ArtsWatch Weekly: Oceania in Oregon – whose story is it, anyway?

A festival by and for Asian American/Pacific Islanders. Music for the holidays. Lighting the theatrical Fuse. 9,000 years of Oregon art. Wrapping up the Book Fest.

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IF ART IS STORY, WHOSE STORIES GET TOLD MAKES A DIFFERENCE. In the case of the nations and cultures of Oceania, that vast stretch of islands surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, how the stories are told makes a difference, too. Through a Western lens, as in the musical South Pacific? Or in the voices of the people who live there or have come from there?

Oregon has a surprising number of immigrants from the Pacific cultures, or people whose families came from there, and yet their stories are seldom heard outside their own groups. Organizations like The Immigrant Story make a point of telling their stories and the stories of other immigrants. So do MediaRites, the organization run by Dmae Lo Roberts (whose Stage & Studio podcasts, featuring mostly BIPOC voices, are regular features on ArtsWatch), and Theatre Diaspora, the Asian American/Pacific Islander company that began as a MediaRites project and is now an independent nonprofit theater under the leadership of actor, director, and administrator Samson Syharath. 

Among the participants in “Oceania Celebration,” clockwise from top left: Dmae Lo Roberts of co-producer MediaRites, and three members of Honolulu Theatre for Youth – Moses Goods, artistic associate; Sean-Joseph Choo, actor, composer, and writer; Pô’ai Lincoln, actor, storyeller, and musician.

Now MediaRites and Diaspora are collaborating on a project called Oceania Celebration, which will run virtually from noon to 4 p.m. the next two Saturdays, Nov. 20 and 27, and most of which – including the centerpiece film Stories of Oceania, from the highly regarded Honolulu Theatre for Youth – will be available longer on the companies’ various web outlets.

A lot of other discussions will be happening, too, including a conversation with Grand Ronde artist and community leader Greg Archuleta about how and why to create a land acknowledgment statement that’s meaningful. There’ll be Tongan and Hula cultural demonstrations, poetry readings, and more. Pacific Islanders have been hit heavily by Covid-19, which is part of the story, too. The pandemic has also prompted MediaRites and Diaspora to make the festival virtual, which, as Roberts notes, makes it possible for Pacific Islanders from outside the Portland area to take part, too. Virtual programming, Roberts and Syharath say, is both a limitation and an opportunity. As Syharath puts it, “the pandemic’s taught us to think outside the box.” Diaspora is in the midst of planning its 2022 season, and “we want to be both virtual and live,” Syharath says.

In one way, stories are for everyone. In another, they’re singular. Whose story? In whose voice? Diaspora, Syharath points out, is “a theater company for Asian Americans, not Asian theater for white audiences.” Not that white audiences can’t listen, and learn, too.


The real holiday music begins; a legend dies

Pat Zagelow, executive director of Friends of Chamber Music, at a group dinner party in 2019. Photo: John Green

THE ART OF MANAGEMENT: PAT ZAGELOW’S 30 YEARS AT FRIENDS OF CHAMBER MUSIC. Brett Campbell writes about the elaborate anniversary surprise party friends and colleagues threw for Zagelow to celebrate her 30 years of leading Portland’s Friends of Chamber Music – and the innovative programming she’s instilled to keep up to date with the broad trends in contemporary music while also bringing the best of the classical canon to town.

SINGING PEACE AND LIGHTING THE WORLD: BACH CANTATA CHOIR AND CAPPELLA ROMANA HEAD INTO THE HOLIDAY SEASON. It’s beginning to feel a lot like … really good holiday music. Daryl Browne gives a shout-out to a couple of highlight concerts coming up. Bonus: Slovenian sour mushroom soup recipe!

MUSIC IS FREE, STUPID: HOW TO STOP STEALING MUSIC. Putting on his irony hat while writing with deep feeling, ArtsWatch music editor Matthew Neil Andrews reveals how you can bypass the free-view system and put some actual coin in the pockets of musicians who need it.

WEEKLY (P)REVIEWS: EQUAL PARTS EXHAUSTING AND ADDICTIVE. Robert Ham’s weekly look at what’s coming up musically and what’s just happened considers everything from prog-metal band Baroness to Black metal trio Bewitcher to indie rockers Soccer Mommy.

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LEGENDARY SONGWRITER DAVE FRISHBERG DIES AT 88. A farewell to the jazz pianist and writer of such wry and well-loved songs as My Attorney BerniePeel Me a Grape, and I’m Hip. Frishberg died Wednesday in Portland, where he’d lived since 1986 and become an integral part of the music scene.

Pianist and songwriter Dave Frishberg, who had lived in Portland since 1986, died Wednesday at age 88. Photo: davefrishberg.net

Art: 9,000 years in Oregon; fresh twist on history

Henk Pander's "The Burning of the New Carissa" (oil on linen, 2000) captures efforts to burn off oil to mitigate environmental damage after the freighter grounded in 1999 near Coos Bay.
Henk Pander’s “The Burning of the New Carissa” (oil on linen, 2000) captures efforts to burn off oil to mitigate environmental damage after the freighter grounded in 1999 near Coos Bay. Pander, who was on the scene, wrote in his journal: “Suddenly, shockingly, the sky lit up with a huge fireball. The light and fire faded and a huge, low black cloud stretched north along the distant beach.” Collection of Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Salem.

