Bill Bulick, arts agency architect, has died

Bill Bulick built the Regional Arts & Culture Council into a model arts agency, imitated around the country

Bill Bulick, the architect of the Regional Arts and Culture Council, the primary way government supports the art in the tri-county area, died yesterday in Portland. He had lived with Parkinson’s Disease for many years. He was 65.

When I first met Bulick in the late 1970s, he was affiliated with Artichoke Music, the great folk music center, attempting to get coverage for Artichoke shows. He was so earnest and so affable that his pitches were impossible to resist: He made me feel that I was doing a great service to the culture at large by helping to spread the word, and to this day, I think he was right.

By then, he had attended Reed College, the University of Chicago and Portland State, worked as a studio potter, and spent a couple of years in Ireland studying Celtic music. In 1983 he helped organize Wildgeese, the leading proponent of Celtic music in the Northwest, and he became the first program director at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Bill Bulick, here making a presentation in Bradenton, Florida, spread the arts plan behind RACC across the country.

The culture at large: Bill switched gears and careers, moving from the folk music niche into arts administration. His sense of fairness, his calm demeanor and his determination were a perfect fit in this role, and he quickly became a crucial figure at the old Metropolitan Arts Commission, Portland’s city arts bureau, which he joined in 1987. By 1989, he had become executive director, succeeding Selina Ottum, who had professionalized the arts commission before moving to the National Endowment for the Arts as Deputy Chair.


The Oscars are dying: So what?

To remain relevant, the Academy Awards need to re-examine what it is they're celebrating

The Oscars are dying. So what?On March 4, the Motion Picture Association of America held the 90th Academy Awards ceremony. You may not have heard about it, since reportedly nobody really cares about the Oscars anymore. As someone who religiously watches, and even generally enjoys, Tinseltown’s annual festival of self-love, I find myself, perhaps surprisingly, not the least bit perturbed.

This year’s telecast drew record low ratings, down a whopping 20% from last year’s already dismal numbers. Since the Nielsen people began tracking viewership in 1974, this was the first time that fewer than 30 million people tuned in. That’s right, more people saw a naked man streak past host David Niven (and, in an even worse crime, “The Sting” top “The Exorcist” for Best Picture) than saw Frances McDormand’s stirring call for gender equity in Hollywood or Helen Mirren ride a Jet-Ski.

The proffered explanations for this phenomenon are legion. Televised events, from the Super Bowl to the Grammys, don’t capture eyeballs the way they used to. (This may be partially because of the difficulty cord-cutters have in actually watching plain old over-the-air television broadcasts.) The nominated movies these days don’t have the box office appeal of stuff like “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” or “Titanic” (which was the winner at the most-watched Oscar broadcast). Regular folks are turned off by liberal, America-bashing, rape-culture-critiquing, non-cis-white-male movie stars, according to some.

While the executives at ABC and the various movie studios fret about the increasing irrelevance of this once-iconic pop-culture ritual, the proper response from anyone who cares about film as art should be a hearty, “Who cares?” It’s not so much that I wouldn’t care if the Oscar completely vanished from the face of the Earth—that would be a genuine loss. But if “The Oscars,” as in the globally notorious spectacle, as long and glitzy as a limo with a hot tub, were to shrink back down to a life-size event, that would be a good thing, even if it ended up being shown on some third-tier streaming service instead of a broadcast network owned by the world’s most powerful media conglomerate.


A visit with: Phyllis Yes

With her new play "Good Morning, Miss America," the well-known feminist visual artist turns her talents toward the stage

How refreshing to be reminded that sometimes an artist is an artist is an artist, no matter her chosen medium and despite our own reductive need to “frame” her as just ONE thing. This is most definitely the case with the multi-faceted contemporary visual artist Phyllis Yes, who also happens to be a fine and gifted playwright.

Her debut play, Good Morning, Miss America, premieres at CoHo Theatre on Saturday, March 10. The show tackles some tough issues, namely the psychological and logistical challenges of caring for ailing and aging parents who have lost their autonomy and ability to care safely for themselves. It features a crack cast including Lorraine Bahr, Rick Sadle, Jane Fellows (who also directs) and Kelly Marchant. With set design by Tim Stapleton and light design by Jamie Rea, the show promises to be top-notch.

