COAST

Innkeeper by vocation, actor by avocation

Coaster Theatre's Sue Neuer talks about what it's like to perform in a community where everybody really does know your name

I met Sue Neuer some years ago at the front desk of a favorite Cannon Beach hotel. She knew me as the writer frequently on the road for work. I knew her as the innkeeper who tried to accommodate my need for peace and quiet so I could work. It was only later, when she invited me to the Coaster Theatre for the evening’s performance, that I learned that while innkeeping might be Neuer’s day job, her passion is the theater.

On Friday, Neuer opens in her 18th role at the Coaster, starring as Myra Bruhl in Deathtrap, a comedy-thriller by Ira Levin that holds the record (four years) for the longest running play of its genre on Broadway. The play is about a down-and-out playwright who sees hope in a student’s script and devises plans to stage it as his own. “There are a lot of twists and turns,” said Neuer, who plays the playwright’s wife. “Several people die.”

Neuer and I sat down to talk about what it’s like to be an actor in a town where odds are most everybody really does know your name. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Cannon Beach actor Sue Neuer opens in “Deathtrap,” her 18th Coaster Theatre role, on Friday. Photo courtesy: Coaster Theatre Playhouse

How do you juggle community theater — auditions, learning lines, rehearsals, performances — and a full-time job?

Neuer: Fortunately, I’ve had employers who are supporters of me doing theater and I do my own schedule, so I do it around my rehearsal schedule. You have to carve out the time, when it comes to memorizing your lines. I am a procrastinator when it comes to doing that. I record all my lines and listen to them while I am in the car.

Are you recognized locally first as an actor or innkeeper?

I’m very actively involved in the community. I’ve lived here a while (11 years), so people know me for all sorts of reasons. I have tourists come up and say, “Oh, I saw you in this or that play.” But not a lot of locals support the theater. There are some regular patrons, but I would say the majority of people are tourists looking for something to do. We have some visitors who are season ticket holders and plan trips to Cannon Beach based on shows. That’s always fun. We have some guests who try to plan their trips to take in a show while they’re here. There are locals who have never stepped foot in the theater. They think it’s a movie theater. I don’t say we don’t get the local support, but it’s weird — you’re either into theater or you’re not. If you’re not familiar with what it is, you have to be introduced by other people.

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‘Tango of the White Gardenia’: breaking the code

New made-in-Oregon chamber opera addresses bullying, identity and the spiritual healing power of art 

by ANGELA ALLEN

For know-it-all critics and discerning music-goers, “community opera” can be code for bad music, lousy singers and shabby production.

Not this time.

Tango of the White Gardenia, a collaboration of Cascadia Chamber Opera (previously Cascadia Concert Opera) and Lincoln City Cultural Center, was a triumph, if on a far smaller scale than Portland Opera, or even Portland State University student productions. Composer Ethan Gans-Morse’s Argentine-influenced music and the touching tango-centered libretto by artistic and life partner Tiziana DellaRovere addressed bullying, identity and the spiritual healing power of art — in this case tango.

Sung in English and helped by projected supra titles, the two-hour opera premiered Sept. 8 at the 220-seat Lincoln City Cultural Center, whose production featured four-musicians-plus conductor, six well-cast singers, and six limber dancers from the imaginative Eugene-based Ballet Fantastique. It now tours to Florence this Friday, then Bend, Astoria and Eugene for further performances with some changes in cast and production crews. (See Oregon ArtsWatch’s preview by Gary Ferrington.)

A scene from ‘Tango of the White Gardenia.’

Tango of the White Gardenia follows two young tango-driven couples through a dance competition, shadowed by dancers/alter egos. As the story unfolds, the characters come to terms with who they are and why they do things that they do. The main character, Sandra, sung expressively by Portland lyric soprano Kati Burgess, eventually understands that being herself is better than trying to be someone else (“the treasure is within you”) — the “somebody else” being Jo-Jo, her bullying counterpart sung humorously and intentionally crassly at times by bad-girl self-declared “fallen angel” soprano Jocelyn Claire Thomas. Jo-Jo’s music is somewhat discordant, just as she is.

The chamber opera portrays the struggle to become oneself as arduous, emotionally and physically. There is even a second-act wrestling match between the two young women, and throughout the piece, both sopranos sing and act well.

