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Imago Theater No Exit Review

October 22, 2009 No comments

“…being roasted on the spit, sulpher and brimstone. What a laugh! As if they needed it! Hell is other people.” Jean-Paul Sartre

You wouldn’t think that an existentialist play with three people who emotionally torture each other for an hour and a half would be so enjoyable, but Imago Theater‘s production of No Exit manages to find the playfulness and absurdity buried beneath the surface of Jean-Paul Sartre‘s famous play. Staged on a floating, tilting square, Imago’s No Exit is a dynamic and constantly moving production.

Imago's No Exit Tilting Stage

Imago's No Exit Tilting Stage

Imago’s No Exit stage pitches and moves under the weight and movement of the actors. This tilting and movement becomes more angular and dramatic as more actors are added to the mix. Using such a strong device to present the play, Imago ran the risk of having No Exit be a one trick pony. Through the first part of the play the novelty of the tilting stage does generate strong excitement, which tapers off as the play settles in. This transition point is handled extremely well and the staging transforms from a novelty into an essential character in the show. I loved how the moving stage changes the audience’s physical perspective on the show; at times, actors seem to float in the air in front of us, and at others they seem to be falling away into the darkness.

Director and set designer Jerry Mouawad seems to be constantly playing with the arrangement of the actors on stage, using that constantly shifting dynamic to enhance the tension and create drama. Mouawad does a fantastic job of coordinating the actors’ positioning, lighting and Sartre’s text into a piece that far exceeds anything that could be done on a conventional stage. Mouawad also seems to realize how important it is not to rely simply on the technical device of the teetering stage for the success of the show, so he injects a nice undercurrent of humor to balance things out.

Much of the humor in Imago’s production of No Exit is generated by Bryce Flint-Somerville who plays the role of the Valet. Bryce’s performance of the Valet is a blend of Dr. Daamen Caligari from the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Jim Carrey. It’s a delicious mix of near-comic insanity which starts the play off on a fantastic note and carries it through the first half.

Tim True and JoAnna Johnson in No Exit

Tim True and JoAnna Johnson in No Exit

Bryce’s intensity and humor is well balanced by Tim True who plays Garcin, a pacifist writer who is at constant odds with the world and his sense of self. Tim True plays Garcin in near opposite to Bryce as he constantly draws his energy and intensity inwards rather than playing everything out in exageration. True is excellent throughout the production even though he seemed to stumble with his lines a few times throughout the evening. I’ll give True the benefit of the doubt here as I saw the production on opening night. I’m sure as he settles into the run these stumbles will vanish and he’ll be left with a simply exceptional performance.

Adding a much different kind of intensity is JoAnn Johnson, who plays Inez, an aging, lusting lesbian postal worker who has a flair for the dramatic. “I’m a bitch” exclaims Inez, and Johnson seems to enjoy every last morsel of playing that. At times it felt like Johnson was channeling Gloria Swanson, using her physicality to communicate in dramatic fashion as much as her words. Towards the end of the show Johnson injects something into a very serious moment that is so unexpected and disarming I had a hard time containing my laughter.

Maureen Porter in Imago's No Exit

Maureen Porter in Imago's No Exit

Maureen Porter rounds out this excellent cast playing a fantastically alive Estelle, a woman who lived to be desired and persued by men. Porter is captivating and when she performs her key monologue you simply can’t take your eyes off her. Unfortunately Porter’s performance is handicapped by an absolutely horrid blond wig that she wears through out the show. It’s Halloween bad and it greatly distracts and detracts from the performance. It may seem petty, but it sticks out so accutely and is really my only gripe with an otherwise fantastic production.

In other hands Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit might be a tough piece to get through. Loose in its narrative structure, extremely morose and tightly confined in a single space, a performance of No Exit runs the risk of making you feel utterly trapped and miserable. There is no schadenfreude in watching three people emotionally torture each other, but Jerry Mouawad and the Imago Theater company have found something immensely entertaining and even absurdly enjoyable within this play. Through its innovative staging and deliciously performed characters, Imago has created a fantastic piece of theater that is extremely enjoyable and absolutely worth seeing.

