CULTURE

Gigglefest’s mission in McMinnville: Make ’em laugh (again)

After a warm reception last year, producers of the sketch-comedy show promise to take off the gloves this time around

The United States has a long tradition of sketch comedy, with origins in vaudeville and later popularized on radio and eventually on television shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Carol Burnett Show from the 1970s. Ty Boice and Cassandra Schwanke, formerly of Portland’s Post5 Theatre, are keeping the tradition alive in Yamhill County under the banner of Gigglefest, an occasional and limited-run comedy-sketch series that returns Thursday for an April run.

The couple’s Soul of Wit Productions launched Gigglefest last summer with four weekends crammed with more than two dozen performances, with a new “episode” each weekend. Tucked into a makeshift theater in Mac Mead Hall (a “Viking-themed” mead-and-honey-wine bar that hosts game nights and is one of the city’s best-kept secrets) on the second floor of the Union Block building in downtown McMinnville, Gigglefest sold out night after night, winning friendly reviews on Facebook.

Gigglefest 2.ohhh! director Cassandra Schwanke discusses a scene with comic Chad Sharpe before a rehearsal. Photo by: David Bates

Gigglefest 2.ohhh! director Cassandra Schwanke discusses a scene with comic Chad Sharpe before a rehearsal. Photo by: David Bates

It was a strong start, Schwanke told me, but it was also too much.

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A great beach read

Cannon Beach's Get Lit at the Beach gathers writers and readers in an intimate setting to talk about books and reading

I am lucky enough to have attended literary gatherings all over the country, leaving me with great memories of meeting writing giants face to face, hanging out over cocktails or dinner, and, of course, scoring their signatures for my collection of autographed books. More importantly, I was lucky enough to be nurtured by some fine writers.

At one of my first conferences, Sandra Scofield took me under her wing like one of her own, and nearly 30 years later, I still turn to her for advice and support. At the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, I remember rising at some ungodly hour to gather in a small classroom with the late director and screenwriter Gill Dennis to explore themes in our work. And at the Denver Woman’s Press Club, a handful of us shared the living room of our clubhouse with Richard Ford who signed his short story collection, “For Lori… with very good wishes for you, for you know.” Seriously, I never knew for sure what he thought I knew, but I always hoped he was right.

Seattle-area writer Jonathan Evison signs books during 2017's Get Lit at the Beach. The 8th annual festival is April 5-7. Photo courtesy: Get Lit at the Beach

Seattle-area writer Jonathan Evison signs books during the 2017 Get Lit at the Beach gathering. The 8th annual event is April 5-7. Photo courtesy: Get Lit at the Beach

That intimate setting I experienced is what sets Cannon Beach’s Get Lit at the Beach, A Gathering for Readers apart from other, larger events. Not a conference or a workshop, the April 5-7 event is a weekend of small gatherings designed for the purpose of talking words and stories and all that goes with them. Events range from free of charge to $95 for the whole package.

Now in its eighth year, Get Lit can claim some pretty fine bragging rights by hosting authors such as the late Ursula K. Le Guin, National Book Award finalist Jess Walter, and the late, and much-loved, Brian Doyle. This year’s authors are Terry Brooks, Pierce Brown, Deb Caletti, Carol Cassella, Sophia Shalmiyev, and Leni Zumas.

The weekend starts with a reception Friday evening.

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National Poetry Month draws near, and Yamhill County is lit

April brings readings, workshops, performance, and a documentary about poetry slam to venues around the county

In his introduction to The Best American Poetry 2018, published last fall by Scribner, editor Dana Gioia took a swing at the question, “What is the state of poetry?” and concluded with a wink and eye roll that it was both awful and had never been better.

Alas, never have so few read poetry, he lamented. And yet, this happy proclamation: The audience has never been bigger, etc., until finally: “All of these contradictory statements are true, and all of them are false, depending on your point of view,” he concluded, ceding to the obvious subjectivity in play. “The state of American poetry is a tale of two cities.”

Denice Frohman

Denice Frohman performs Monday at Linfield College.

If your point of view originates from Yamhill County, there’s cause for optimism. Poetry is alive and loud here, even when it’s not National Poetry Month, as it will be in just a few days. April marks the 23rd annual celebration, which was conceived by the Academy of American Poets in 1995. I’ve mapped out the month for poetry lovers in wine country, so this is a column to bookmark.

