CULTURE

Spotlight on: E.M. Lewis and ‘Magellanica’

As Artists Rep embarks on an epic journey to Antarctica, an Oregon playwright talks about the epic journey that brings her tale to the stage

“Ferdinand Magellan, the first to circumnavigate the globe, one of those early sea-farers, named everything after either his queen or himself. In very, very old maps, the kind with sea monsters at the bottom, of the period immediately following his circumnavigation of the globe, the whole bottom southern hemisphere is called ‘Magellanica’.”

— E.M. Lewis

When you meet E.M. Lewis, you don’t necessarily think “epic.” She’s more like your favorite librarian, excited about every subject you ask for help on, and and nothing makes her happier than when she recommends a book that you enjoy. She’s friendly, bordering on bubbly, and laughs a lot. You wouldn’t necessarily look at E.M. Lewis and think risk-taker, rule-breaker, fire-starter.

But she is.

Once you start talking to her, you feel it. Simmering underneath, barely contained, sometimes so close to the surface she’s almost shaking, is a drive, a passion, an intensity that is pushing her, pushing her, pushing her. “I’m always a person who has lots of pots bubbling on a stove,” she says, and you not only believe her, you’re also struck by how apt a metaphor that is. This relatively quiet woman would, during the course of our conversation, all of a sudden smack the table with authority to punctuate a story or drive home a point. And that’s when you see it. That’s when you feel it. Epic.

E.M. Lewis, author of “Megellanica.” Photo: Russell J Young

Lewis is the author of Magellanica, an ambitious, five-act, five-and-a-half-hour odyssey to the end of the world. In this world premiere at Artists Repertory Theatre (it begins previews on Saturday, Jan. 20, opens on Jan. 27, and runs through Feb. 18) eight intrepid trekkers from different nations, different races, and at different stages in their lives’ journeys to the South Pole, ostensibly for science. But for most, if not all of them, the journey is about much more than that. You can be a scientist anywhere. There is a reason why certain people choose to go to the most extreme climate on Earth in their pursuit of knowledge, and that reason can be very, very personal. As Morgan Halsted, Magellanica’s atmospheric scientist, puts it: “No one goes to Antarctica accidentally. … We all have our reasons for being here.” Or, as Lewis says during the course of our conversation: “The more I read about the people who go to Antarctica, the more I began to understand that there are a lot of psychological reasons why people feel the need to go to a place of such great extremity and hardship.” Or, more succinctly: “Sometimes, you need to go far to bring back a piece of yourself.”

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Fertile Ground: get set, go

On your mark: Portland's festival of new work, with more than 100 offerings, is ready to roar. Grab your tickets: It's a jumble out there.

It was 5:30 on a blustery Thursday evening – still rush hour in The City That Sometimes Works – and Nicole Lane was busy herding cats. Some of the media people were stuck in traffic and still on their way but they’d be there soon, she announced loudly to the litter of playwrights, producers, actors, and assorted theater people caroming about the byways and bar of Artists Repertory Theatre’s Morrison Street lobby.

Then Lane, director of the ninth annual Fertile Ground Festival of New Work (this year’s begins Thursday and runs eleven days through January 28, in venues scattered across the city) ticked off the rules for this latest version of the festival’s speed-date-the-media night. Scope out the tables. See who you want to talk to. Get in line. When your turn comes be ready to make your pitch, and be quick about it. When the bell rings, your time’s done: Get up, move on to another table, start all over again. Ding!

Milagro’s “Bi–” has its world premiere at Fertile Ground. Photo: Russell J Young

I don’t know what it was like for the theater people as they hustled through their paces, but for me – one of those media types, with a little oblong table to call my own – it was a little like sitting in front of a wind machine taking wave after wave full force. I looked neither left nor right but straight ahead, only glancing down now and again at the succession of press releases and show cards to get my bearings. Who was this, now? What show? Where? When? Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh they went, a succession of mini-conversations, a jumble of scribbled notes, a scramble of unsorted information.

