NEWS & NOTES

Photo First: Seeing Astoria

As the Astoria Regatta gets ready to sail around the bend, K.B. Dixon takes his camera to Oregon's oldest city and finds a wealth of images

Astoria has a garish and dramatic history, its fraught founding meticulously chronicled in Peter Stark’s award-winning book—a book with a title as long as the city’s renovated river walk: Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire—A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival.  It is the story of John Jacob Astor’s venal and ultimately failed dream of establishing an international trading post on the Pacific coast to sell fancy fur like sea otter (aka “soft gold”) to the Chinese. Fragments of this history and of the later more pertinent histories of the city as a fishing and timber center are easy to find today. What is also easy to find today is a vibrant arts and cultural scene.


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


Mixed in with timber terminals, working canneries, and barking sea lions are a handful of busy galleries—galleries like the eclectic RiverSea; the intimate Imogen; the Royal Nebeker Art Gallery at Clatsop Community College; and the Lightbox Photographic Gallery, one of the best photographic galleries not just in Oregon, but on the whole West Coast.  There is the refurbished Liberty Theatre, a general performance venue extraordinaire; Godfather’s Books, a Luddite’s summer-of-love sanctuary; and, of course, Vintage Hardware, a de facto museum which, in spite of some recent gentrification, remains a fascinating place, a capacious cabinet of curiosities.

It is a city with an unconventional beauty all its own, an authentic time-worn quality—a city that nurtures a strong sense of connection to its working-class past.

It is also a city that offers plenty of tourist-friendly programing. There is the Crab, Seafood, and Wine Festival in April; the Astoria Music Festival and the Scandinavian Festival in June; and the Astoria Regatta in August. But its most inspired annual offering is, I think, the FisherPoets Gathering in February—”a celebration of the commercial fishing industry in poetry, prose, and song.” It is a weekend-long extravaganza with a hundred fisher poets—deckhands, skippers, cannery workers, and shipwrights from the East and West Coast—descending on the city to read for each other and for growing crowds in Astoria’s pubs, restaurants, and galleries. This coming year’s will be the 22nd  such gathering.


FLAVEL HOUSE, 2013


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Tin House: vulnerability & risk

As its celebrated literary journal shuts down, the Portland publishing house's summer writing workshops at Reed College continue to thrive.


By BEN BARTU


Midsummer has arrived in Oregon, and every surface at Reed College seems ripe with books. The campus is hosting the sixteenth annual Tin House Summer Workshop, as a few minutes walking the grounds makes plain. Signs for lecture destinations and attendee housing point in every direction. Above Cerf Amphitheatre, tables are stacked high with various issues of Tin House’s quarterly journal. 

The journal’s final issue – printed in July, and marking the end of a 20-year run for one of Portland’s most esteemed and far-reaching literary magazines – stands out from its predecessors, a robust volume with a pitch-black cover on which is etched a gilded rendition of the press’s logo.

Tin House has come a long way since it was founded in 1999 as a literary journal and nothing more. It was established by Holly MacArthur and Win McCormack (MacArthur remains a founding editor and deputy publisher; McCormack, who is also editor in chief of The New Republic since buying the magazine in 2016, is Tin House’s publisher and editor in chief), but it was not until 2003 that the publishing house held its first writing workshop at Reed. Another five years went by before Tin House also became a press, publishing novels, nonfiction, and poetry.

This was my first year attending the conference. Its lectures, panels, and readings have always been open to the public, although the workshops themselves are strictly for accepted applicants. In most cases, those accepted are also required to pay a substantial fee to cover the cost of working closely with some of the United States’ literary superstars.

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Poet D.A. Howell, “The Godfather” of Tin House’s writing workshops.

THE 2019 WORKSHOP, which ran July 7-14, included many big-name authors, among them R.O Kwon, Garth Greenwell, Natalie Diaz, Camille T. Dungy, Kaveh Akbar, and Mitchell S. Jackson. Also in attendance was poet D.A. Powell, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, who has earned the affectionate nickname “The Godfather” for having attended every Tin House summer workshop since 2003.

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PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL


On a clear warm Saturday evening at The Round in Beaverton, the joint was jumpin’. The propulsive sounds of drums and dancing feet were rising to the sky, and a big crowd was milling about the curved concrete of this suburban city-center-in-the-making. People were checking out jewelry or fabrics at the rows of market stalls, stopping for a quick snack, blowing bubbles, skipping rope, sitting down to get a little artistic inking on the forearm, even hopping up front with the musicians and breaking into a spot of foot-stomping with the band.

It was Beaverton Night Market, the first of two this summer, a celebratory gathering of the cultures in one of the most diverse and fast-growing areas of Oregon. Washington County, to the west of downtown Portland, is home to a surprising stew of suburban housing, high-tech corridors and agricultural areas, and also to a vibrant variety of communities with roots in India, Central and South America, the Middle East, Native America, Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, and elsewhere, creating a rich blend of cultures and traditions. Beaverton Night Market, a project of the city’s Diversity Advisory Board, began in 2015 and now attracts something in the neighborhood of 14,000 visitors each summer.

Faces in the crowd from around the globe.

It’s easy to see – and hear – why. Saturday night’s performances on two stages featured Chinese dragon dance; Bollywood dance; traditional Andean music; flamenco, classical Thai, and Peruvian dance; Ghanaian dancing and drumming. You could get South Korean, Hmong, Filipino, Japanese, Cambodian, Salvadoran, authentic Mexican, Liberian, Somali, Swedish, Nigerian, Senegalese, Lebanese, Persian, Algerian, Belgian, vegan Cuban food – even Chinese hand-spun cotton candy. You could check out Afghani embroidery, Pakistani beaded handbags, Turkish nomadic rugs. And if you missed it on Saturday night, don’t worry, it’ll all be back at The Round on August 17.

The gifted photographer Joe Cantrell, himself a Beavertonian, dropped down to The Round with his cameras and started snapping, capturing not only the performing groups but also the people in the crowds and the vendors and the whole surging scene. He stayed until the sun dropped down, and headed home with a fat portfolio of images documenting the energy and innovation and sheer happiness of the night.

He also came home with this story to tell:

“I understand that the Beaverton Night Market was inspired by some enlightened soul from the city polling a group of immigrants. ‘What do you miss most from your country, your culture?’ The favorite answer was, ‘The smells of the food, the night markets where we could sit in the cooling dusk visiting with our community, sharing what we enjoyed most there.’

“This exactly mirrors my own years abroad, mostly in Southeast Asia; the food carts and nightly-blocked streets in many cities and towns. It felt like paradise in retrospect, while the local beers helped over rough spots. In early 1971 I felt that my family, village, country had deserted me while I served two tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy. I did not move back to the U.S. until 1986. My saviors were the cordial, generous, compassionate people (almost) everywhere I went. It was the same for many of us. This was a chance to go home to that, and Beaverton delivered as it has for several years. 

“Thank you, brothers and sisters of every hue and whim. Come home with us.”

Just a little bit of what Joe saw:


NII ARDEY ALLOTEY & EKOME, GHANAIAN DRUMMING AND DANCE


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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