NEWS & NOTES

The Madness of Asae Dean

It's a Shakespearean double or nothing – in rep! –for the mastermind of Salt and Sage's "Troilus and Cressida" and "Antony and Cleopatra"

Making art is often a difficult and thankless proposition. Producing theater, in particular, can be even more of both. It follows that for most fringe theater companies, producing either Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra OR his Troilus and Cressida would be an arduous enough undertaking. Tackling both at the same time, as Salt and Sage Productions is doing with a repertory that opens on Friday, would be an epic task of Herculean proportions – maybe even a little crazy.

Salt and Sage artistic director Asae Dean probably wouldn’t even deny the charge. “Theatre is hard work,” she says on her website, “it’s supposed to hurt a bit – you should break a sweat, you should shed a tear – you are doing work that stretches the soul.” 

Asae Dean, double or nothing. Photo: Heath Hyun Houghton

IN THE DIGITAL AGE, THEATER IS THE LOWEST RUNG on the pop culture ladder, and Dean is the outsider’s outsider. She’s been knocking on the door for the past seven years and just can’t get in. “I’d be totally lying to you if I didn’t say that it disappoints me that it seems so hard to gain traction in this city,” she admits. Many who have tried to break into the Portland theater scene have found it a tough shell to crack. If you’re trying to break in solely as a director, it can be even more difficult. When you’re on the fringe level, producers either hire themselves or artists whose work they’re familiar with for the spots that do come open.

Continues…

Strutting and fretting along the Oregon Coast

Actors take the stage from Newport to Cannon Beach this summer

Theater fans could do worse than to find themselves on the Coast this summer. Performers are taking the stage in multiple venues from Newport to Cannon Beach.

Ed Asner is scheduled to make an appearance as God twice next month in Newport.

Let’s start with a reminder that tickets are still available, but going fast, for God Help Us!, the play starring Emmy-award-winning actor Ed Asner and scheduled for just two performances – Aug. 10 and 11 – at the Newport Performing Arts Center.

Inspired by the Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton debates of the summer of 2016, the play, written by Samuel Warren Joseph and Phil Proctor, premiered in Chicago last August.  The 90-minute show is described as “a political comedy for our times, and centers on two opposite-leaning pundits who are transported to purgatory by the Supreme Being himself for the purpose of debating today’s political and social issues.”

Asner’s daughter, Liza Asner, is the show’s producer.  Local actors Marc Maislen (New Visions Arts) and Darcy Hogan (Red Octopus Theatre Company) will play the roles of Larry and Randi, politically opposite media pundits who were a couple in college. Students Kylie MacDonald and Cole Theodore play angels.

Tickets are $50 and $75, with proceeds benefiting the Performing Arts Center’s Entertain the Future! Capital Campaign and helping fund renovations to the newly named David Ogden Stiers Theatre, previously known as the Studio or Black Box theater.   

Stay tuned for my planned interview with Asner next week.

Continues…

Otis Café: the fire this time

The landmark diner, a cultural touchstone near the Oregon Coast, goes up in flames on July 4. Its owner plans to rebuild. Here's hoping.

If the best news from July 4 came from the many hilarious reactions to President Donald “The Rain Made Me Do It” Trump’s historical conflation of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Age of Flight, the worst news – at least, for many Oregonians – may have been the fire Thursday evening that seems to have destroyed the legendary Otis Café.

Inside the Otis Café on a summer day in 2013. Oregon ArtsWatch photo

Shannon Gormley’s story today in Willamette Week reports that there were no injuries from the blaze that swept through the landmark diner, which sits – or sat – bright-red and beckoning just a few miles east of the coast on the way to Lincoln City, “but owner Jeff England tells WW the damage appears to be a total loss, and the historic cafe will likely have to be demolished.” While damage is still being assessed, England tells Gormley he plans to rebuild: “We all will learn and grow as we pull together and work together to bring the Otis Café back. Will it be as quaint as the 1920s building that we very possibly have lost? It’s hard to recreate that.”

England’s point is well-taken. As with an Old Master painting, much of the Otis’s charm derives from a patina built up over many years: the way the woodwork dents and shines, the just-right sagging of the floors, the inevitable pocks and marks of time. It can’t be renewed. It can only approximate and begin again. Its people, of course – the cooks and servers and deliverers and local regulars and weekend drop-ins from the city and workers in the nearby woods who stop in for a loaf of pumpkin bread or a fresh pie on the way home – will re-create it in their own image, and, if all goes well, a tradition will begin anew.

Continues…

Lincoln City’s big culture boost

A $1.5 million state grant will transform the Cultural Center plaza. Other grants help projects in Bend, Beaverton, Portland, Cottage Grove.

Lincoln City got some welcome news Tuesday evening with the announcement from Rep. David Gomberg, D-District 10, that the Oregon State Legislature has awarded the Lincoln City Cultural Center a $1.5 million grant for its Cultural Plaza Project. The work will transform the 2.5 acres surrounding the historic building. The Cultural Plaza was one of five projects approved by the Cultural Advocacy Coalition. Other projects to be funded include Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in Portland ($500,000), High Desert Museum in Bend ($250,000), Cottage Theatre in Cottage Grove ($375,000) and the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts in Beaverton ($1.5 million).

We talked with Lincoln City Cultural Center director Niki Price about the grant and what it means to the Center.

OAW: You call this a game changer. Why is that?