Ongoing: The McMinnville Public Library’s annual Spring Poetry Contest is live, with a 2019 theme of “literary spring.” It’s open to adults 18 and older. Poems must be original, unpublished, and no more than a page in length; limit of two entries per person. Bring them to the information desk upstairs or email to libref@mcminnvilleoregon.gov through May 21. Entries will be judged anonymously, and winners will be the featured readers for the library’s Poetry Night on June 4.

Nickole Brown

Nickole Brown

April 1: The month begins with a tough act to follow: Activist, educator, and poet Denice Frohman will perform “Stories of Ourselves: Celebrating parts deemed unworthy” at 6 p.m. in the Ice Auditorium, which is tucked away in Linfield College’s Melrose Hall. Frohman, a former Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, has appeared on hundreds of stages in the United States and around the world, including the White House (when the occupants valued the literary arts), the Nuyorican Poets Café, and The Apollo. Frohman is a CantoMundo Fellow whose work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Nepantla: An Anthology for Queer Poets of Color, and Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism, and she is the organizer of #PoetsforPuertoRico. The performance is free and open to the public.

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Spotlight on: a theatrical ‘Jump’

In a leap of faith, Confrontation and Milagro collaborate on a "rolling premiere" of Charly Evon Simpson's new play

Expect the unexpected from Confrontation Theatre.

Its second full production, a co-production with Milagro, is Charly Evon Simpson’s Jump, which opens at the Milagro space on Friday. Two full shows in (its first full production was James Webb’s comedy Sibling Rivalry in 2017) and the nascent theater hasn’t come across as a company that, on the surface, might seem particularly “confrontational.” That’s just how artistic director La’Tevin Alexander Ellis wants it.

“Confrontation means to confront all topics,” Ellis says, “all things within the Black community first, and then those outside of our community. It’s not necessarily about picking a fight and arguing, and it’s definitely not just about racism, because that shit gets tiring. There’s not anything stereotypical. There are no caricatures. That’s the goal, that’s the plan – confronting all of that. Not just in the negative of trying to pick a fight with white people.”

Not that Confrontation is averse to more volatile subject matter. In smaller productions, it’s taken on Amiri Baraka’s searing The Dutchman (2015) and took part in 2016’s Every 28 Hours national series of extremely short plays in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. And its next show, another co-production (with Portland Playhouse), will be Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline, a piece “about the school-to-prison pipeline,” says Ellis. “We’ll come back with the little bit about race there but it’s more about motherhood and how do we respond to this unjust, inadequate educational system.”

In other words, Confrontation Theatre is about presenting and exploring issues that confront the Black community in all its nuance and complexity. Which is what drew Ellis and the rest of Confrontation (actor Andrea Vernae, actor/director Tamera Lyn, sound designer Philip Johnson, education director Jasmine Cottrell and community outreach director Alagia Felix) to Simpson’s multi-faceted jewel of a play, Jump.

Andrea Vernae in “Jump.” Photo: Russell J Young

“These are just people going through human shit,” says Ellis, “and we’re watching it unfold before our eyes. It’s a story about something that really impacts our community but is not explicitly about our community.” Jump is a story that could happen to anybody. The family in this case just happens to be Black. Which is important because the play deals a lot with depression, which is as much of an issue in the Black community as elsewhere, but no one ever talks about it. “Historically, there is a lack of both diagnostic and treatment studies on depression. This lack of studies on depression in African Americans has existed for decades. African Americans are underserved, understudied, and misdiagnosed as a group.” A key study published in 2014 in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, Misconceptions of Depression in African Americans, underscores that.

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Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover

In a Newport exhibition of artists' books, a work by Alaskan Margo Klass tells its story through its structure rather than pages

When Margo Klass boards the plane in Fairbanks bound for Oregon, she’ll be carrying a most unusual book. Open, it stretches 6 feet. It’s a work of art, a memoir in abstract, the story of nine days Klass spent with her writer husband, Frank Soos, as artists-in-residence on Alaska’s Beaver Creek.

Closed, Margo Klass’ "Beaver Creek" is compact enough to carry on an airplane.

Closed, Margo Klass’ “Beaver Creek” is compact enough to carry on an airplane.

Klass will share the story behind the book, Nine Days on Beaver Creek, on April 27 during the 24th annual Newport Paper & Book Arts Festival. The Instructors’ Show held in conjunction with the April festival opens Friday, March 22, in the Newport Visual Arts Center.

Open, "Beaver Creek’s" 11 panels stretch 6 feet.

Open, “Beaver Creek’s” 11 panels stretch 6 feet.

“During the residency, I kept a personal journal, took photos, and made sketches of visual ideas that might capture the essence of traveling 100 miles on a river, camping on gravel bars, and almost never being warm enough for comfort,” Klass said. “During the trip we had rain, snow, smoke, and plenty of cold, but somehow that didn’t matter in the end — it was an amazing experience.”