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Audio drama PDX: Curated nostalgia

In the first of two parts – and before a Tolkien birthday bash on Saturday – a look at the old-time radio roots of a modern media movement

For most of my life I’ve been chronologically out of step. I was born in 1965, and my favorite clothes were out of fashion by 1930, my favorite authors were all dead by 1945, and one of my favorite artistic mediums, audio drama, culturally peaked in about 1950 and was until recently virtually extinct.

As a kid in the isolation of small-town Alaska, I would stay up late to hear, via the hit-and-miss bouncing signals of AM, re-broadcasts of the radio dramas from the 1930s and 40s, shows like The Shadow and Inner Sanctum. For a while anyway in the ’70s there was also the five-a-night broadcast of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, a project helmed by grizzled radio veterans that featured fun performances though generally mediocre scripts.

Promotional photograph from November 1930 for the CBS Radio series “The Detective Story Hour,” the program that introduced The Shadow to radio audiences. The character was initially played by James La Curto. Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of the general hokiness of many of the shows, new and old, for reasons that were clearly thought peculiar to my friends and family I was hooked. How did they do so much with nothing more than a script, a few actors, and some carefully placed sound effects? (The answer, of course, is that the listener’s imagination does the work. As radio pioneer and general funny guy Stan Freberg once said, “the monitor of our head is limitless.”)

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In the Frame: Eleven Men

In photographic portraits, K.B. Dixon captures the essence in black and white of eleven people who've helped shape Portland's creative soul

Essay and photographs by K.B. DIXON

A good picture tells a story, and nothing tells a story better—more eloquently, more efficiently—than the human face. The story these eleven faces tell, in part, is Portland’s. These are talented and dedicated people who have contributed in significant ways to the character and culture of this city, people whose legacies are destined to be part of our cultural history.

Why eleven? Why not? It is the atomic number of sodium, the number of players on a football team, the number of thumb keys on a bassoon. I am a retentive sort with a bias in favor of symmetry who prefers numbers that divide evenly by two. I thought I would challenge myself. If the helping professions are to be believed, it is a way for one to grow.

With each portrait it has been my hope to produce first a decent photograph—a truthful record, one that honors the unique strength of the medium; but I have also sought to produce a photograph that is more than just a simple statement of fact, one that preserves for myself and others a brief glimpse of the being behind the image, one that presents a feeling as well as a form.

Soon I hope to be doing portraits of eleven Portland women. I have written to the President & CEO of one of our major cultural institutions, but she has not gotten back to me. Ms X, if you’re listening…. The portraits will be black & white, casual, available light, and done, ideally, in your office or work space. (My style is pretty straightforward as you can see—a nondenominational mix of street, fine art, and documentary photography.) Time, I know, is always an issue so I try to keep the intrusion to a minimum—30 minutes or so. Please let me know if you would be interested. We could set up a shoot at your convenience.

 


 

Will Vinton

Oscar-winning filmmaker. Vinton was a pioneer in stop-action animation. He is the head of Vinton Entertainment.

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ArtsWatch year in theater 2017

From "Astoria" to "The Humans" with a whole lot in between, a month-by-month stroll with ArtsWatch through the year in Oregon theater

From Portland Center Stage’s Astoria: Part I (Part II is streaming around the bend in January, along with an encore run for Part I) to Artists Rep’s The Humans and a slew of holiday shows, it’s been a busy, busy year in Oregon theater.

In Ashland, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival rolled out another season blending contemporary and classic with a wide-angle world view. And the fine actor G. Valmont Thomas, after spending a season playing Falstaff in all three plays in which the great character appears, died in December from bone cancer, at age 58.

In Hillsboro, Bag&Baggage, which had been temporarily homeless, opened a spiffy new home in a renovated downtown former bank building.

In Portland, the sprawling Fertile Ground festival introduced dozens of new works (and, like Astoria, is gearing up for a fresh new run in January). Chris Coleman, Center Stage’s artistic director for 17 years, announced he would be leaving at the end of this season to take over the theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. TCG, the influential Theatre Communications Group, held its annual conference in Portland. And theater companies large and small produced more plays than The Count could count in a dozen seasons of Sesame Street.

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ArtsWatch year in dance 2017

From ballet to world to contemporary, where the dance scene led, ArtsWatch followed. In 20 stories, a brisk stroll through the seasons.