Imago Theater’s No Exit runs October 15th – November 15th [Thursday @ 7:00 ($28); Friday @ 7:30 ($33); Sat @ 2:00 ($33) & 7:30 ($39); Sunday @ 2:00 ($28) Youth/Senior tickets are $3 less.] The theater is located at 17 SE 8th Ave (just south of Burnside).

For more information on Imago Theater’s No Exit:

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Esmee Denters and Honor Society in Portland Review

October 21, 2009 3 comments
Honor Society in Portland

Honor Society in Portland

What thin line divides a band like Honor Society from the The Jonas Brothers? Why is Miley Cirus selling out stadiums while Esmee Denters plays to a crowd of just a few hundred? Musically you could stand Esmee Denters single “Outta Here” and Honor Society “Over You” against the songs from either the Jonas Brothers or Miley Cirus’s, but in the business of big pop bands, music is only part of the equation.

Both Esmee Denters and Honor Society got their breaks through various social networks. Esmee was discovered doing covers of her favorite songs on YouTube while Honor Society found their following via MySpace. As they played to a small but devoted following, many of the teens in the crowd sang along to almost every word of every song. As Esmee finished her set, she stopped and took a picture of the crowd to post on her twitter account (@esmeeworld). Honor Society spent more time after their show meeting their fans than they did playing to them. This kind of personal connection between artist and fan is something that’s being taken to an entirely new level. But it is enough? Read more…

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Star Wars In Concert Review

October 15, 2009 8 comments

There are many different ways the Star Wars franchise could have presented on the road. I shudder to think of the rejected ideas: Star Wars The Musical, Star Wars on Ice, or maybe even Star Wars The 3D Experience. Of all the possible shows I am extremely pleased that they landed on Star Wars in Concert. Capturing the heart and soul of Star Wars, this two hour celebration is the equivalent of a legendary rock group reunion tour where all the best songs and moments are recaptured and relived.

A contemplative Yoda onscreen over the orchestra during Star Wars™: In Concert.

A contemplative Yoda onscreen over the orchestra during Star Wars™: In Concert.

Everything about Star Wars in Concert is done on an epic scale. An 86 piece orchestra is combined with a huge choir and backed by a 100-foot LED high-def screen, which is one of the largest, clearest high-def screens I’ve ever seen. The massive screen is surrounded by three other textured screens which envelope the entire back of the stage. This all is combined with a dizzying array of lighting and special effects which include full stadium lasers, smoke, huge fire and steam jets, providing some explosive exclamation points to the music.

The show opened appropriately enough with “Star Wars (Main Theme)”, the iconic piece which filled the Rose Garden with a palpable excitement. The crowd roared and cheered throughout the song. It was an amazing experience to hear a stadium full of people respond so enthusiastically to a piece of orchestral music. This is part of the magic of Star Wars in Concert, behind all the flash of all the staging, the real star of the evening was John Williams’s legendary score.

Yoda brandishes a light sabre onscreen over the orchestra during one of the musical segments of Star Wars™: In Concert.

Yoda brandishes a light sabre onscreen over the orchestra during one of the musical segments of Star Wars™: In Concert.

As the orchestra played, montages of clips from the Star Wars Saga were projected on the huge screens behind them. I’ve never seen these films look better; the crisp clarity, the deep color, even footage from the original series is literally jaw dropping. Seeing the films presented this way really accentuated the fact that the Star Wars Saga still isn’t available in Blu-Ray. I really hope that Lucasfilm will piggy back the excitement of this tour with a high-def release. The film montages combined clips from all six Star Wars movies (including original character concept drawings), often interspersing segments from the original series with the three prequels. The occasional clip had the sound from the film, usually featuring one of the many legendary quotes.

For the hardcore Star Wars fan I’m sad to report that the footage from the original Star Wars trilogy is the revised footage from the special edition releases (including things like the new approach to Mos Eisley Cantina). Also you’ll probably cringe when you see Han Solo and Greedo in their cantina duel and realize that Lucas is standing strong with Greedo now shooting first (for more on this see Han Shot First). But these minute details are easily forgiven, contexted in the absolute Star Wars love fest that is Star Wars in Concert.

Actor Anthony Daniels narrates a portion of the story from the films onstage during Star Wars™: In Concert.

