Portland’s performing-arts organizations are serving up a season of stellar live acts, from shows staged by skilled youth performers to a rollicking kinder crooner singalong. Here’s when and where to catch the fun.  

October

Jazzy Ash and Red Yarn at The Reser

Jazzy Ash and Red Yarn, credit: Queen Skittles Photography

We live in complicated times, and if you ask kindie music collaborators Jazzy Ash and Red Yarn, there’s no better way to help kids engage with the complexity than by immersing them in the arts. 

“Music and performance and art is such a gentle-yet-powerful approach to learning difference, learning about yourself, learning about the world,” says St. Armant, and Furgeson agrees. 

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“You feel it first, then you think about it later,” he says of music in particular. “I think our hearts can accept new feelings a lot faster than our minds can accept new ideas.”

The duo will visit the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts in Beaverton on October 8 to showcase songs from their new album, Sing Together. This eclectic collection, featuring everything from accordion and mandolin to guitar and tambourine, is a mashup of their shared and individual musical sensibilities, landing it somewhere between folk and funky, says St. Armant, who draws inspiration from folk music and the African-American diaspora. “It’s a beautiful mix of everything we both love,” she says.

The album explores moments throughout history when Black and white music mixed and merged, explains Furgeson, from 1940s jazzy pop to 1970s Southern rock. 

Touring the United States in recent years has sometimes felt fraught for St. Armant, a queer Black woman raising two teenage sons, but she knows that voices like hers are needed, and music can be a powerful tool for pushing toward change and connecting intergenerational audiences. 

“Now more than ever, it feels important to stay in the game and to share not only this music but these stories,” she says.

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These songs tackle cultural and social issues in a way that invites discussion. “I hope that kids will first experience the joy of this collaboration, and then later have those important conversations with their families to unpack the bigger ideas,” says Furgeson.

The pals promise a colorful mix of thought-provoking tunes and belly laughs at their show, which Furgeson envisions as “a loose and lively party.” 

“We want you to feel like you’re in your living room enjoying a good time with some friends,” says St. Armant. “In some ways, that’s what we’ve missed most over the last couple of years.”

Find out more at thereser.org

Also happening in October:

The Oregon Symphony’s Hocus Pocus in Concert, running October 29-30, sets the classic Halloween film to live orchestral music and is sure to cast a spell on little goblins.

Or introduce older kids to Shakespeare with Oregon Ballet Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, running October 8-16.


November

Oregon Children’s Theatre’s Pestilence:Wow!

Struggling to help your kids make ongoing sense of the pandemic? Teens, too, are grappling with its implications, says Alli Jaffe, an 18-year-old member of the Oregon Children’s Theatre’s (OCT) Young Professionals (YP) Company, and it turns out that doing so onstage makes for some magical live theater. 

“[Theater] helps me break down what’s happening in the world into manageable chunks,” Jaffe explains. “Being in shows helps me to understand myself and how I’m dealing with that theme in the world.”

During her time with the YP, Jaffe has explored everything from performing to stage managing and assistant directing. She even sat on the selection committee for this season’s YP shows, including Pestilence:Wow!, running October 28 to November 13. It’s an absurdist comedy set during the bubonic plague, and Jaffe was struck by the modern-day parallels. 

“It’s about how people deal with difficult events in such different ways,” she says.

Insights like these are exactly what the company aims to inspire in serious young performers, explains YP Artistic Director Dani Baldwin. Through the program, teens explore theater craft while building community and learning collaborative skills. 

Baldwin agrees with Jaffe that performance art is therapeutic for kids during challenging times, especially when they’re the ones making it. “It allows teens an opportunity for self-expression and provides the ability to look at the world through the lens of another person. … You get to laugh and play and release together, and those things are so valuable in a time when it’s hard to find a reason to laugh,” says Baldwin. Find out more at octc.org.

Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s Authentic Voice Series

Courtesy Metropolitan Youth Symphony

Speaking of excuses for joy, what could be more happiness-inducing than an auditorium of young musicians uniting to bring the work of a fellow budding musician to life? 

Audiences can get in on the good vibes during an upcoming premiere from Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s Authentic Voice Series, happening November 13. In partnership with fEARnoMUSIC’s Young Composers Project, the series grants young musicians access to a high-level full orchestra to workshop, rehearse and perform original compositions, with Young Composers faculty working with students for several years before they write for full orchestra.

