Bob Hicks

 

ArtsWatch Weekly: If you build it, they will come (to Hillsboro)

Bag&Baggage takes a big leap, Bluebeard meets Chihuly at the symphony, Renée Fleming wows the crowd, a cat in a hat, the things August Wilson learned

Don’t look now (or do), but while the center of cultural gravity in Portland might still be on the downtown side of the Willamette River, it’s been shifting and expanding. The restaurant crowds started heading for the inner East Side a good fifteen years ago, and theaters escalated the eastward march. Things didn’t stop there. Immigration and population shifts created booming pockets of culture farther out, both east and west: the new Chinatown along the East Side’s 82nd Avenue, a Russian community along Foster Road, several Latino enclaves, a large Indian community in parts of Beaverton and Hillsboro, near the Silicon Forest. Suburbs have grown, and begun to assert their own identities separate from the city core. They’ve built or broadened their own cultural centers, from the nascent Beaverton Center for the Arts to established theater companies like Lake Oswego’s Lakewood Theatre and Tigard’s Broadway Rose.

Exterior rendering of the new Bag&Baggage theater in downtown Hillsboro, slated to open in April 2017. Image: Opsis Architects

Exterior rendering of the new Bag&Baggage theater in downtown Hillsboro, slated to open in April 2017. Image: Opsis Architects

While much of Portland Proper wasn’t looking, the onetime farm town of Hillsboro has become a city of more than 100,000 people, many looking for culture without having to trek to downtown Portland. Bag&Baggage theater settled into the suburb’s downtown core eleven years ago, performing sometimes on an outdoor stage and mostly in the Venetian Theatre, an old vaudeville and movie house. A little more than a year ago it bought an old Wells Fargo bank building on Main Street and began the long quest to raise $1.4 million to transform it into a new performance center.

Let Scott Palmer, B&B’s founder and artistic director, pick up the story from there, as quoted in a recent press announcement:

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Oh, the horror: devil gets his due

Portland Center Stage trumps the season with a sharp and funny revival of the dark and twisted musical comedy "Little Shop of Horrors"

Maybe you’ve heard this story before. Exotic guy who talks tons of trash shows up out of the blue and fascinates just about everybody with his general weirdness. Schlub of a loser soon learns the guy is scary and dangerous in addition to being an obnoxious loudmouth, but the exotic guy promises the schlub his heart’s desire. So the schlub, after some anxious soul-searching, capitulates and helps the exotic guy on his quest for world domination. People get chomped to pieces in the process.

No, it’s not the story of the Republican Party making its devil’s deal with Donald Trump in pursuit of the Oval Office. It’s the musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors, and the exotic guy is a blood-sucking, singing plant from outer space. The schlub is a hapless clerk named Seymour at a Skid Row floral shop. His heart’s desire is Audrey, his pretty if slightly dim and bedraggled fellow clerk, who’s in an unfortunate relationship with a sadistic dentist. And the Oval Office is … well, a little trim house out in the suburbs, somewhere that’s green.

Nick Cearley as Seymour, with a baby-sized Audrey II. Photo: Patrick Weishampel

Nick Cearley as Seymour, with a baby-sized Audrey II. Photo: Patrick Weishampel

Little Shop, that evergreen 1983 off-off-Broadway musical based on a 1960 schlock movie filmed in two days by Roger Corman on the not-yet-struck set of another low-budget flick, opened Portland Center Stage’s newest season Friday night, and the good news is, it’s a solid, straightforward, blissfully unconceptualized production of a reliably entertaining show that doesn’t need any embellishment. Director Bill Fennelly doesn’t try to reinvent the thing: he just makes sure it’s polished and paced and, yes, entertaining. If you have a warm spot for Little Shop – I do, and fondly recall, among a lengthy list of Little Shops, a long-ago Portland production starring Randall Stuart as Seymour, Margie Boulé as Audrey, Randy Knee as dentist Orin, and Ernie Casciato as shop owner Mushnik – you’re likely to feel warm and fuzzy all over again. If you’ve never seen Little Shop … well, welcome to the club.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: all aboard for Eugene

A Eugene cultural tour, Anne Boleyn's music book, a little shop of horror and a full gallop, monkey business, Yetis, two top art shows, "Hughie," roots music, Alien Boy, guns galore, spirit of '76

There are lots of good reasons to go to Eugene that have nothing to do with Ducks or football. Sure, the presence of the University of Oregon has a lot to do with the quality of things down the valley: two of ArtsWatch’s favorite things, for instance, the Oregon Bach Festival and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, are intimately tied to the university, and a lot of what’s good about Oregon’s new-music scene emanates from the halls and studios of the university’s music department. But the university is far from the only game in town. However you keep your cultural scorecard, Eugene – population roughly 160,000, metro area another 200,000 added to that – consistently hits above its weight.

Here at ArtsWatch we like to keep tabs on what’s happening in the Emerald City, and lately that’s been quite a bit. For starters, check out Gary Ferrington’s Arts Sampler: Eugene by train for a car-free, arts-stuffed weekend, a sort of cultural travelogue for Portlanders looking for a close-to-home adventure. Go ahead, plan an autumn getaway. And if you like, feel free to slip in a football game or a track meet on the side, too.