Actor Anthony Daniels narrates a portion of the story from the films onstage during Star Wars™: In Concert.

After the theme song came to an end and the crowd finished their uproarious applause, Anthony Daniels (who played C3PO) was introduced. Daniels immediately began narrating the over-arching story of Star Wars, not as if it were some fairytale or fiction, but as if it were a real story with real people. Daniels was the perfect choice for this role, as his humor and enthusiasm provided the connecting point between the audience, the orchestra and the clips from the movie. While Daniels’s narration is infused with the occasional quip, it never droned on too long and was never cheesy.

STAR WARS: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back key art onscreen during Star Wars™: In Concert.

STAR WARS: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back key art onscreen during Star Wars™: In Concert.

STAR WARS: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back key art onscreen during Star Wars™: In Concert.

Each number of the evening was accompanied by a themed segment looking at each aspect of the Star Wars Saga including the story of Anakin and his transformation into Darth Vader, Pod Racing, Droids, Luke and Leia, Yoda, The Death Star, The Rebel Alliance triumph over the Empire, and Vader’s redemption. I really enjoyed how each segment focused on a specific aspect of the saga. Pulling some of these themes out of the context of the individual films enables them to be viewed from a new perspective. I especially enjoyed the segment on Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. It’s a really nice portrait of their relationship across the original trilogy films and seeing their relationship chronicled in this way really gave me a new appreciation for it. The biggest benefactors of this style of presentation are the three prequels. Divorced from some of their baggage they really shine. I found a real sense of fondness for the core story from the prequels, which was both a surprise and a delight.

C-3PO onscreen with lights and lasers during Star Wars™: In Concert.

C-3PO onscreen with lights and lasers during Star Wars™: In Concert.

With so much to experience on the gigantic high-def screen, it’s easy to overlook the phenomenal performance of the orchestra and conductor Dirk Brosse, who tackles the monstrous task of performing music so ingrained in the audience’s mind that even the slightest deviance would be noted. Brosse does an exceptional job conducting a pitch perfect orchestra with an extraordinary level of comfort and ease. Brosse was never showy and seemed dedicated to presenting the orchestration that really honored John Williams’s score. His work was a real partnership with the video segments and Daniels’s narration and the three elements worked in perfect harmony, a real credit to Brosse’s talent.

I really can’t imagine a better tribute to the Star Wars Saga than Star Wars in Concert. It’s an event which can be equally enjoyed by fans of the series both old and young. The fact that it can draw so many people to come together to celebrate and enjoy classical orchestral music is simply amazing. The Star Wars series and John Williams’s score both deserve to be celebrated and Star Wars in Concert is the most profound celebration possible. I highly recommend the Star Wars in Concert tour and hope that it will return to Portland again in the future, because I would absolutely go see it again.

Here is the formal Star Wars in Concert Set list:

Star Wars (Main Title)
Duel of the Fates
Anakin’s Theme
Moisture Farm
The Flag Parade
Across the Stars
Battle of the Heroes
The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)

INTERMISSION

The Asteroid Field
Princess Leia’s Theme
Tales of a Jedi Knight
Cantina Band
Yoda’s Theme
TIE Fighter Attack
Luke and Leia
The Forest Battle
Light of the Force
Throne Room/End titles

Encore: The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)

In addition to the main show, Star Wars in Concert features a number of costumes and models from the Star Wars Series.  If you go to the show be sure to allow extra time prior to enjoy these displays. They were swarmed by people at the Rose Garden and so picture taking was very difficult.

For more information about Star Wars in Concert:

Photos: Courtesy Lucasfilm LTD. © 2009 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM where indicated. All rights reserved. Used under authorization.

Portland Center Stage Ragtime Review

October 12, 2009 1 comment
Gavin Gregory in Portland Center Stage's Ragtime

Gavin Gregory in Portland Center Stage's Ragtime

Portland Center Stage didn’t take the easy road in selecting Ragtime for their 2009-2010 season. Ragtime is a huge production, with a large cast, quickly changing scenes and children who play two key singing roles. Given the complexity and scale of the show, it’s a little surprising that a regional theater company would try to tackle such a large production, especially in a recession when production funds don’t flow as freely.

