Flying under the radar, the venerable Portland Civic Theatre Guild keeps some civilized traditions alive (and raises money for new things)

 

Written October 4, 2017 by Bob Hicks | Please click here for the full article

 

Walking into The Sanctuary on Northeast Sandy Boulevard for one of the Portland Civic Theatre Guild’s monthly play readings is a little like walking into a town meeting in Miss Jane Marple’s St. Mary Mead, minus the lurking murderer. Cookies and coffee and no doubt some tea are being served. A clubby camaraderie inhabits the proceedings, an understated festive air. Little histories are here: Most everyone seems to know, or at least recognize, most everyone else, and while the attendees might be mostly outside the target parameters of corporate marketing metrics, they are active and inquisitive and in good humor, and no doubt value common sense. A feeling persists of something civilized and basically good, a small pleasure: a bulwark on this past Tuesday morning, barely more than a day after the evil of the Las Vegas massacre, against the bleakness of the outside world.

As with St. Mary Mead and its inhabitants, it would be unwise to underestimate this crowd and its proceedings. They may not be in the market for the latest exhibitions from the seething swamps of contemporary performance art, but they know their theater (many of them have been, and some continue to be, on the stage), and the pleasures to be had in communing with a style of playfulness that might not be the height of fashion but has not lost its charm. It’s quite easy, and enjoyable, to slip into the spirit of the thing.

The Portland Civic Theatre Guild, which for many theatergoers plays a very under-the-radar role, is the thriving extension of a community theater company that once dominated the Portland scene. PCT began in the 1920s and stayed in business until the early 1990s, and when it finally shut its doors the Guild, which had been established as an independent support group in 1958 and immediately established its play-reading series, just kept going, doing much more than simply keeping the memory alive.

“We do a lot more than just put on these readings, you know,” Chappell – whose mother, Isabella Chappell, was for many years a legendary leader of PCT – mentions in the lobby before the show. “We’re very involved. We raise money and we give a lot of it away.”

Indeed, the Guild, which includes 60 active members (men were added to what had been an all-women’s membership in 2004), has a healthy grants program, and has given more than $130,000 in awards to theater companies and individual artists. At June’s Drammy Awards ceremony it announced gifts of $3,000 to the Portland Actors Conservatory for computer and sound system upgrades, $2,000 to DaVinci Middle School drama teacher Nicole Accuardi to buy a digital piano for the school’s program, and $5,000 to actor Samson Syharath to travel to Laos to study dance, myths, history, traditional instruments and songs, and bring his knowledge back to town.