Portland-bound Amtrak Cascades at Eugene Station.

Portland-bound Amtrak Cascades at Eugene Station.

We’ve also picked up some good features from some top Eugene writers:

— Photographer and arts journalist Bob Keefer, author of the invaluable Eugene Art Talk online journal, has undertaken an almost year-long project of following the development of a new version of The Snow Queen for Eugene Ballet, with a fresh score by Oregon composer Kenji Bunch and choreography by EB’s longtime artistic director, Toni Pimble, who is recognized nationally as a creator of vivid and original ballets. Keefer will write about ten installments leading up to the premiere next spring, and ArtsWatch will reprint them once they’ve debuted on Eugene Art Talk. Here’s Episode 2, focusing on designer Nadya Geras-Carson.

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Monkey business at Artists Rep

In Nick Jones's tick-tock "Trevor," Jon San Nicolas is the most human chimp in town. Laugh, nervously, at your own discretion.

Two scenes:

– On Saturday evening, before opening night of Nick Jones’s sort-of-comedy Trevor at Artists Repertory Theatre, I’m sitting at Gilda’s Italian Restaurant in the Commodore Hotel building, across the street from the theater. I’m here because a Portland Timbers soccer match is beginning soon just down the street at Civic Stadium (I refuse to use the ballpark’s current corporate nom-de-plume), and in order to find parking for less than twenty bucks my wife and I decide to show up early and spend a good deal more to have a nice dinner beforehand. The place is packed with pre-theater folk (Profile Theatre has a show tonight, too), a mob of soccer fans all dressed in green, and presumably a few people who just happened to make reservations for 6 o’clock on this particular Saturday. The din’s incredible, like the high-pitched thrumming of generators at an electrical power station, and the servers are hustling around at warp speed, taking orders, carrying platters, running filled wine glasses upstairs and down. In the open kitchen you can see the cooks moving in an orchestrated whir like the blades on an electric mixer, chop-chop-chop. What stands out is the professional efficiency of the staff, who move quickly and unobtrusively from table to table, checking on the wine, refilling the bread plate or the water glass, whisking away dirty plates, bringing a new fork if needed. On a hectic evening, only by running as a well-rehearsed team can a restaurant staff create the illusion of ease and calm and keep the whole edifice from falling into chaos.

Hamblin, San Nicolas, Luch, Gibson: couch potatoes and more. Photo: Owen Carey

Hamblin, San Nicolas, Lucht, Gibson: couch potatoes and more. Photo: Owen Carey

– On Sunday morning, as I sit down at my kitchen nook to begin to write this piece, a sonic boom sounds from the dining room behind me, and a blur of black fur, ears bent back like paper-airplane wings, streaks to the back of the house. On the dining room floor is a potted plant, messily unpotted – ceramic shards are scattered like little poison darts around the room. Dirt is blanketing the rug, burrowing beneath it, unaccountably splattered on windows and sills seemingly a safe distance from the scene of the crime.

I mention these two occurrences because (a) the success of Artists Rep’s Trevor is extraordinarily tied to the skills of its running crew, who have an unbelievable mess to set up and then clean up nightly and must run the show with the precision of a madcap farce, although that’s not precisely what Trevor is; and (b) if a five-pound, five-month-old kitten can inflict this much damage in a dining room, how much more havoc can a 150-pound grown chimpanzee create if let out on the loose?

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ArtsWatch Weekly: TBA time, a passel of plays

TBA time, a passel of plays, an enchantment in Edinburgh, a new "Snow Queen," links: the week that was, the week that's coming up

What happens when a revolution becomes a regularly scheduled event? When PICA, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, started its TBA fest fourteen years ago it felt like a bracing broadside, a refreshing slap across the face to the city’s art scene as usual. “TBA” stood then, as it does now, for “time-based art,” a fancy way of saying art in real time, art by the clock: performance, whether dance or theater or music or monologue or performance art or anything slipping through the cracks of standard categories.

The idea wasn’t new. Portland State University had run a successful international performance festival for several years, and between 1972 and 1987 the legendary PCVA, the Portland Center for the Visual Arts, made performance a major part of its mission. TBA picked up the idea, aimed for the outer circles and exploratory corners of the national and international performance world, and brought it all home. TBA quickly became the hot ticket, the party everybody had to be at, the talk of the town.