Dance in Portland and Oregon has long been on the edge – often financially and sometimes artistically. Yet despite economic challenges you can’t keep it down: the city moves to a dance beat, and every week brings fresh performances. ArtsWatch writers got to a significant share of those shows in 2017, and wrote about them with breadth, wit, and insight.

The twenty ArtsWatch stories here don’t make up a “best of” list, though several of these shows could easily make one. They constitute, rather, a January-to-December snapshot of a rich and busy scene that runs from classical ballet to contemporary and experimental work.

 


 

We’re able to bring smart coverage to dance and other disciplines because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation. Just click on the “donate today” button below:

 


 

A dance down memory lane in 20 tales from ArtsWatch writers:

 

“Hopper’s Dinner”: an exuberant feast. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

A mellow Meadow like old times

Jan. 20: “Going to opening night of BodyVox’s Urban Meadow at Lincoln Performance Hall on Thursday evening was a little like dropping over for dinner with a bunch of old friends you haven’t seen in a while, and remembering why you liked them in the first place,” Bob Hicks wrote. “The table was set nicely, the food and wine were good, and everybody swapped old jokes and stories with easy familiarity. There was even a guest of honor, who was fondly feted, and who told a few good tales himself.” The “guest” was the wonderful dancer Erik Skinner, who was retiring from BodyVox (though not from performing) after this run, and the program included a bunch of old favorites that were themselves welcome guests.

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Love and taxes: Solving the contradiction

How to support the arts and thumb your nose at the new tax bill

Today’s subject is the contradiction between Oregon’s obvious love for the arts, and our tepid support for them at the state level. Well, actually the subject is how you and I, dear reader, can help solve that contradiction.

It’s especially important this year, given the tax bill that was signed into law last week. That bill will eventually double the standard deduction that most Americans take, and that will make it less likely that we will itemize. You know where I’m going with this: Unless you itemize, you don’t have the tax incentive to give to charities. And the only taxpayers who will now itemize, especially now that the deduction for state income taxes and property taxes have been limited, are very high-income earners. “The biggest change is expected to be among households earning $75,000 to $200,000 a year — a bracket in which more than half of filers itemized their taxes under the old code,” according to a Washington Post analysis.

The bottom line: If you itemize now, but probably won’t itemize in 2018, then this is the last year to take a charitable deduction of any kind. You can keep giving—no one expects private philanthropy to dry up completely—but your tax incentive will disappear. And an Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy study, cited by the Post, is predicting a 4.5 percent drop in giving in 2018, which would be about $13 billion.

Albert Robida, “A night at the opera in the year 2000,” cartoon, 1882

Most arts organizations in Oregon are nonprofits, and they depend on philanthropy for their existence (either direct giving or through foundations), along with ticket sales and government support. This solution to the problem of supporting the arts starts with the Oregon Cultural Trust, and then, for this year at least, involves a change in giving patterns by individuals. Stick with me: We can do this!

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Just for an update, the glorious State of Oregon ranks 35th in funding for the arts through its arts agencies, the Oregon Arts Commission and the Oregon Cultural Trust. That’s a little weird. The state always ranks near the very top in attendance at its arts events. You would think, all things being equal, that we’d be happier to support the arts than most other places.

That’s not the case. I’m going to focus on the states that start with the letter O for a moment, a universe of three states. According to the complex calculations of the National Association of State Arts Agencies, Oregon state government spends a grand total of 84 cents per state resident on the arts. Let that sink in a moment. Eighty-four cents. A grand total of $3,422,588.

Now, I hear people complain about government support for the arts a lot, but complaining about 84 cents is complaining about nickels and dimes. Actual nickels and dimes. And pennies. Even if you’re ideologically opposed to giving to the arts (and I’m sure those folks have clicked away from this story already), there are much bigger targets around for your slings and arrows. (For the record, I think the same thing about people who complain about the arts tax in Portland. That $35 is going directly toward something we actually voted for—arts education at the primary school level and support for our non-profit arts organizations. But that’s another story.)