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In Newport, 30 and going strong

The visionary Performing Arts Center at Nye Beach helped galvanize the region's growth. On Saturday it celebrates 30 years, and looks ahead

I discovered Newport in 1993, a fluke visit on our way home from Portland to the southern reaches of the state. I stayed in Nye Beach at a hotel that no longer exists, just a few steps from the Performing Arts Center, still fairly new at just five years old. Nye Beach was by then a bit faded, salty, sandy, rough around the edges, but perfect in that way, too. I must have seen the PAC back then, though I can’t say I recall it. But seven years later when we moved here, I recall thinking, worried as I was about the smallness of this town set between ocean and bay, that surely a thriving art scene spoke well for it.

Over the years, I attended plays, my first opera, the symphony, memorial services, fundraisers and the readings by David Odgen Stiers that even on the darkest, dreariest of nights added a touch of magic to the holiday season. Sometimes I went to the PAC not so much for the entertainment at hand, but as an excuse to cast aside the usual jeans and sweaters for a dress. Heels. Red lipstick. I have no doubt it was the PAC that got me through some of the grimmer, grayer, Coast-stormy winters.

Newport Performing Arts Center groundbreaking ceremony, 1987.

So yes, I’ve always appreciated the PAC, though I confess I can see now I’ve taken it for granted. But then I sat down to write about the upcoming 30th anniversary celebration. I talked with Catherine Rickbone, executive director of the Oregon Coast Council for Arts, and her army of volunteers; I talked with the people who were here when the PAC was a fond wish, a shimmering dream, albeit not particularly realistic.

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High Tide in Astoria

Can extremely thoughtful, attentive urban design be art? The Tidal Rock project in Astoria may have some answers.

Tidal Rock—a green space in Astoria, Oregon, formerly overgrown and obscured from the public eye—has received a makeover courtesy of three artists, Agnes Field, Brenda Harper, and Jessica Schleif, who have rallied their community to create a space for public art in an unlikely spot. Known for its role in marking the water level for its coastal community, Tidal Rock is officially designated as a historic site. Since late 2017, the three artists have been hard at work cultivating the space as a place for temporary public art installations and community gatherings. A public art event at the site, taking place Saturday evening, September 8, is the sort of thing they have in mind.

Oddfellows dance collective at Tidal Rock; photo by Brenda Harper

When I connected with the artists to speak about Tidal Rock, I was shocked to learn that Field had severely broken her leg less than two weeks before this big event. “It’s just one of those crazy things that happens when you don’t expect it,” she said. “I was helping my friends with their new roller skates.” At this point, I let an unseemly pun slip out about rolling with the situation, to which she kindly replied, “I think that the truth. It’s the only choice you have.”

“I’m like, ‘gosh, how is she doing this?’” Schleif remarked of Field’s predicament. “She’s chipper and looks great.”

Field’s high spirits bodes well for Saturday’s event, and this pervasive positivity has likely had an impact on the progress of the project thus far. The artists talked me through some of the details surrounding how they were able to convince Astoria City Council to allow them to adopt the Tidal Rock site.

“I don’t think they had experienced anything like this before,” said Schleif. “It was a leap for them to start picturing what might happen.”

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‘Tango of the White Gardenia’: dance lessons

New Oregon opera about bullying and self-esteem premieres in Lincoln City, part of a coastal classical music surge

by GARY FERRINGTON

Although well known for its coastal attractions and the location of one of the world’s shortest rivers, Lincoln City has never been thought of as a destination for opera — let alone a world premiere. That changes this weekend when Cascadia Chamber Opera performs Southern Oregon composer Ethan Gans-Morse and librettist Tiziana DellaRovere’s two-act opera, Tango of the White Gardenia, at the vibrant Lincoln City Cultural Center on September 8-9, followed by a tour to other Oregon cities.

‘White Gardenia’ cast members perform at LCCC fundraising event. Photo: Rudy Salci.

Previously known as Cascadia Concert Opera, the recently renamed Cascadia Chamber Opera performs full-length and/or abridged operas sung in English by local and regional artists, often staged in “underserved communities using non-traditional and community-friendly venues” like schools, galleries, churches, homes and other spaces, sometimes at “little or no cost to the general public,” according to the Oregon Cultural Trust.

Gans-Morse and CCO’s co-founders Artistic Director Bereniece Jones-Centeno and Music Director Vincent Centeno have all been friends since since they were graduate students at the University of Oregon. Their shared interest in making opera accessible, affordable, approachable, relevant, and fun for audiences — particularly those whose circumstances might otherwise prevent them from enjoying opera — was an important reason that CCO, with help from an Oregon Arts Commission Career Grant, commissioned Gans-Morse and DellaRovere to compose a new opera to celebrate the non-profit organization’s 10th anniversary season.

