CULTURE

The Art of Inclusion

ArtsWatch apologizes for concert review's errors of judgment and fact

by BRETT CAMPBELL, BOB HICKS, and BARRY JOHNSON

“Reviews now are different kinds of battlefields. Who is writing them is just as important — perhaps more important — than what is being reviewed.”

That’s from an insightful and important story called “Like it or not, we are in the midst of a second arts revolution,” published a few weeks ago by our friend and colleague Chris Jones, chief theater writer for the Chicago Tribune. We thought it said so much about the state of the arts and arts journalism that we immediately posted a link to ArtsWatch’s Facebook page. “Administrators, artists and critics all have to get used to the intensity of amplified opinion, and the widespread desire for empowered involvement, that now surrounds their work.”

A few days later, ArtsWatch found itself engaged on such a battlefield. One of our regular freelance writers, Terry Ross, who’s covered classical music for decades, wrote a review of a June 17 concert by Portland’s Resonance Ensemble that sparked outrage — “amplified opinion.” You can follow the action here.

Resonance Ensemble performed music by Renee Favand-See and welcomed other musicians in its last concert. Photo: Rachel Hadiashar.

To give our readers the chance to express themselves, we have let that battle play out before weighing in ourselves, and in general we’ve been impressed by the passion and thoughtfulness of many of the responses. The comments taught us important lessons about our community’s arts culture. As hard as it was to read them without contributing ourselves, we thought this thread was important beyond anything we could add. Now it’s time to state clearly where we editors stand, and to apologize, appreciate, and explain.

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‘Romeo & Juliet (Layla & Majnun)’: cross cultural combination

Bag and Baggage's new theatrical mashup of Shakespearean and Persian classic tales involved collaboration across cultures

Scott Palmer was stuck. The Bag & Baggage Productions artistic director had just auctioned off the choice of its annual summer Shakespeare production to a patron, and this year’s choice was… Romeo and Juliet.

Palmer silently groaned. They’d staged the popular perennial ten years earlier and Palmer, an expert on the Bard of Avon’s work, didn’t want to revisit it so soon. Now he had no choice. How could he do it differently than before?

Lawrence Siulagi as the Sayyed in Bag & Baggage Productions’ “Romeo & Juliet/ Layla & Majnun.” Photo: Casey Campbell Photography.

Palmer, an inveterate Shakespeare nerd whose MO involves plunging deeply into historical and dramaturgical research, started investigating the play’s provenance. He and learned that one of the most famous plays in Western literature was actually based on a 12th century epic poem by one of the most famous Muslim writers in history. He got a translation of Layla and Majnun by Persian poet Nizami (1141-1209), read it — and was instantly hooked. He knew he wanted to produce it.

But Palmer quickly realized that couldn’t do it alone. “It’s the greatest epic piece of Muslim literature. I immediately realized I was in over my head,” Palmer recalls. “I had no clue about 12th century Persian culture.” He needed help.

And he found much of it in a surprising place — his theater’s own home of Hillsboro. Both onstage and in creation, Palmer’s brand new mashup of Romeo and Juliet and Layla and Majnun, which opens this weekend, represents a cultural combination — and cross cultural collaboration.

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Prints on demand: Want to see my etchings?

Portland Art Museum, Michael Parsons Fine Art, and Augen Gallery offer a summer course in print appreciation

By LAUREL REED PAVIC

The question “Do you want to see my etchings?” was the Victorian version of the mid-twentieth-century “Would you like to come up for a nightcap?” which somehow has been supplanted by “Netflix and chill?” in the twenty-first century. Prints may have lost their footing as the go-to euphemism for sex, but the many examples and varieties of printmaking on view right now at the Portland Art Museum, Michael Parsons Fine Art, and Augen Gallery prove that they haven’t lost their allure.

Printmaking may not be the flashiest of art forms, even for connoisseurs of Victorian art. It rewards slow, close looking and an appreciation of technical processes. Prints are realized through an intermediary: The artist doesn’t manipulate the product directly but instead acts upon a matrix be this a plate, a stone, or a screen. The print is the product of the transfer of the matrix to a substrate, traditionally paper. The matrix can be used multiple times resulting in multiple impressions, and this potential for multiplicity makes printmaking so powerful, socially. Artists exchange prints. Prints enable the circulation of ideas, forms, and styles. Prints provide artists the opportunity to explore themes and ideas in a different format; many painters are also printmakers. Because prints are often conceived of as forming groups or suites, an artist can offer multiple ruminations on a single topic. Prints are for collectors. It is rare for someone to have just one: like humans they exist in relationship to one another, defined by the company kept and enriched by one another. In short, prints fuel art.