Director Chris Coleman seems aware of the issues of scale in his production of Ragtime and places his trust in his performers and their ability to come together to fill in the spaces where set pieces and backdrops would traditionally be. At first I didn’t like the stark staging of Portland Center Stage’s Ragtime. G.W. Mercier’s design consists of a bare patterned wood floor, a few chairs and four massive swinging doors that open and close throughout the production. That’s it. As the production rolled on I found that I did really warm to the set, due in large part to the phenomenal lighting design and pitch-perfect staging of the actors. By the middle of the first act I found myself completely lost in the world of Ragtime.

In addition to the phenomenal lighting, a lot of credit goes to the performers, who absolutely commit to seeing and interacting with objects that aren’t there on stage. There’s one moment when actor Gavin Gregory (who plays Coalhouse Walker) sits down to play at an invisible piano that is truly magical. There’s no doubt that he’s playing piano, it’s just not there. As the production progresses there are a number of pretty sophisticated transitions which happen seamlessly – no small feat when you have twenty four people on stage.

One of the reasons Ragtime has such a large cast is that it is much more a portrait of a period in American history than a conventional narrative. At its core is a story of a Ragtime piano player and the struggles surrounding the woman he loves, but the show uses this main throughline to tell dozens of little stories. Terrence McNally does a fantastic job pulling E.L. Doctorow’s novel together for the stage. All the right pieces are there to present a mural of a pivotal time of change in history. Unfortunately the lyrics aren’t as strong as the adaptation.

There are some strong moments musically in Ragtime, especially when the ensemble come together and their interweaving narrative threads unite into a single chorus and there are at least two solo numbers which are strong enough to bring down the house (one performed by Gavin Gregory and the other by Susannah Mars). But none of the songs get stuck in your head and I can’t see myself humming anything from Ragtime anytime soon.

In terms of the performance, there’s a lot to like about Portland Center Stage’s Ragtime. Most notably is Gavin Gregory who is the absolute stand out of this cast. Gregory brings such an amazing emotional presence to stage and is so vocally talented that it’s impossible not to be captivated. I’d recommend running out to see this production of Ragtime for Gregory’s performance alone. He’s that good. Ragtime is an ensemble piece and while Gregory is the standout there are a number of other extremely strong performances including Susannah Mars who is excellent, Danny Rothman who does a tremendous job with a role that could have easily fallen into the background, and Alex Thede, a sixth grader who is an absolute inspiration to any young aspiring actor or actress.

The only performance I didn’t care for was Leif Norby who is horribly miscast as Tateh, an immigrant from Latvia who comes to America to find a better life. Norby, decked out in a horridly fake beard, does a caricature of an immigrant that is cartoonish and amateurish. His character goes through a transformation in the show that is played so rough by Norby that it’s completely lost, and the following duet between Leif Norby and Susannah Mars is the real low point of the show. The only saving grace of Tateh’s storyline is Anna Jane Bishop who plays Tateh’s daughter. While she doesn’t have a lot of lines, Bishop’s stage presence is extremely strong, especially for a ten year old.

Norby aside, the production of Ragtime in its entirely is really something to experience. Director Chris Coleman has demonstrated with Ragtime how a regional theater can tackle a very ambitious production intelligently, thoughtfully and skillfully. There are a lot of choices out there for Portland Center Stage to select from and I’m very pleased to see them aim high and tackle something that other theater companies might dismiss as ‘too big’ or ‘too complex’ for a regional theater.

Ragtime is a very satisfying evening of theater, and when you add Gavin Gregory and his performance to that mix it makes it an evening of theater not to be missed.

For more information on Portland Center Stage’s production of Ragtime:

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Star Wars In Concert Giveaway

October 9, 2009 31 comments
Star Wars in Concert in Portland

Star Wars in Concert in Portland

It’s unnecessary to exalt the virtues of Star Wars, it exists as one of the most influential series of films of the 20th century (well at least the original trilogy). One of the things which helps make the Star Wars franchise so amazing is John Williams’ legendary score.

Almost anyone who hears just a few notes of any of John Williams’ music from the series should be able to easily identify it as Star Wars.