“TIME IN PLACE” TELLS THE STORY OF OREGON OVER 9,000 YEARS THROUGH ART FROM THE HALLIE FORD MUSEUM’S PERMANENT COLLECTION. David Bates reviews the Salem museum’s exhibition of its own works ranging as far back as a sandal fragment discovered in Central Oregon from about 7000 B.C.E. to contemporary works, all of them speaking to the sense of place in the Pacific Northwest and how it’s shifted through time. “The 60-plus pieces in the show range from an artifact the size of a deck of cards to a painting that could serve as the wall of a small cabin,” Bates writes – and size is only the beginning.

STEPHEN O’DONNELL, SHIFTING HISTORY’S GAZE. A reclining naked male Venus? Women fully clothed at Manet’s picnic? In his Froelick Gallery show Re:Pose: Subverting the Gendered Gaze in the Historical Nude, the Portland painter’s historical revisions upend the view of gender in Western art.


Stage & Screen: Fuse, films, nights of dance

Jane Comer, performing her solo show “I Am an Actress: A Passion Play,” part of the triptych “Becoming Understood,” for Fuse Theatre Ensemble. Photo: Rusty Tennant

DRAMAWATCH WEEKLY: FUSE RELIGHTS ITS FIRE. Marty Hughley talks with Jane Comer and Rusty Tennant of Fuse Theatre Ensemble, the Portland LGBTQ+ company, about its move into a new space, its new season, its new show (Comer’s Becoming Understood), its new way of selling tickets, and the distinction of producing works by two trans woman playwrights in the same season. Also: openings, closings, and a little holiday shot of The Apple Sisters.

FILMWATCH WEEKLY: ARCHIVAL TREASURES, LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA, KURT VONNEGUT, AND MORE. A majority of the films made before 1950 are lost. A tenacious group is working to rediscover them, Marc Mohan writes, and bring them back to public view. Also: a valentine to the great writer Vonnegut; Miranda’s retelling of the short fertile life of playwright Jonathan Larson, author of Rent; the harrowing Mexican drama Prayers for the Stolen.

KURTIS BLOW & THE HIP HOP NUTCRACKER. Jamuna Chiarini talks for ArtsWatch with the pioneering hip hop artist about his career, his faith, his heart transplant, and the holiday-season Hip Hop Nutcracker he appeared in when its tour hit Portland earlier this week.

KEYLOCK’S ROMP INTO BIELEMEIER’S WORLD. Hannah Krafcik reviews ROMP!, the Shaun Keylock Company’s performance of nine classic dances from the 1990s and early 2000s by talented Portland choreographer Gregg Bielemeier.


Portland Book Festival, cover to cover: It’s a wrap

Devyn and Susang were looking forward to reading their just-purchased copies of the short-story collection "Hao," by three-time Pushcart Prize winner Ye Chun. Photo by: Amy Leora Havin
Portland Book Festival attendees Devyn and Susang were looking forward to reading their just-purchased copies of the short-story collection “Hao,” by three-time Pushcart Prize winner Ye Chun. Photo: Amy Leona Havin

THIS YEAR’S PORTLAND BOOK FESTIVAL wrapped up a successful run last weekend, and ArtsWatch columnist Amy Leona Havin and editor Karen Pate were on hand to capture the mood. The festival featured a combination of virtual and live events, and covered, well, volumes of literary territory. Below, a look at the stories Havin and Pate produced:

WHAT ARE YOU READING? AT THE PORTLAND BOOK FESTIVAL. At a book festival you’re likely to see a lot of people reading books. It goes with the territory. As part of her occasional series about what Portlanders are reading in public places, Havin talks with several festivalgoers about the books they’ve bought or brought with them, and just can’t put down.

GARY SHTYNEGART PROVOKES UPHEAVALS OF LAUGHTER, AND OTHER HIGHLIGHTS FROM A DAY OF BOOK-BUYING AND AUTHOR CONVERSATIONS. Havin wraps up the pleasures of the festival’s closing-day festivities, the only day that events were live. Authors and fans alike made the most of it, including an exuberant Shtynegart, author of the high-profile new novel Our Country Friends.

RITA DOVE, QUIAN JULIE WANG, AND LAUREN GROFF DISCUSS HOME AND IDENTITY. Havin listens in as the three writers, participating in a live virtual event from Annie Bloom’s Books, explore topics ranging from the pandemic, to immigration, to climate change.

PORTLAND BOOK FESTIVAL RETURNS WITH SIX DAYS OF AUTHORS, CLASSES, AND SHOPPING IN HYBRID EVENT. Havin gives an overview of who’s when and what’s what at the festival.

PORTLAND BOOK FESTIVAL: OREGON AUTHORS REFLECT ON WHAT IT MEANS TO LIVE AND WORK HERE. Writers Dao Strom, J.C. Geiger, Theodore C. Van Alst Jr., Amelia Díaz Ettinger, Laura Moulton, Ben Hodgson, Teresa K. Miller, and Rene Denfeld talk with Karen Pate on such subjects as why they’re living here, how Oregon affects their writing, and whether there’s such a thing as a Pacific Northwest style.

About the author
Senior Editor

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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