Meg Wolfe's PICA-commissioned "New Faithful Disco," playing TBA Saturday and Sunday in the Winningstad Theatre. Photo: Steve Gunther/REDCAT

Meg Wolfe’s PICA-commissioned “New Faithful Disco,” playing TBA Saturday and Sunday in the Winningstad Theatre. Photo: Steve Gunther/REDCAT

Now, TBA is an institution, an august organizer of the avante-garde. Every fall it arrives and spreads its tentacles across the city, creating an avant-garde hothouse for a week and a half and then disappearing again until the next year. It’s not just performance: visual art has been part of the mix for a long time. And locals are mixed liberally (or radically) into a brew of controlled pandemonium and surprise. This year’s festival opens Thursday and runs pretty much nonstop through Sunday, September 18. A lot of the action will be at PICA at Hancock, PICA’s new Near East Side permanent digs at 15 Northeast Hancock Street. Check the schedule, and also take a look at Jamuna Chiarini’s DanceWatch Weekly, which includes a good rundown on the festival’s many dance options. Fill out your dance card soon: some of these shows are going to sell out early.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: A Bartow gift; last licks of summer

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

And suddenly it’s fall. Not on the wall calendar, but on the school calendar, by which thousands of kids across Oregon went back to their classrooms on Monday, a week before Labor Day, depriving them cruelly of a final week of summer break and no doubt dealing a sharp financial slap to the economies of towns along the coast and other tourist-reliant parts of the state.

What’s done is done, and your task is to get in a few last hurrahs in spite of the school boards’ impulse to jump the gun. Think outdoors, think Labor Day weekend, think (at least) of these three things:

Oregon Symphony Waterfront Concert. And the tradition rolls on – a big, booming, free concert along the Willamette, beginning at 12:30 p.m. Thursday (rain date Friday) and pulling out the stops into the evening with an all-star lineup of music by, this year, Wagner, Mozart, Puccini, Dvorak, Bizet, Tchaikovsky and Offenbach, along with some of John Williams’ music from the movie E.T: The Extraterrestrial and a little bit of John Phillip Sousa to punch things up. Downtown in Tom McCall Waterfront Park, near the Hawthorne Bridge at the foot of Southwest Columbia Street.

Art in the Pearl. Another longstanding tradition – this is its 20th anniversary of art, craft, music, and food sprawling along the North Park Blocks on Labor Day weekend – Art in the Pearl combines street-fair festivities with a broad range of things to buy. You can also just look, of course, and admission is free. Work by more than 130 artists in all sorts of disciplines will be on hand, and there’ll be demonstrations of blacksmithing, woodturning, boat building, fiber arts, and other forms. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 10-5 Monday, between Northwest Davis and Flanders streets.

Love’s Labour’s Lost. The 47th season of Portland Actors Ensemble’s summer Shakespeare in the Parks winds up with performances of the comedy Saturday, Sunday, and Monday at Reed College, starting at 3 p.m. each day. It’s free; keep in mind that donations keep the ship floating.

 


 

"Rider with V," Rick Bartow, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 inches. Froelick Gallery.

“Rider with V,” Rick Bartow, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 inches. Froelick Gallery.

THURSDAY IS SEPTEMBER 1, which means it’s also First Thursday, which means it’s time to see the newest exhibitions opening for the monthly art walk at galleries across the city. This month we’re looking forward in particular to Froelick Gallery’s  Sparrow Song, which includes many of the final works of the great Northwest artist Rick Bartow, who died earlier this year at age 69. The work is astonishing, and the gallery’s statement puts it into perspective:

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Blue Ribbon Special

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Summertime, and the feeling is scattered. The rhythm of the season is both relaxed and jagged, irregular, prone to long gaps and sudden leaps. Quick: a day in the mountains, a weekend at the beach, a backyard barbecue before the weather turns and the kids head back to school.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 1.55.34 PMIn the past week or so I’ve spied a lovely giant wood-carved Bigfoot lurking by the side of the road on the way to Timberline Lodge, which whetted my appetite for funky folk art; and a swayback, smudged-white horse grazing idly beneath a giant Trump for President sign on a farm north of Ellensburg in central Washington, which whetted my appetite for oddball juxtapositions. Both are peculiarities that seem congruent with an August day.

Down in Salem the Oregon State Fair opens on Friday (“Here Comes the Fun!” the promos shout) and I doubt I’ll make it this year, but if I do I’m also pretty sure I’ll find some blissful oddities to contemplate. I note, for instance, that one of the ongoing features is something called Machine Mania, in which “Pistons Rule!” Plus, this year there’ll be a blue ribbon for marijuana crops. The mind boggles.

 


 

AUGUST ARTS EVENTS are often quick-and-dirty affairs, too, here and gone again almost before you can blink. A couple of short-term things coming up this week, plus a longer-running show to get on your calendar before it disappears:

"The Reimagining of French Gray by the Displaced Woman." Photo: Chain Reaction Theatre.

“The Reimagining of French Gray by the Displaced Woman.” Photo: Chain Reaction Theatre.

The Re-Imagining of French Gray by the Displaced Woman. The world premiere of Elizabeth Huffman’s reimagining of a 1967 Josef Bush play will run Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Milagro Theatre. A co-production of Huffman’s Chain Reaction Theatre and Cygnet Productions, it’s directed by Cygnet’s Louanne Moldovan and stars Huffman in the dual roles of a wealthy Austrian queen caught in the aftermath of the French Revolution in 1793 and a wealthy Syrian bon vivant caught in an Arab uprising in 2016.

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