Continues…

Oregon Bach Festival: riding out the storm

Venerable music institution mounts its 49th summer festival amid leadership transition and uncertain future

The 49th Oregon Bach Festival has lately been looking a bit like a Blah-ch Festival. If the venerable University of Oregon music institution is ever to regain the cultural primacy it once enjoyed in its glory days, I’m afraid we’ll need to wait for new artistic and executive leadership. Happily, that’s on the way, with the festival having laid off controversial executive director Janelle McCoy and reversed her much-derided decision to institute a rotating directorship or leadership by committee (the last two years), instead of replacing the respected artistic director she railroaded out of town for never-explained reasons

This year’s program, like last year’s, was put together by an artistic committee of music faculty and other UO personnel chaired by McCoy. Her job was made no easier by university-imposed cutbacks that left the festival nearly bereft of star power and big splashy productions and commissions. Yet some highlights shine — if you know where to look.

Beyond Bach

While named after an 18th century master, the festival does provide some space for new sounds, or updates on old ones. My top recommendation for the entire festival: Portland composer and jazz pianist Darrell Grant’s The Territory, which we reviewed here after its second Portland performance. Kudos to the festival for featuring a major recent work by a top Oregon composer. Grant and jazz ensemble perform in Soreng Theater July 12.

On July 2 at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall, one of America’s most acclaimed new music ensembles, Brooklyn Rider string quartet, plays one of the greatest of all chamber works, Beethoven’s Op. 132 quartet, plus five new commissions on the subject of healing written by some of today’s leading composers (all of whom happen to be women): Reena Esmail, Gabriela Lena Frank, Matana Roberts and recent Pulitzer Prize winners Caroline Shaw and Du Yun.

Brooklyn Rider. Photo by Erin Baiano.
Brooklyn Rider. Photo by Erin Baiano.

Portland Cello Project has been making a classical instrument hip for over a decade. They also play Beethoven, but mostly new music, and it more often comes from hip hop, rock and other pop artists. A big draw wherever it goes in on its many tours, the ensemble returns to OBF June 29 with a program featuring music by Radiohead, John Coltrane, and more — including, of course, J.S. Bach himself. 

Continues…

Festival changes with tide and time

Siletz Bay Music Festival, with roots stretching back 32 years, begins Wednesday and offers chamber, jazz, cabaret, and symphonic concerts, but no hip hop -- yet

Can a festival founded three decades ago and dedicated to chamber music remain relevant today with a younger crowd?  

As a matter of fact, says Siletz Bay Music Festival conductor Yaacov Bergman,  it can and does. The festival hasn’t been about only chamber or classical music for some time, opening its program to performances of jazz, cabaret, big band, musical theater, and beyond.

Yaacov Bergman, artistic director of the Siletz Bay Music Festival since 2009, says of artistic fusion at the 32-year-old festival, “let’s bring it on.”
Yaacov Bergman, artistic director of the Siletz Bay Music Festival since 2009, says of artistic fusion at the festival, “let’s bring it on.”

“It started out so much more conservative from where we are today,” said Bergman, who has been the festival’s artistic director since 2009. “This festival attracts remarkable composers and performers. They come with a repertoire they always wanted to do, one that stretches the imagination. This is so advanced and so stimulating, I imagine that will be one of the things that helps us bring in a younger audience in the future, too. We already see younger members in our audience. My philosophy is artist fusion, let’s bring it on. Anything in good taste, anything not mediocre, I’m totally open to.”

Even, I ask, hip hop?

Bergman laughs. “Are you kidding? I grew up with hip hop.”

The festival begins Wednesday, June 19, and runs 16 days. Performances in four Lincoln City-area venues include eight chamber music concerts; four evenings of jazz, cabaret, musical theater and American songbook concerts; and three symphonic concerts, including a free Young People’s Concert, Peter and the Wolf. Seating is full for two other free concerts, but concert rehearsals also are free.

Sarah Kwak
Sarah Kwak

Performers include Sarah Kwak, violinist and concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony; Mei-Ting Sun, gold medal winner in the 2005 National Chopin Competition; and Ken Peplowski, the clarinetist often referred to as the “living Benny Goodman.”

The festival’s roots stretch back to an informal series of salons held in the 1980s in the home of music professor and part-time Coast resident Sergiu Luca. In 1987, the  Cascade Head Music Festival was born, with Luca as artistic director. The festival was renamed the Siletz Bay Music Festival in 2011.

But as the festival racked up the years, so did its most loyal fans, leaving its fate in the hands of a younger audience.

Continues…

Finding a voice for black media

Open Signal's screening Friday at the Hollywood Theatre of work by six young black Portland filmmakers opens the door on a world of stories

Something’s happening. And you’d better know what it is.

On Friday, June 14, Open Signal Labs is giving six black filmmakers a chance to showcase their work and let the Portland media world know they’re here, they’re thriving, and they’re ready to enter the industry and take a commanding role. The screening, at 7 p.m. at the Hollywood Theatre in Northeast Portland, is the culmination of a year of work, learning and training for six young, black filmmakers: Kamryn Fall, Elijah Hasan, Tamera Lyn, Sika Stanton, Noah Thomas and Dustin Tolman.

Open Signal’s Ifanyi Bell and RaShaunda Brooks: making it happen. Photo: Sam Gehrke

This fellowship is the first of its kind in the state of Oregon. Over the course of the year, these artists were granted “a $2,000 stipend, training, access to industry-standard equipment, staff and actors from Artists Repertory Theatre, as well as mentorship with media professionals and connections to the field from the Oregon Governor’s Office of Film & Television.” The idea, says Open Signal executive producer and industry veteran Ifanyi Bell, is to “provide our fellows the best possible resources — cutting-edge filmmaking equipment and experienced industry professionals — and then time will tell. We hope to create a safe space immune from outside influence that will inspire true innovation and authentic stories of black Americans.”

Continues…