Long time friends bring a new opera to underserved Oregon communities. From left: Centeno, Jones-Centeno, DellaRovere, Gans-Morse. Photo: Deane Ingram.

Gans-Morse and DellaRovere and their Anima Mundi Productions are best known for their first opera, Canticle of the Black Madonna, staged at Portland’s Newmark Theatre in 2014, which Oregon ArtsWatch called “one of the most exciting developments of the arts season.” This year, the Rogue Valley Symphony celebrated its 50th anniversary by commissioning the husband and wife team to compose a program symphony, How Can You Own The Sky? Both works reflect their interest in representing marginalized populations and addressing societal wounds through the creation of new works.

This time, the social challenges DellaRovere wanted to address revolved around bullying, self-esteem, and body image. And she wanted to base the opera on Argentine tango.

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Glass shortage has blowers holding their breath

Coast artisans coping with a lack of cullet glass are trying solutions ranging from a raffle to all-night "cooking" to stay afloat during their busy season

On the Oregon Coast, creating a work of glass art is a bucket-list favorite, and there’s plenty of places to make that happen. But recent weeks have stressed some mom-and-pop glassblowing studios to the point of, well, a meltdown. It seems there’s just not enough glass to go around.

Robin and William Murphy, owners of the Oregon Coast Glassworks in Newport, ran into problems earlier this month when they tried to buy a new supply of “cullet” glass – furnace-ready recycled glass pellets that glassblowers turn into floats, bowls, and other art. There was “no glass anywhere available for purchase,” Robin Murphy said. Nor would there be any until November, they were told. The shortage seems to be the culmination of stricter environmental laws, which led to a cutback in suppliers, compounded most recently by heavy demands on an overseas supplier.

William Murphy begins creating a piece of glass art in his Oregon Glassworks studio in Newport. Photo by: Lori Tobias

The Murphys have launched a fundraising raffle – of a glass sea turtle crafted by William – to help finance a new furnace that will melt “batch,” a pelletized powder that is an alternative to cullet. It requires a natural gas furnace or what’s known in the industry as a “moly” (short for molybdenum) furnace – a piece of equipment that generally comes with a price tag ranging from $30,000 to $50,000. The Murphys have a less expensive wire-melt furnace, but it doesn’t get hot enough to melt batch.

“We’re the little kids on the block,” William Murphy said. “Our systems can only melt glass that has been turned into little pellets. Bigger companies can melt batch. Batch is a Betty Crocker cake mix – you have to add cake and temperature and time. Cullet is like a Lunchable. You just melt it and use it.”

Oregon Coast Glassworks isn’t the only small shop facing the shortage. The Edge Art Gallery in South Beach is also experiencing it, as is the Lincoln City Glass Center. One of the largest of the dozen or so glassblowers on the central and north Coast with 21 employees, the Glass Center does have a “moly” furnace, capable of melting batch or cullet. Owner and glass artist Kelly Howard prefers to use cullet, but she also has been unable to get any.

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Rick Bartow, drawing writers

In Newport, a trove of seldom seen drawings from Auden to Tolstoy by the late, great Oregon artist goes on display

Photos by JOE CANTRELL

A collection of seventeen drawings by the late Oregon artist Rick Bartow, From the Heart: Author Drawings by Rick Bartow, is on view through September 29 in the Upstairs Gallery of the Newport Visual Arts Center, and it includes work that’ll look both familiar in style and distinctive in content to followers of Bartow’s career.

Bartow, who was born in Newport and lived and worked in South Beach, just across the Yaquina Bay Bridge, died in 2016 at age 69, of congestive heart failure. Of Native American and European heritage, he was a member of the Mad River Band of Northern California’s Wiyot Tribe, and had close ties with the Siletz tribes on the Oregon coast. The drawings in this show, which he donated in 2000 to the Newport Public Library, haven’t been exhibited as a group in public until now.

In tandem with Times of Our Lives, an exhibit of large-scale watercolors by Henk Pander, many from his series on the 1948 Vanport Flood, the Newport center is featuring work by two of Oregon’s most prominent contemporary art figures. Pander’s show, which ArtsWatch’s Lori Tobias wrote about here, continues through September 2 in the center’s large Runyan Gallery.

Joseph Conrad, by Rick Bartow.

Photographer Joe Cantrell, a longtime close friend of Bartow, took in the new exhibit for ArtsWatch and filed this report along with his photos:

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