Ships and barges are not rolling off the property anymore, but dance and opera and theater will be filling the air on prime real estate at South Waterfront on the Willamette River in the next couple of months.
More Zidell family land has been turned into performance space, as an outdoor arts series opens at the new Old Moody Stages this week. There is a stage inside the old Barge Building and there is a stage just outside the east entrance of the huge structure that once housed ships and barges under construction.
It's the result of a collaboration of arts organizations — Dance Wire, Profile Theatre, Portland Opera and Portland State University School of Music and Theater — and philanthropist Charlene Zidell.
The Lot at Zidell Yards is a place to be for outside music and more, and now Old Moody Stages is home to performance through August — all on the 33 acres owned by the Zidell family through ZRZ Realty Co., surrounded by the shiny new buildings of South Waterfront.
The Zidells at one time envisioned the property being used for an "arts ecosystem," meaning housing, rehearsal and studio spaces, venues, etc. But, a deal couldn't be reached with the city on infrastructure, and the Zidells let go of their dream. Charlene Zidell says there haven't been any offers on the property in recent years and "we're not actively marketing the property."
It was during a Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble (PETE) production last winter in the outdoor cold on the property that Charlene Zidell had the epiphany that the property could be used for more regular performances; hence, The Lot at Zidell Yards and now Old Moody Stages. It's a way to help out arts companies that had to shut down live productions during the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions.
"That's part of what makes it so intriguing and fun and interesting," Zidell said of the outside industrial space.
"I would describe this as temporary in nature, but it helps continue to promote the arts in Portland. Certainly we'll have to wait to see what 2022 brings. From a family perspective, as long as the property is there and we're able to use it to promote the arts, we're interested in talking with people to do that."
Artists and performers using the space in summer 2021 said they're thrilled to be part of what could be called an experiment. Socially distanced seating at each stage will be for about 145 people, and there'll be a sound system — shows shut down at 10 p.m. for neighborhood consideration — as well as food and beverages from nearby patrons (including Fit Foods). Portland State has provided the lighting; Portland Opera has provided stages. Fuller Events will help with bathrooms, gate and more.
Non-vaccinated people are asked to wear masks.
"We have loved the experience of coming together in a collaborative nature," Dance Wire's Emily Running said. "This is part of what Charlene, especially, envisioned. She has been such a champion for arts organizations. They recognize the asset they have, the property, and they're helping out arts organizations.
"Not a lot of people are comfortable being in a theater right now. This is one of the few opportunities to engage with people. Nothing is happening on the stages that people go to, they're dark. We had to create an entire venue outside. That's no small feat."
Described as Portland's dance hub, Dance Wire will open the series Wednesday to Saturday, July 21 to 24, with a festival called "Momentum," which highlights 10 dance "ambassadors" of all different styles. Classes will be provided. Dance Wire contributes communication and curation to the Old Moody Stages project.
The dance company Push/Fold has been added to the lineup, July 30 to 31, after the Dance Wire show. More companies could sign on for available days. The rest of the schedule:
• Profile Theatre presents an early play by Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel, called "The Oldest Profession," Aug. 5-15, about aging practitioners of the oldest profession (sex work) who are faced with a diminishing clientele, increased competition for their niche market, and aching joints. Portland Opera also will bring their acclaimed Opera a la Cart for a pre-show performance Friday, Aug. 6.
• On Aug. 21-22, it'll be Opera in the Park (Portland SummerFest), launching their 20th anniversary year with a rare opportunity to experience music from one of Wagner's legendary Ring cycle operas "Die Walkure" with a stellar cast and orchestra under the baton of Keith Clark.
• Portland Opera, Aug. 27-29, will continue the celebration of the live art of opera at "Old Moody Stages" with free performances.
Profile Theatre has an office in the downtown Wieden+Kennedy building, and puts on events at Imago Theatre, Lincoln Hall, Portland Playhouse and elsewhere — usually. It has done audio plays in the past year and online production of "The Mineola Twins." It hasn't done live performance since "Indecent" in early 2020.
"We're thrilled. There were many tears of joy on the first day of rehearsal when we gathered in a room together and started working on the project," said Josh Hecht, artistic director of "The Oldest Profession."
The Barge Building itself is 72,000 square feet and "is really chic," Hecht said. "The building provides all the decoration you need. It's an industrial space, which is perfect for this story. There'll be uplighting on pillars."
He added, of the collaboration: "This has been a silver lining of the pandemic, this collaborative spirit. It's born from the four (entities) of us and Charlene, it was her idea. We had sweat equity in it — fundraising (about $120,000), services."
In August, Portland Opera, which usually stages at Keller Auditorium, looks forward to performances at Old Moody Stages.
"Portland Opera is delighted to support the creation of this new collaborative outdoor art space," says Laura Hassell, Portland Opera's producing director. "We know that a healthy arts ecosystem is a key part of reopening, and we're proud to be a partner. We look forward to sharing vocal performances with the community and sharing the stage with other arts organizations."
For more: www.oldmoodystages.com.
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