The Famous ArtsWatch links post, #7 with news!

Haiyan Wu and Chauncey Parsons in their happier days!/ Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

I’ll start with a plug for my Weekend Wrap post for the Arts & Living page on the Oregon Public Broadcasting, which this week dealt with Center Stage’s “Red” and the Mark Rothko exhibit at the Portland Art Museum, as well as Oregon Ballet Theatre’s sweet “Giselle.” Rothko and “Giselle,” art that asks thorny questions and art that makes us forget them for a moment.

Portland Center Stage announced its 2012-13 season last night, and by our casual reckoning it seems to be artistic director Chris Coleman’s most adventurous to date, filled with new, demanding and local plays. We’ll dig into it all at a later date, but the list includes: “Sweeney Todd” (the great Sondheim musical), “Ella: The Musical” (a bio-drama about jazz great Ella Fitzgerald), “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (the Shakespeare that has attracted to the most “interventions”), “The Body of an American” (developed at last summer’s JAW festival), “The People’s Republic of Portland” (about which we know not but we can guess?), “I Love to Eat” (a celebration of native son and culinary legend James Beard), “Clybourne Park” (the 2011 Pulitzer winner), “The Whipping Man” (a strange, tense play set in Richmond right after the Civil War) and “Lungs” (which dives into yuppie preoccupations in interesting ways).

While we’re talking seasons, the Oregon Symphony released its own 2012-13 schedule, and what caught our eye immediately was the number of local non-classical guest artists on the program Blind Pilot, Storm Large, David Frishberg and Patrick Lamb. Naturally, we think that this approach has promise!

The Northwest Academy, a private school that focuses on the arts, has announced that it is purchasing the YWCA building on Southwest 10th Avenue, behind the Portland Art Museum, and it’s begun a $5 million campaign to renovate the building. From the school’s press release:

“An important landmark building in downtown Portland, the YWCA building is ideally configured for Northwest Academy’s needs. The renovation of the 70,000-square foot, five-story building will create a new home for faculty, administrators and middle and high school students. In addition to important seismic upgrades, key features of the renovation will include dedicated classrooms, art and dance studios, a photography lab and darkroom, computer lab, gymnasium and additional space for community summer arts and academic programs. Hennebery Eddy Architects and Bremick Construction are teamed on the renovation design and construction of the building.”

The Portland Cello Project occupied the Wonder Ballroom Saturday night, massing their instruments for an all-out assault on Pantera for the 20th anniversary of the release of “Vulgar Display of Power.” Were there Pantera fans in the audience, you may ask? Well, who do you think was singing the choruses on “A New Level”?

Classical music saturates Venezuela, thanks to El Sistema, an ongoing project of educational achievement through classical music, that to American classical music fans, worried so much about the future, seems miraculous. We love the LA Times’ Mark Swed’s passionate description of El Sistema. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/music/la-ca-caracas-notebook-20120226,0,4870388.story

“So pervasive is El Sistema in this society that if you were to ask the average Venezuelan whether he or she thought classical music is dying, you might be questioned about what planet you are on. So strong is the Sistema lockbox that this program is equally supported by rich and poor, the political left and right. President Hugo Chávez allots it $100 million a year and regularly promises more. The opposition party knows better than to oppose music education in the upcoming fall election. For a reality check, imagine President Obama demanding a $1.2-billion music education system under the rubric of social welfare, only to be challenged by Ron Paul insisting that Congress allocate an even greater sum for socialized music.”

For the past 30 years, a band of French art agents has used the Paris underground to infiltrate cultural facilities… and repair them, an amazing story told in Wired magazine.

“This stealthy undertaking was not an act of robbery or espionage but rather a crucial operation in what would become an association called UX, for “Urban eXperiment.” UX is sort of like an artist’s collective, but far from being avant-garde—confronting audiences by pushing the boundaries of the new—its only audience is itself. More surprising still, its work is often radically conservative, intemperate in its devotion to the old. Through meticulous infiltration, UX members have carried out shocking acts of cultural preservation and repair, with an ethos of “restoring those invisible parts of our patrimony that the government has abandoned or doesn’t have the means to maintain.” The group claims to have conducted 15 such covert restorations, often in centuries-old spaces, all over Paris.”

Theater, especially compared movies, can be a great way to introduce new voices from un-heard communities into the national discussion. African-American, Hispanic, Asian, gay and women playwrights have told us their stories, and the culture is far richer for it. But even small “progressive” theater companies can have playwright diversity issues, as Michael Dove, who works in Washington, D.C., admits:

“Before I opened my mouth in defense, it dawned on me–maybe smacked me in the head is a better analogy–that of the 21 plays we had produced to that point, only THREE had been written by women. And of those three, Caryl Churchill had written two of them (Naomi Wallace, who we were producing at that moment, the other).

How had I never noticed that? As ridiculous as it sounds, I can honestly say that I had never realized the fact that we were so male-writer-heavy. I don’t say that as some sort of a defense. It’s the part that maybe worries me the most.”

And that raises immediate questions about the over-representation of male writers in our own theater…

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