When the trip, part of a Bureau of Land Management program to promote use of public lands, was over, she began work on the book. “I wanted the structure to reflect the meandering of the river, to contain my images in 3D, and to hold smaller, artists’ books of Frank’s texts.”

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Doing the dance — in 3D design and in ballet

Highlights in Yamhill County include art exhibitions focused on wood, faces, and student work, while Portland Ballet offers a glimpse of life as a dancer

When I’m paying attention, I occasionally catch word about a Yamhill County artist showing his or her stuff at the Bush Barn Art Center in Salem. So let’s kick off this week’s round-up of what’s going on arts-wise with Totem Shriver.

Shriver is an adjunct professor of 3D design at Linfield College, and he’s showing wooden relief sculptures at Bush Barn, along with pen-and-ink drawings and collages that served as the gestation phase of the ideas that found completion in 3D pieces. According to the program materials: “Totem begins each work with drawings and collages in order to discover new approaches to the carving process. His two-dimensional pieces unfold innovative ideas of positive and negative space and are featured alongside his sculptures.”

Totem Shriver's collection of drawings and wood carvings runs through April 20 at Bush Barn Art Center in Salem.

Totem Shriver’s collection of drawings and wood carvings runs through April 20 at Bush Barn Art Center in Salem.

“Every day I am an artist,” Shriver writes in his artist’s statement. “Decisions about what to make and how to make it are constantly running through my mind. Art and life are the same. Aesthetic decisions, concepts, theory all need to come together. And then there is the work. New skills, old skills, materials. It is indeed a dance of sorts.” His goal is to “do the dance, make the work and put it out into the world as much as possible.”

Also at Bush Barn, there’s time to catch Jennifer Kapnek’s images of tree branches coupled with “serene, color-drenched fields,” and the 10th annual Young Artists’ Showcase, which features work by hundreds of K-12 students from Marion, Polk and Yamhill Counties. Bush Barn is at 600 Mission St. SE in Salem.

THE PORTLAND BALLET IS REACHING OUT TO NEWBERG this Friday with a free Outreach Performance at the Chehalem Cultural Center. The ballet’s “most advanced, pre-professional dancers” will do a 45-minute show featuring a demonstration of a dancer’s daily exercise routine, an opportunity for audience involvement, and performances of various repertoire selections to give folks an idea of ballet’s stylistic possibilities. The program will include selections from Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and Rip/Tide by Jamey Hampton and Ashley Rowland of BodyVox. Doors open at 7 p.m. March 23, the show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Dancers Maggie Rupp and Peter Deffebach perform a pas de deux from “Swan Lake,” one of several pieces that Portland Ballet dancers will perform Friday in the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. Photo by: Blaine Truitt Covert

Dancers Maggie Rupp and Peter Deffebach perform a pas de deux from “Swan Lake,” one of several pieces that Portland Ballet dancers will perform Friday in the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. Photo by: Blaine Truitt Covert

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Oregon Spotlight: Spring breaks from Shakespeare to Caravaggio

Our sampler of hits and bits from around the state offers music in Covallis and Medford, art in Bend and Roseburg, film on the Coast, and OSF is live in Ashland

We’ve set the clocks ahead, spring is coming, and that means Oregonians are tentatively emerging from their abodes with a mind to hit the road for day and weekend trips. What’s on the state’s cultural menu?

Mark Murphey (holding book) plays William Joad, who meets unexpected relative Martin Jodes, played by Tony Sancho (on ground), in Octavio Solis’ “Mother Road” at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Photo by: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Mark Murphey (holding book) plays William Joad, who meets unexpected relative Martín Jodes, played by Tony Sancho (on ground), in Octavio Solis’ “Mother Road” at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Photo by: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival

For starters, it’s showtime at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Right out of the gate, four options: Lauren Yee’s Cambodian Rock Band in the Thomas Theatre, while the Angus Bowmer hosts As You Like It, Hairspray: The Broadway Musical and Mother Road, a new play by Octavio Solis, inspired by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and featuring OSF favorite Mark Murphey as William Joad. Solis is an Oregon playwright, and he’s calling this a “sequel” to Steinbeck’s classic, although it continues the story from an immigrant’s perspective. This is a world premiere directed by outgoing artistic director Bill Rauch and likely to be a play you’ll be proud to say, years from now, “I saw it first at OSF in Ashland.” Tickets and more info here.

Meanwhile, a few other options beyond Portlandia:

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