Linfield University hits its streaming stride

Poetry, podcasts, theater, dance, and music are all available virtually from the McMinnville school

On any list of pre-COVID Things I Miss Most, visiting Linfield University in McMinnville ranks near the top, along with writing in coffee shops and seeing faces. The school’s panoply of cultural offerings — live theater and music, readings and lectures, and the art gallery — has been largely unavailable to the public since last March. The shift to streaming video, though well-intentioned, has been tentative and uneven. 

I haven’t caught everything Linfield has streamed into the world since COVID hit, but a free recital in February featuring the Oregon Symphony’s James Shields on clarinet and, more recently, the Zoomed appearance of acclaimed poet Ross Gay felt like the beginning of something, an optimistic hint of spring in the second half of winter.

Ross Gay, poet
Poet Ross Gay’s reading is available on Linfield’s YouTube channel.

Normally, author readings are held in the Nicholson Library, but Gay’s was live-streamed from (presumably) his living room over Linfield’s YouTube channel, and it will remain there, which is a good thing.

The prepared-for-the-press remarks by Joe Wilkins, who heads creative writing at Linfield, are as good an introduction to Gay as any: “Ross’ poems are fun, wise, and full of rhythm and sound, and reading one of his essays is like having a long talk with a good friend.” Having listened to the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award winner read excerpts from The Book of Delights and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude for 45 minutes, I’d echo those sentiments. True, streaming is not the ideal, but a publicist for Gay told me the 46-year-old poet has done nearly 30 of these things now online; he’s clearly found a rhythm.

“I’ve been pressing his book of essays, The Book of Delights, into the hands of just about everyone I know,” Wilkins said.  The book was written, Gay told the audience, as a writing prompt exercise: Write one essay a day, every day, in 30 minutes. “I learned how to write essays a lot better over the course of a year,” he said.

It’s a lively reading featuring some terrific stories and spirited commentary by the author. It’s a must-see for those who love poetry, or who want to.

THE SHOWS MUST AND WILL GO ON: Linfield Theatre’s “season like no other” heads into spring with a program of both streaming staged productions and, in a new development, podcasting. 

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Gigi Little covers the book world

The Portland writer, editor, and former clown is in demand for her book-cover designs. Next: Beth Kephart's memoir from Forest Avenue Press

Do you judge a book by its cover? Gigi Little doesn’t. But as a highly regarded Portland book cover designer, she has a great appreciation for them. “The cover will catch my eye and I will want to read a book for its cover at times.” she says. “I could buy a book just for its cover.”

Gigi Little: a life in books. Photo: Stephen O’Donnell

Coming from a background in the circus, Little now lives her dream life, a life built around books. She never set out for a life in the circus. She married into it. During her time as a circus performer (as a clown and magician’s assistant, amongst other roles) she worked for various shows, including “the big three-ring tent show the Clyde Beatty–Cole Bros. Circus, a small one-ring tent show called Allen Bros., and a show that went to Japan called The Dream Clown.” She even worked for five years as the lighting designer for a show called the Hamid Circus.

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LitWatch Monthly: Joy Harjo and author conversations

March marks another full calendar of author conversations and virtual workshops, including a seminar on the work of United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo

I came into poetry feeling as though, on some level, these words were not just mine but my grandparents’, their parents’.”
― Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo is America’s first Native American Mvskoke Nation Poet Laureate. Named the 23rd United States Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress in 2019, she is the second-ever poet to serve three terms in this position. Her third term, beginning this Spring 2021, brings forth a new digital signature project, Living Nations, Living Words. This unique project will feature a fully interactive map of First Peoples Poetry, focusing on 47 different Native American poets by mapping their works and locations nationwide.

Harjo first began writing poetry in 1973 at the age of 23. Before becoming one of the country’s most beloved living poets, she attended the University of New Mexico to study medicine. Inspired by her heritage, the company of artists around her, and the beauty of New Mexico’s landscape, Harjo changed her major to art before penning her first book of poems, The Last Song, in 1975.

Joy Harjo has continued to inspire many artists and writers throughout her long and successful career as both a poet and musician, describing her work as “a memory on which to build.” Her latest book of poems, An American Sunrise, is a breathtaking collection about the beauty of her native homeland and the forced displacement of her own ancestors. This new book of poems will be the topic of an upcoming six-session-long seminar presented by Literary Arts and Delve Readers Seminars called Joy Harjo: American Sunrise. Each Thursday from March 25 to April 29, writer and educator Danielle Frandina will lead participants in the reading of Harjo’s 2019 release An American Sunrise and her 2012 memoir Crazy Brave.

23rd United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. Photograph by Karen Kuehn.

Open to all poetry lovers, the Joy Harjo: American Sunrise workshop will offer an engaging look into the works and early life of Harjo, examining how themes of ancestry, repetition, and loss exist within her work. On Tuesday, April 20, participants of this course will also be given access to Harjo’s much anticipated live lecture as part of the Portland Arts & Lectures Series.

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Rebuilding a State of the Arts

ArtsWatch Weekly: All around Oregon, the cultural Covid freeze of 2020 begins to thaw. Will it continue?

WE’RE LIVING IN CURIOUS TIMES. Things thaw, things freeze up again. Things close, things open. Vaccines are available, but good luck getting a shot (let alone two). One day it’s snow, the next day it’s spring. People stay home, people flock to reopened restaurants. Schools start up, state Senate Republicans walk out. The national death count soars above half a million as rates of infection taper off. And, as I type this late Wednesday morning, here comes the sun. (Update Thursday morning: There it goes again.)