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UNA Gallery and Y.G.B.: Asserting the community

Two Portland collectives are creating space for Black, queer and femme communities in the heart of oh-so-white Portland

By HANNAH KRAFCIK

Denizens of Portland’s nightlife have probably heard of Y.G.B. The name stands for Young Gifted and Black or Brown—depending on the identity of the person speaking about the work—and Y.G.B.’s events include some of the city’s most vibrant parties, known to attract lines around the block. The Y.G.B. collective identifies as “pro-Black, pro-Femme, pro-Queer,” and, as such, they explicitly make these identities the center of all events.

Anyone moving around in the visual art world might also have caught wind of UNA, a new gallery nestled in the Pearl District. This collective-run space has a mission similar to Y.G.B., and its name stands for “Uniendo a Nuestros Artistas” (Uniting Our Artists). As stated on UNA’s website, the gallery is “holding space for POC, Queer and Femme voices,” and its programming ranges from carefully curated exhibitions and performances to community happenings such as White Guilt Work Group and Tender Table. With such intersecting missions, it’s no surprise that Y.G.B and UNA are coming together for a collaboration.

Y.G.B. at Produce Row/ Photo by Rose Léon

Last month, Mercedes Orozco and Blair Crissman, who make up the UNA Gallery collective, and Natalie Figueroa, one of the founding visionaries of Y.G.B., sat down with me for separate conversations about their respective organizing work. The initial impetus for these interviews was to discuss the collaboration between UNA and Y.G.B. for Y.G.B’s 2 Year Anniversary Retrospective. This event will take shape as a gallery showing at UNA 6-10 pm July 6, featuring photography, short films, music, performance and a look back at Y.G.B.’s promotional art in celebration of “two years of Y.G.B community.”

These interviews also offered an opportunity take a deeper dive into the missions, visions, organizing, and creative work of both groups. Through our discussions, it became apparent that there is so much at play underneath UNA and Y.G.B.’s organizing work—so many rich and intersecting ideas, priorities, and messages that are resonant with one another, making their collaboration at this moment in time so intuitive.

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Creek College: Planting Seeds on the Columbia Slough

“How do we get people to return to a place over time to develop a relationship to the place and community?"

By HANNAH KRAFCIK

“It is our birthright to listen, quietly and undisturbed, to the natural environment and take away whatever meanings we may from it.” — From One Square Inch of Silence by Gordon Hempton

It had been a long day. Fortunately, the weather was on our side this Saturday, supporting our time in nature: Gray skies were interspersed with the warmth of the sun that shone through at intervals. Most of our group had spent the day learning and working along the Columbia Slough, and it was time for a break. According to our itinerary, our next venture would take shape as a silent canoe ride along the Columbia River.

Paddling silently on Whitaker Ponds/Photo by Kristina Dutton

About 30 adults and a couple children met at the dock, where Jennifer Starkey (Education Director of the Columbia Slough Watershed Council) gave instructions on how to canoe safely down the river in silence. We boarded our vessels with utmost quietness and congregated together on the water for a brief reading with our leaders, Anke Schuttler and Shoshana Gugenheim. In addition to an excerpt from One Square Inch of Silence by Gordon Hempton, they offered a poem by Fasika Ayalew called Silence of Silence:

Mystic beauty
Endless pleasure
Filled with eternity
Cascade like a fall
Pour its waters
Into a valley of calmness
\when listening to the silence of silence

Once the reading came to a close, we all looked at one another across the water and affirmed the start of our journey. Many thoughts passed through my head. I had not canoed in about a decade, and I had never canoed in silence. I felt like I was paddling in sync with those in front of me, but occasionally my paddle knocked that of the person behind me. Was I the weak link in this canoe? Were we paddling too fast? Were we missing out on quiet observation of the nature around us? Eventually my mind drifted to consider what we had done all day, and what brought us to this point.

