Artistic License to Wed

Performance artist Ryan Conarro explores marriage in the 21st century

The frontline of the fight for civil rights isn’t only in the courtroom or marching down the street, but on stage from Alaska to New York City to Eugene.

Interdisciplinary performance artist Ryan Conarro visits the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art this week to perform his latest work, this hour forward, a multi-media production reflecting the changing state of marriage rights.

“It’s a piece exploring family, love, marriage, identity and the gay rights movement,” Conarro tells EW.

Take a quick glance at Conarro’s impressive bio and you might assume he’s been busy building his artistic cred in major cities. But to the contrary, Conarro spent the majority of the past decade making cutting-edge theatrical works in Juneau (population 30,000) and teaching his arts-integrated school curriculum across the farthest reaches of that still-wild state.

When I caught up with Conarro by phone, he had recently relocated from Alaska back to his old college stomping grounds in New York City. Although he praised Juneau’s “great, dynamic arts community,” a new artistic alliance beckoned.

The recent recipient of an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant, Conarro will be mentored by Ping Chong + Company’s founder and artistic director Ping Chong through a partnership focusing on artistic creation, community-engaged practice and organizational leadership.

Ping Chong, a performance stalwart since the early ’70s, is simply one of the greats. “It was his work with interview-based projects, giving voice to underrepresented communities, that attracted me to working with him,” Conarro says.

But before jumping into the Ping Chong affiliation, Conarro traveled to Eugene to work in residence with UO and LCC students, presenting master classes to drama departments at both schools.

The public has a chance to check out Conarro’s work when he presents his original multimedia piece this hour forward Oct. 3 and 4 at the Schnitz.

When asked about the inspiration for the piece, Conarro recalls a moment a couple of years back: “I was anticipating my brother’s impending marriage with a woman — the countdown,” he says. Part of the process to the altar was, literally, a countdown clock on a wedding planning website that Conarro and his family members were tracking. As the clock ticked down towards his brother’s nuptials, the clock was also running out on DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), which was ruled unconstitutional in 2013.

The parallel was “interesting to watch and to feel,” says Conarro. “What does it mean to be gay? To be oneself?” he asks. “Who’s allowed to marry and in what context?”

Using spoken word, song, spliced video, sound and photography, Conarro’s performance piece explores these questions and doesn’t give easy answers. Exploring the duality of gender, sex and marriage, Conarro plays the roles of both groom and bride.

Ryan Conarro presents this hour forward at 8 pm Friday, Oct. 3, and Saturday, Oct. 4, at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art; $15. Tickets are available at or by calling 465-1506.