Visual artist and playwright Phyllis Yes. Photo: Heaven MacArthur

Theater rehearsals are generally closed affairs, but I was lucky enough to sit in on one for Good Morning, Miss America at McCoy Millworks during the end of the third week of the process. I arrived in time to watch the industrious Fellows and the production stage manager, Annie Bosworth-Foley, prepare the space for rehearsal. Shortly after, Yes arrived, followed by Bahr (whose character, Jane, is based on the real-life Phyllis) and Sadle, who portrays Phyllis’s real-life stepfather, Lou. Small talk ensued about the show, the particularly gnarly evening traffic, and the outcome of a Portland Trail Blazers game, a team Phyllis follows enthusiastically.


Urban Bush Women: ‘We’re going on a journey’

Urban Bush Women brought 'Hair and Other Stories' to town and a lot more than just talk

Urban Bush Women returned to the White Bird Uncaged series with a new work this weekend, Hair and Other Stories. The company’s first work with stage director Raelle Myrick-Hodges, this ambitious, multidisciplinary performance is definitely about hair and definitely about those “other stories.”

The piece runs a little more than two hours with one intermission, and is dense by nearly every measure. The themes, the movement, the performative strategies, and the direct discussion with the audience covers an enormous amount of ground as it “debates the center of perceived American ‘values’ and celebrates the persevering narrative of the African Diaspora,” in the words of the press release. Right away Urban Bush Women acknowledge that some of the territory will be difficult or uncomfortable, but the almost-superhuman generosity of the performers carries us all through it together.

Urban Bush Women brought “Hair and Other Stories” to Portland/Courtesy of White Bird

The show opens with a quiet moment between dancer Samantha Speis, who is also the company’s associate art director, and Aminata Balde, who is two years old and impossibly cute. While audio samples from interviews with black women talking about the role of hair and the rituals around its care (or destruction) in their lives, Speis picks a few plain but significant hair care products off a table and hands a comb to Aminata that looks enormous in her tiny hands. With a few deft movements, Speis bundles Aminata onto her back under a printed cloth, and walks off stage with a sense of purpose. We have begun our journey.


Portland’s August occasions

The great playwright August Wilson takes the spotlight in Red Door's high-school monologues and PassinArt's gala and "Two Trains"

We’re in the middle of August Wilson Week in Portland, which is a very good place to be.

On Friday, PassinArt: A Theatre Company opens the great American playwright’s Two Trains Running at the Interstate Firehouse Center.

On Monday evening before a packed audience in the Newmark Theatre, the August Wilson Red Door Project held its fifth annual high school Monologue Competition, choosing two winners and an alternate to move on to the nationals at the August Wilson Theatre on Broadway in New York.

On Saturday evening in a ballroom at the DoubleTree by Hilton near Lloyd Center, PassinArt celebrated its annual gala, Sweet Taste of the Arts, with a healthy crowd that included, among many others, Two Trains Running director William Earl Ray and the superb veteran actor J.P. Phillips, who is also riding the trains.

And with just a little patience, the August Wilson celebration extends: On May 2, Portland Playhouse will open its revival of his Pulitzer- and Tony-winning Fences. It’ll be the seventh of Wilson’s “American Century Cycle” of ten plays, each from a different decade of the 20th century, that the Playhouse has presented for Portland audiences – a gratifying and illuminating feat. Those plays – in addition to Two Trains Running and Fences they include Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Jitney, King Hedley II, and Radio Golf – constitute one of the great achievements of the American theater, and for that matter, of American literature and culture.

Wilson’s plays are vital historic documents, and they are still urgently current, as a story by Tracy Jan earlier this week in the Washington Post makes clear. Report: No progress for African Americans on homeownership, unemployment and incarceration in 50 years, it’s headlined, and it underlines both the disturbing intransigence of America’s racial divide and the continuing need for honest, revealing, compelling stories about ordinary life in all of the nation’s communities.