Back to the O states. The other two are Ohio and Oklahoma. Ohio is a much bigger state, and during the 20th century, it was one of the nation’s richest, home to very large national corporations, from Procter & Gamble and Kroger in Cincinnati to Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron. It’s still an industrial center of major national importance, but its per capita income has slipped below Oregon’s. We’re 26th nationally, at $54,148 per household. They are 34th, at $51,075. Still, they are ahead of us in state funding for the arts: They spend $1.39 per capita, and a total of $16,173,750.

Oklahoma is more our size, and for much of its history, its wealth was built on an extractive industry, just like ours—oil in their case, timber in ours. The average household income in Oklahoma is $48,568, which ranks 39th nationally. So, they give less of their state budget to the arts than we do, surely? Uh, no. It’s close, but they contribute 99 cents per capita to their state arts agencies, which ranks 26th nationally. Among the O states, Oregon is last.

Some might say this is a brilliant economy of resources— we invest little and get a lot. Unfortunately for us, among the O states Oregon is most dependent on its creative economy—the design, tech, new knowledge companies that drive our economy now. And the arts are crucial for attracting the talent that sharpens the edge of those companies and for keeping them engaged with their creative side when they get here. We can’t afford to be pennywise and pound foolish.

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Fortunately, the Oregon Cultural Trust allows us to rectify an ongoing error of the state legislature—in this case its reluctance to fund the arts sufficiently. The beauty of it is, it doesn’t cost us any money. And though it’s been around for awhile now, many of us don’t take advantage of its unique provisions. Many do: Oregonians invested more than $4.55 million in the Oregon Cultural Trust in 2016, after all. For good reason: It distributes money to every corner of the state, and funds tribal and historical organizations as well. So, if you’re taking advantage already, this is just a refresher.

The process isn’t hard, but it does involve a few steps. And the subject of taxes makes my head swim, my eyes blurry and my knees weak. That’s why I’m sure that if I can do it, so can you.

  1. It starts with a gift to one or more of the 1,400 or so arts and cultural groups in the state. You can find the list of qualifying groups on the Trust’s website, though nearly anyone you can think of qualifies.
  2. Make a matching gift to the Cultural Trust. You can do it online. You will be provided with a confirmation screen you can print for your records to claim your tax credit. Or you can donate by telephone (503-986-0088).
  3. Claim your entire contribution to the Trust as a tax credit on your Oregon income tax—up to $500 for an individual, $1,000 for couples filing jointly, and $2,500 for corporations. Much of that money will be distributed to Oregon arts groups directly, and some will go to the Trust’s permanent fund.

Let’s compress that: You gift your favorite arts group(s), you give to the Cultural Trust, you take a tax credit for the gift to the Trust (and to the arts groups), you enjoy great art the rest of the year.

Not so hard, is it? Ohio and Oklahoma, we’re coming for you!

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OK, one more idea. Take a look at Step One: The original gifts to arts organizations. Although the limit on the Oregon Cultural Trust tax credit is $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples filing jointly, you can still take the federal income tax deduction on any larger amount. At least you can take it THIS year, if you itemize. But let’s imagine next year. It’s entirely possible that you won’t be itemizing on your 2018 tax return, which means you won’t get a deduction for your charitable contributions (to arts groups or anyone else). Bummer.

That’s why it’s a good idea to give the money you WOULD have given in 2018 now, in 2017, so you can take the tax deduction now. Instead of giving Oregon ArtsWatch $100 this year—just an example!—you could give us $200, and take the full tax deduction this year. We would be much obliged to help in this way. And it would work the same way for any charitable contribution: This is the year to double up and guarantee that you get the deduction.

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So, right, this column is self-serving. Oregon ArtsWatch is one of the organizations on the Oregon Cultural Trust’s list. You can donate to us, then donate to the trust and get the money you gave to the trust back in the form of a tax credit.

Why would you do that? Because we believe that a healthy, active, adaptive culture, something we all need, requires a healthy, active, adaptive and independent source for culture news, analysis and commentary. We’ve been talking about that this week on the site: The stories we’ve written that have had a big impact, the stories that our new writers have written, the in-depth stories that introduce you to important artists in the community, the reviews from informed writers we post. As other sources for the news, feature stories and interpretation of the arts dry up, we believe that our contribution becomes more and more important.

We hope you think the same way! And if you do, it’s very easy to get started. Thanks for considering us!