Creating and playing music together facilitates the human desire for connection, says MYS Music Director Raúl Gómez-Rojas. “You become part of a closely-knit team creating something beautiful together,” says Gómez-Rojas. “Add to that the fact that as a young musician, you’re playing music created by your own peers, and you get a boost of joy and a sense of accomplishment.” 

A live performance at a major local venue is quite the boon for an up-and-coming musician. “Our young musicians are keenly aware of the incredible feat that it is to bring a completely new piece of music to life,” he says. “They take ownership of the whole process, from workshop to concert. The world premieres of these pieces are always high points of our season.” Find out more at playmys.org

Also happening in November:

Celebrate the beauty of Mexican traditions at Milagro Theatre’s Día de Muertos celebration, running October 14 to November 6. Find out more at milagro.org.

And younger theatergoers who are fans of Dav Pilkey graphic novels can bounce along with the antics of OCT’s Dog Man: The Musical, onstage October 23 to November 20. Find out more at octc.org.


December

Oregon Symphony

Courtesy Oregon Symphony

The Oregon Symphony’s roster of winter performances has something for everyone, exploring music across genres and cultures. Comfort & Joy, a merry singalong, debuts on December 7, followed by Elf in Concert on December 12 and 18, with the symphony providing musical accompaniment to this hilarious tale of an endearingly delusional Christmas elf. On December 20, enjoy a musical tribute to Mexico’s holiday traditions with A Very Merry Mariachi Christmas, with Mariachi Sol de México de Jóse Hernàndez . The merriment continues with Holiday Brass on December 21, with the symphony’s brass section playing a mix of classic and popular favorites. Find out more at orsymphony.org

Also happening in December: 

If you’re ready for a new tradition, this might be the year to introduce your kids to the Oregon Ballet Theatre’s rendition of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, playing December 10-24. Dancing snowflakes, toy soldiers and an enigmatic nutcracker will awaken their wonder right alongside Clara, the young ballerina dancing her way through this timeless tale. Find out more at obt.org.

Or sway to the beautiful songs of Hawaii at The Reser with Kalani Pea’s Hawaiian Christmas on December 2. Find out more at thereser.org.


January + February

Oregon Children’s Theatre’s The Mad Ones

Courtesy Oregon Children’s Theatre Young Professionals Company

Looking to hit a meaningful musical with your teen? Check out the Oregon Children’s Theatre’s Young Professionals Company’s winter show, The Mad Ones, running February 10-26. This play explores how adolescents deal with grief and confront difficult life decisions, explains YP member Alli Jaffe. Audiences can expect “great singing, amazing acting, and a really strong message,” she says. 

How do young actors prepare to tackle heavier themes, especially when characters’ life experiences don’t mirror their own? With a little research and a lot of empathizing, says Jaffe, who hopes to double-major in acting and psychology when she heads to college next year. 

“Even if I haven’t experienced what the character is dealing with, I have likely had that emotion,” she says. 

The theater is a wonderful medium for helping kids to explore challenging themes while learning to prioritize their own mental health, says YP Artistic Director Dani Baldwin. Adults guide young thespians by providing nuts-and-bolts training, but also by building a space where teens can explore big feelings and safely express emotional needs, no matter how heavy the subject matter playing out onstage — or in real life. “A teen’s mental health is far more important than any show,” she says. “As a theater and as a society, we need to honor what actors need to stay healthy.” Find out more at octc.org.

Also happening in January and February:

Old-school kindie cool hits town on January 8 when the Metropolitan Youth Symphony performs music to accompany a screening of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other celebrated stories from children’s author and illustrator Eric Carle. (Mr. Carle, who died in 2021, gave special permission for the show!) Soundtracks by Julian Nott come to life alongside film renditions of Carle favorites, courtesy of Illuminated Films, accompanied by live narration by All Classical Portland and the International Children’s Arts Network. The imaginative multimedia show (plus an instrument petting zoo!) will thrill younger concertgoers. Find out more at playmys.org

Teens can feast on the visual delights of the Oregon Ballet Theatre’s La Sylphide, a 19th century Danish ballet written by an adoring father looking to showcase his ballerina daughter’s talent, onstage February 18-25. Find out more at obt.org.


Can’t get enough live theater? See our Performing Arts Guide for a comprehensive look at the 2022-23 season.

Erin J Bernard
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