should even bother to attend.
In order to examine the reasons why I am feeling so curmudgeonly about the whole thing, I have decided to pick apart the letter from the outgoing artistic director (as found on page 9 of the festival guidebook). I would ordinarily feel bad about nit picking this sort of letter, but the Artistic Director dude makes some self-disparaging comments towards the end. Also I used to write these letters in my days as an Intern. I know what you're supposed to put in them and that it is possible to bang one out in 15 minutes or less before it is picked apart in a similar way by a committee. The content of the letter is in bold, my reaction follows.
This is a festival that takes its shirt off.
Yawn. Seen it before.
This is a festival that features dance, theater, visual art, film, video and things that we cannot easly categorize.
Okay. This intrigues me.
This is a festival about joy.
You had me fooled. That photo of Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons) on the front of your almost 200 page guide booklet had me ready to Anna Karenina myself.
This is an international festival.
Go on... I'm listening.
This is an international festival with local flavor.
Yes, there did seem to be an enormous amount of hipster pics in the guidebook.
This is a festival that could only happen in the city it happens in.
Unlike what, the 2008 DNC/RNC? SxSW?
This festival wakes up early.
I don't think there are any events for folks to go to on their way to the office at 8am.
This festival goes to bed late.
Are you saying that there's after hours parties that aren't advertised outright? Because 11pm is not late. Even if the band is playing a 90 minute set (which nobody does anymore).
This festival is about hope. This festival is about beauty.
In theory, so is America's Next Top Model.
This festival is awkward.
So are many of the contestants on America's Next Top Model.
This festival is a bawdy nasty festival that your mom told you to stay away from.
Mama Crow, while puritanical in her own right, also possesses sort of a naughty sense of humor. This means that she probably would trust me to exercise my own judgment on this one. And reading the brochure, I'd probably take her to even the most explicit content were she in town.
This is a festival that owns its mistakes.
But is it a festival that dwells on these mistakes? If so, I'm outta here.
This is a festival that likes a good laugh.
With you or at you? Is this an attempt to say that funny things happen in your line up?
This is a festival that could really be something if you gave it a chance.
This makes me think that the people in charge think that they've got a lot of little somethings to apologize for in their line up. Not cool.
This is a festival that wants your vote. Well, I might be tempted with an empty promise of a coke machine in the cafeteria...
This is a festival that has a gorgeous voice.
I have a gorgeous voice. Why is this incentive for me to leave the comforts of the shower at Chateau Crow?
This is a festival that likes football: figure out which kind.
I'm going out on a limb to say the shirtless kind. This is a festival that likes to take its shirt off, after all.
This is a festival that is happening at a very critical time in our life as a nation and though it does not have a specific political agenda its existence is part of the answer.
Whoa, there. I don't see how any sort of arts organization-- particularly one supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts-- can legitimately claim to have no specific political agenda. Wow. I'm incredulous.
This is a festival that likes to rock out.
With your cock out? Or just your shirt off?
This is a festival that investigates the nature of the performance.
How? Under what scope? Tell me more, I'm interested.
This is a festival that starts with a parade and ends with one as well.
Insert rain on parade joke here. This is Portland, after all.
This festival has a lot of work from France. This is a festival with work from France but you don't have to know French to get it-- you don't even have to wear a beret.
This is redundant. You've already mentioned that this is an international festival. I'll take the note about the beret. I typically don't wear hats to performances.
This is a festival that can lip synch.
Then where's Lypsinka? I'd totally be excited if she was coming.
This is a festival with a really cool night club for everyone called THE WORKS.
Any place that's ever been described to me as "really cool" and a "night club" at the same time has been terribly disappointing. Plus, a $10 cover charge? That's too much for what you have to offer. I'm not saying this because I'm a cheap bastard. I'm saying this because I have good taste.
This is a festival that won't sit still. This is a festival that won't shut up.
I've heard Adderall helps and is readily available in secondary markets.
This is a festival that really knows how to dance.
Quit your bragging.
This is a festival based on meetings between people, between cultures, one to one.
Call my secretary. Have him pencil you in.
This is a festival that embraces the cheap and tawdry.
I can see that from some of your promotional pictures.
This festival sleeps with the beautiful.
Quit your bragging.
This festival is sublime.
This is the third and final festival by a guest artistic director who really lies in New York City but feels he has gained a new home town.
If you're going to keep talking about yourself in the third person, then good riddance. New York can have you.
This festival is bittersweet.
But not as tasty as bittersweet chocolate.
This is a festival you can take your kids to (well some of it, depends on the kid).
Great. I didn't want to cough up for a sitter.
This is a festival with maps on top of maps.
Okay. This was the one event that actually looked interesting to me.
This festival will lead you astray.
As if I need to go any further afield...
This festival is funny.
Once again redundant.
This festival could change your life.
I feel the earth move under my feet. I feel the sky tumbling down...
This festival could teach you a lesson.
Yeah, but am I grounded?
This festival has stories to tell.
Telling stories is what got me in trouble in the first place.
This festival will have moments of quiet contemplation. This festival is knocking at heaven's door.
Mama, take this badge off of me, I can't use it anymore.
This is a festival put together with love and thought.
I see a lot of thought. Lots and lots of thought. None of it stirs me in the special place, or plays upon my heart strings.
This festival is a gift.
So you're expecting a thank you note?
This festival has always relied on the kindness of strangers.
Call me back when you're big enough to ask for a hand up and not a hand out.
This festival asks a lot of questions.
Yeah but what else would I expect at a 11 day arts festival?
This festival asks a lot of its audiences, but gives it back.
Well, too bad its marketing materials are putting me to sleep.
This festival takes artistic risks. But why should I care about those risks?
This festival knows what it is doing.
I'm not so sure it does.
This festival is programmed by a guy who hates writing introductory letters to festivals.
This festival was put together by a lot of dedicated people and supported by foundations, and individual contributions and a lot of sweat equity.
Just like every other arts event I've been to this year.
This festival thanks everyone who got through to the end of this "letter."
You're welcome. It was a chore.
This festival makes a statement.
I'm just not convinced I want to hear it.