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Islamabad, on common ground

From Pakistan to Portland, an international project brings an insightful slice of life to Artists Rep's stage

On a sweltering Sunday afternoon in an upstairs rehearsal hall at Artists Repertory Theatre, a sitarist and a tabla player were sitting in a far corner, practicing a song that sounded strangely familiar, if not usually from that particular instrumentation. The sitarist, Wajih Ull Hussnain Hamid, motioned to a young singer in a hijab, Razia Abrar, who began to slice the air with a crystalline, mournful tone. “Halleluja,” she sang, to Irfan Masih’s circling tabla rhythm and Hamid’s version of Leonard Cohen’s secret chord. “Halleluja.”

In most ways it was just another familiar scene from another familiar rehearsal hall: people milling about a floor spattered with tape marks, slowly taking their places after break, grabbing quick conversations along the way. This one, though, was a little different considering the who and the where: The performers were from Theatre Wallay, in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, and they were rehearsing a play created specifically for American audiences, On Common Ground. Considering that they had landed in Portland 37 hours earlier after a 36-hour flight, and then rehearsed for several hours on Saturday, the performers seemed surprisingly fresh – even, sometimes, chipper. “Thank goodness they’re young,” Linda Alper said with a wry laugh.

The cast of Theatre Wallay’s “On Common Ground,” rehearsing at Artists Rep on Sunday afternoon. Oregon ArtsWatch photo

Alper, an Artists Rep veteran and company member, is one of a team of American theater artists who traveled (three times, in her case) to Islamabad to work with Theatre Wallay on creating a show to bring to the United States. On Common Ground will perform twice at Artists Rep – a sold-out show tonight, Monday, and again on Wednesday, June 28. (That show is sold out, too, but a first-come first-served waiting list will give you a chance.) Then it moves on to Ashland for Green Show performances June 30 and July 2 and 4. In the fall Theatre Wallay will present a workshop at Ithaca College, one of the co-sponsors, in Upstate New York, and finally do a tour and workshops back home in Pakistan.

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Full Circle: a universe of theater

At TCG's national conference in Portland, people of color traded stories on how to build an American theater that includes everyone

I straddle many worlds as a journalist, writer, and media and theater artist. When I interview artists, I often have to pull back from their perspective to gain a more outside view. Yet it’s the inside look that draws me to the work of the artist, and it’s the personal I find fascinating. Crossing lines and boundaries of many worlds is in my DNA. I’m mixed-race. I’m Asian. I’m Chinese or Taiwanese or a person of color, an immigrant, an American. Like all PoCs (People of Color), I switch languages, cultures and sometimes personalities depending on the world I inhabit. I was not prepared to find the worlds presented at Full Circle, the Theatre Communications Group national conference June 8-10 at the Hilton Downtown, so welcoming and meaningful.

Theatre Communications Group’s leaders of color gather for a group shot at TCG’s national conference in Portland. Author Dmae Roberts is near the center in the second row from the top. Photo courtesy Elena Chang / TCG

I don’t generally like conferences, but lately I’ve found ones focusing on racial and cultural issues impact me the most. Last October I forged deep connections with API (Asian/Pacific Islander) theater artists at the National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival (ConFest). I honestly thought TCG would pale compared to ConFest. I was wrong.

I’ve been to enough conference sessions dealing with diversity issues to become skeptical. At one public radio conference, I recall a session on “Unintentional Bias” with great irony when a white executive director of a national radio program barged her way to the head of a line filled with PoCs waiting to comment. She felt defensive and thought nothing of interrupting a Latinx radio producer to tell everyone her network wasn’t biased.

So when I saw the TCG conference had numerous EDI sessions, I was hopeful yet cautious. Equity, diversity, and inclusion, or EDI, has become the phrase of choice when looking at changing the structures limiting the imagination when it comes to hiring practices and the kind of art that’s presented, particularly in theatre. This year’s Full Circle exceeded my expectations.

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Day 1 – June 8, 2017

On the first day of the TCG conference, I attended TCG’s Commitment to EDI session, which pretty much foreshadowed EDI as the main theme of the conference. I turned to another conference attendee and asked if this was a typical focus for the TCG conferences. The person nodded her head and said it was even more last year.

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