Here, too, comes a gradual revival of Oregon’s cultural life, in greater Portland and, hearteningly, around the state. Sometimes things look almost the way they used to look. Sometimes everything’s virtual: art exhibitions viewed online; concerts streamed from musicians’ living rooms to listeners’ living rooms; dance and theater via Vimeo or Zoom. Sometimes it’s a hybrid of virtual and carefully spaced live action. And more and more, things are beginning to happen in real space and real time, although with heightened restrictions on distancing, audience size (think small), and safety precautions (think masks and more).

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Virginia Darcé (born Portland, Oregon, 1910; died Los Angeles, California, 1985), “The
Market,” 1938, tempera on board, 22 ½ x 30 ½ inches, Portland Art Museum, Portland,
Oregon, Courtesy of the Fine Arts Collection, US General Services Administration, New
Deal Art Project, L45.3.2
Marwin Begaye (Diné, born 1970), “Columbia River Custodian,” 2018, ed. 18, eight-color lithograph, 28.25 x 22.25 inches, collection of the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, CSP18-101.

In Salem, the big news of the week is that the Hallie Ford Museum of Art reopens for visitors today – Thursday, Feb. 25 – with a particularly attractive lineup of exhibits (and virtual online tours on its web site if you can’t or won’t visit in person). It’s not entirely like the old days: You can’t just walk up and buy a ticket. The number of people inside the museum at any one time will be limited, and you’ll have to make a reservation from the museum web site (link above) for timed entry. But the museum will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays, giving you plenty of options.

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Ashland’s season to shake it up

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival meets the times with a hybrid season of new and old: plays on video now, maybe live onstage later

Seasons change, as one of nature’s great truisms holds. In a sense, seasons also are about change, shaped by, yet also initiating, cycles of piecemeal progression and eternal return. 

So it all is, so to speak, for the recently announced 2021 season of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Attempting a nimble and multifaceted response to the ongoing crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on the public gatherings that help define theater, OSF will roll out a slate of productions – both on stage and on digital video – that marks big changes from Ashland traditions and also is very much subject to change.

“Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!” cries Mark Antony (Jordan Barbour) over the slain Julius Caesar (Armando Durán). The 2017 Ashland production returns via video in 2021. Photo: Jenny Graham

The new season, OSF’s first to combine its expanding digital platform, called O!, with live performances on the Ashland campus, begins March 1 with, well, a re-run. A video capture of the powerful 2017 production of Julius Caesar – directed by Shana Cooper and starring Armando Duran, Danforth Comins and Rodney Gardiner — does keep with the tradition of starting each season with the festival’s namesake playwright. Two other recent hits, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Manahatta, which contrasts Native American lives across centuries, and Snow in Midsummer, a modern ghost story based on a classical Chinese drama, complete the spring offerings. The streaming schedule, however, essentially serves up one show per month from March through May; you won’t be able to binge watch them all in an attempt to replicate an Ashland opening weekend.

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Streamers: ‘Nomadland’ and ‘Promising Young Woman’

In a strange Oscar season, virtuoso work by Frances McDormand and Carey Mulligan stands out.

In an Oscar season like no other, checking out the likely contenders on the big screen simply isn’t an option. In previous years, some of the nominees would have been available for home viewing by the time of the award ceremony, but this year pretty much all of them should be, especially with the pushed-back calendar the Academy has instituted. (Any film released, including on a streaming platform, by February 28 is eligible; nominations are due on March 15, and statuettes will be doled out on April 25.)

Even if it’s possible to watch all these films at home, though, it’s anything but equally easy to do so. As an example, I caught up this week with two films widely expected to contend for, at the very least, the Best Actress prize. One was Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland, which was released onto Hulu last Friday, February 19. For anyone with a $12 monthly Hulu subscription, Nomadland was free. The other was Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman, which has been available on demand for several weeks, but for a rental price of $19.99.

Frances McDormand and David Strathairn in “Nomadland”

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Listening back 2020: Oregon recordings from a fraught year

Spotlighting a last batch of 2020 Oregon recordings

I know the last thing many of us want to do is revisit 2020. But we can’t let it slip away without spotlighting one final batch of musical recommendations gleaned from the many recordings Oregon musicians released last year. Some explicitly respond to the crises that plagued what ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks calls “The Year That Should Not Speak Its Name.” Others were made earlier and released last year. Whether soothing or invigorating, they’re all worth hearing even after the year they appeared.

With most Oregon music happening on our home screens and speakers rather than stages last year, we’ve been devoting more pixels to recordings than ever. This is the last of several recording roundups explicitly devoted to last year’s Oregon sounds, but our antennae are already a-quiver over some stimulating sounds already emanating from 2021, so stay tuned for more roundups. And if you enjoy this music, please help make sure Oregon musicians can continue to create it by buying or gifting it. Bandcamp passes 100 percent of proceeds from purchases made on the first Friday of each month to the artists. 


LISTENING BACK: UNSPEAKABLE 2020


Her Own Wings–The Music Of Gabriela Lena Frank

Although this is California music, it was recorded by Oregon musicians in the lovely acoustic of a wine barrel room during composer Gabriela Lena Frank’s residency at the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival. She’s also worked with Portland’s Third Angle New Music. And of course, its title is our state motto.

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