Jump for joy: August Wilson monologue winners, from left: third place winner Alyssa Marchant, first place winner Noreena McCleave, second place winner Kai Tomizawa. Wade Owens Photography

Both the August Wilson Monologue Competition and PassinArt’s gala were intensely community events, art growing from the connections among place and people and time. Communities, of course, are both fluid and interlocking, and can be expanded or carried with you when you leave. In Wilson’s case it begins in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, the economically teetering but culturally vibrant African American/Jewish/Italian neighborhood where he grew up and where most of his plays are set. But really, it begins further back, on the slave ships, in the fields and plantation houses (his great and mystical character Aunt Ester is 285 years old when we first meet her in Gem of the Ocean, and lasts through several plays and about 60 more years beyond that), along the route of the Great Migration that brought so many emancipated but not fully free African Americans out of the rural South and into the urban North, bringing their hopes and songs and stories with them.


Dance review: It was 51 years ago today

Mark Morris comes to town with 'Pepperland,' his take on 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band


I was working at SF Weekly in the mid-’90s when the Mark Morris Dance Group brought The Hard Nut, its take on The Nutcracker, to UC Berkeley. When the review came in from a freelance writer, the copy editor called me, the resident dance nerd, over to her desk. “The whole thing is about one part of the dance,” she said, pointing at her monitor. “Doesn’t that seem a little excessive?” I skimmed the piece, which focused on the Waltz of the Snowflakes. I hesitated, then said, “It does seem like a lot.”

But once I saw The Hard Nut, I got it. Mark Morris has many talents, not the least of which is forcing you to reconsider what you thought you knew—especially where music is concerned. The Hard Nut’s snow scene is a perfect microcosmic example: the waltz-y, pristine prettiness of the original becomes a joyful, snow-flinging swirl of movement in the remake. It might not be what you expected, but it feels right.

Mark Morris pays homage to The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” in “Pepperland.”/Photo by Gareth Jones

And so it is with Pepperland, the company’s witty and affectionate tribute to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, which White Bird, a co-commissioner of the piece, brought to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall February 21. Last year, the city of Liverpool commissioned Morris to create the work as part of the city’s 50th anniversary celebration of the album. But instead of using its music outright, Morris turned to former Bad Plus composer/pianist Ethan Iverson for a new score.


Act globally, view vocally: PIFF’s Portland ties

The Portland International Film Festival's second week is dotted with Oregon-sourced cinema

As the 41st Portland International Film Festival rounds the far turn and enters its second week, a mouth-watering array of cinematic flavors remain to be sampled. (We’ll even mention a few of them below.) But PIFF has always done an excellent job demonstrating that Northwest films and filmmakers can stand shoulder-to-shoulder alongside their intercontinental kin—and that they can do so without losing their unique local charms.

Greg Hamilton has been a familiar figure in the Portland film firmament for years. He’s organized tributes to director Les Blank, single-handedly kept “Fast Break”—the classic documentary about the 1977 NBA champion Portland Trail Blazers—in the public eye, and serves on the board of the Hollywood Theatre. Now he’s making his debut as a director with a portrait of another local institution: “Thou Shall Not Tailgate” profiles the Rev. Chuck Linville, an old-school Portland oddball who drives his elaborately festooned art cars around town when he’s not relaxing in his home amid equally eccentric decor.

Greg Hamilton, director of “Thou Shall Not Tailgate.”

The 25-minute film, screening as part of the shorts program “Made in Oregon 2: Wilderness,” lays interview audio with Linville over archival footage of his automotive exploits. Linville really is an ordained minister (Hamilton first met him at a wedding he performed), as well as a former Postal Service worker and an original member of Portland’s Cacophony Society. There’s a whole section devoted to him in Chuck Palahniuk’s myth-making Portland travelogue, “Fugitives and Refugees.”

One of the creations of the subject of the documentary “Thou Shall Not Tailgate.”

In other words, Linville and his Church of Eternal Combustion are the epitome of what we talk about when we talk about “Old Portland.” He’s not trying to create a personal brand, or exude some sort of cultivated weirdness. He’s just a guy who, as he puts it, gets bored easily. And who likes to glue hundreds of baby-bottle nipples to the top of his station wagon. “Thou Shall Not Tailgate,” though, isn’t meant as a simple nostalgic gesture, says Hamilton. Instead, it’s “paying witness to the transformation of Portland,” perhaps trying to inspire future kooks by spotlighting those who know how to do kooky right.

(“Shorts 4: Made in Oregon 2: Wilderness” screens at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Whitsell Auditorium.)