Now,  the music from all six films have been combined with a multimedia spectacular into a live show that will surely thrill even the most casual Star Wars Fan (if there is such thing as a casual Star Wars Fan).

Star Wars In Concert arrives at the Rose Garden on Wednesday October 14th and On Portland is giving away 4 pairs of tickets to this once in a lifetime event. This two-hour musical event that features scenes from the movies projected on massive high-def screens, a full symphonic orchestra with choir, and live narration by Anthony Daniels, who played C-3PO.

In addition, audiences will be able to view an exhibition of STAR WARS original memorabilia, props, costumes and artwork from all six films from the Lucasfilm Archives.

Enter for your chance to win one of 4 pairs of tickets we’re giving away. Enterting is simple, just post your favorite Star Wars line, quote, memory or ancedote in the comments and you’re entered. Winners will be picked at the end of the day on Monday October 12th.

My The Force Be With You :)

For more information about Star Wars in Concert:

Congrats to the winners:  Monica Drake, Kimberly, Brenton Hunting and Lyle McNaughton!

Categories: Events, Giveaways Tags:

Josh Kornbluth's Ben Franklin: Unplugged – Reviewed

October 7, 2009 No comments
Josh Kornbluth - Ben Franklin: Unplugged

Josh Kornbluth - Ben Franklin: Unplugged

History is an interesting animal, in some ways it is like a dinosaur. We can look at the bones of the once mighty dinosaurs and pontificate: How did it live? What did it look like? What might its life been like? With more contemporary history we often have the luxury of texts, letters, documents or diaries to refer back to. But there will always gaps between the bones to fill in and moments that were never recorded or are lost. The telling of these stories often speak volumes about the person telling the story, who can’t help but bring their bias and perspectives to the telling. Perhaps this is why it makes sense for an autobiographical monologist to explore the world of biography in the telling the story of “the first American”, Benjamin Franklin.

For Josh Kornbluth, the story of Ben Franklin, his relationship with his son and his complicated position in history is an ideal canvas to express and explore Kornbluth’s own life and relationships both to his father and history. These themes run thorough out much of Kornbluth’s autobiographical work and so it’s no surprise that they are present here. What is a surprise is how Kornbluth ultimately sets aside his own narrative in service of the greater story of Benjamin Franklin. It’s a pretty huge step for someone who has spent the majority of his career in the autobiographical space and it shows that Kornbluth has an immense maturity as an artist and an enormous amount of trust in his material.

Josh Kornbluth’s Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged begins with Kornbluth reenacting the day he discovered he bore a striking resemblance to Benjamin Franklin and then follows an adventure into Kornbluth learning more about the historical figure. That adventure is extraordinarily entertaining and Kornbluth feels a lot like a slightly nerdy Jewish Robert Langdon in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (with out all the car chases and murder mystery).

Through out the piece we learn a tremendous amount about Benjamin Franklin as Kornbluth literally wrestles with the fact and fiction surrounding one of the most recognizable figures in American history. For fans of American history this show is a literalsmorgasbord, an immense feast of knowledge and insight that will leave even the most ardent history buff spinning. But the piece doesn’t work because it’ll thrill history buffs, it works because it’ll thrill those who aren’t particularly enamored with history. Kornbluth manges to make the world of one of our founding fathers come alive and contextualizes it in a way that makes it exciting and entertaining. He literally dusts off the history books and shows the humanity contained within. Merging that narrative with his own he creates an evening that is extraordinarily entertaining.

In the case of Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged, entertaining doesn’t always mean funny. Many contemporary monologists use humor extensively as their conduit to entertaining the audience. Here the occasional quip feels extemporaneous as Josh moves beyond humoring us to truly fascinating us. By conjuring up a cast of very real characters, both from history and from Josh’s own life, Kornbluth takes us on an incredible adventure and he does this as a single performer on a lightly dressed stage.

For me it’s exciting to see the art of monologue grow in this way. I grew up on tales from Spalding Grey who sat behind a simple desk with a glass of water and his notes. That’s the image I’ve always had of monologue. Josh Kornbluth explores the possibilities of this art form with a set, props and staging. In the second act of the piece he emerges dressed in costume as Benjamin Franklin and the impact of that is considerable.

Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged is utterly entertaining, it brings Benjamin Franklin to life in a way no ‘reenactment’ could. By making the story of such an iconographic historical figure personal Josh Kornbluth inspires the audience to connect to history in their own way, to look beyond the commemorative poster of historical figures the into the real people behind them.

Josh Kornbluth’s Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged runs at Portland Center Stage Oct 1- November 22nd.

For more information on Josh Kornbluth’s Benjamin Franklin: Unplugged:

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Interview with Josh Kornbluth – Ben Franklin Unplugged

October 2, 2009 1 comment
Josh Korbluth in Portland

Josh Korbluth in Portland

In 2002 I picked up a copy of the film Haiku Tunnel. It was described to me as “Office Space” if Woody Allen had directed it rather than Mike Judge (a pretty spot on description). It was hilarious.  Since then I’ve followed the career of Josh Kornbluth (the star of the film), as he’s established himself as one of the nation’s most sought after monologists.

Over the years, through Josh’s email list, I’d hear about his many shows in Berkley, California and wonder what it would take to get him to perform in Portland?  When Portland Center Stage announced that Josh was bringing his show Ben Franklin: Unplugged to Portland for a seven week run, I couldn’t contain my excitement.

Josh Kornbluth’s monologues are a unique mix of history, biographiy and observations. His disarming style sucks you into his world and leads you along on a fantastic trip.

Josh Korbluth’s Ben Franklin: Unplugged runs at Portland Center Stage September 29 to November 22, 2009. It’s a rare opportunity to see one of the nation’s best monologists in one of his most acclaimed works.

Watch On Portland’s Interview with Josh Kornbluth:

Josh Kornbluth on Ben Franklin Unplugged from On Portland on Vimeo.

For more information on Josh Kornbluth:

Categories: Interview, Theater Tags: ,

DJ Icky Animal's Debut Set – Friday at The Fez

October 1, 2009 No comments
DJ Icky Animal's Debut Set

DJ Icky Animal's Debut Set

There are a lot of DJ’s who spin a lot of music in Portland but the debut of  DJ Icky Animal’s (aka Jamie S. Rich) at the Fez Ballroom (lower level) this Friday  is an event which you should absolutely not miss.

Jamie S. Rich, a former editor over at Oni Press, is an extremely prolific author who has penned the critically acclaimed novels Cut My Hair, The Everlasting and Have You Seen The Horizon Lately (which is a true masterpiece) . He’s also well known for his graphic novel collaborations with comic wonder-kid Joelle Jones including You Have Killed Me and 12 Reasons Why I Love Her.  One theme which runs through almost all of Jamie’s work is music, REALLY good music.

Jamie, more than anyone I’ve met in Portland, knows his music.

Since Jamie’s main job is writing, this is an extremely rare and special opportunity to catch someone with an extraordinary encyclopedic  knowledge of music spin a wide selection of tracks from his extensive collection.

Jamie (DJ Icky Animal’s) starts spinning on the lower level of the Fez Ballroom (316 SW 11th) at  11pm on Friday October 2nd.  I guarantee if you go you’ll hear some amazing stuff.

For more info on Jamie S. Rich:

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Professional Bull Riders in Portland Interview – Ross Coleman

Professional Bull Riders in Portland

Professional Bull Riders in Portland

It takes a lot of guts to be a professional bull rider. Over a season with 30+ stops a bull rider takes a tremendous amount of physical damage (including broken bones, dislocated shoulders and a ton of bashes and bruises).  Somehow these bull riders pick themselves up and hop back on those bulls for another ride.

On Portland had the opportunity to speak with Ross Coleman, a 12 year vet of the sport, from Molalla Oregon who is set to ride this weekend as Professional Bull Riding comes to Portland in the Professional Bull Riders Godaddy.com Invitational (Friday Oct. 2nd & Saturday Oct 3rd).

Ross gives some insight into what it’s like being a bull rider and what it takes to tame some of those monstrous beasts.

Watch our interview:

If you needed other enticement, Go Daddy Girl, Erin Kalin will be singing the National Anthem at the event. Tickets start as low as $10.

For more info on Professional Bull Riding in Oregon: