CULTURE

Fermenting on South Coast: Live Culture

The 10-day celebration this fall is seeking proposals to build a "culture stand" that will be visitor center, merchandise table and gathering spot all in one

A press release recently landed on my desk seeking proposals to build a “Culture Stand” for the upcoming “Live Culture Coast” to be held on the southern Oregon coast in October. I confess I was duly – and dually – baffled. A Culture Stand? Live Culture Coast? I had no idea, so I put in a call to Amber Peoples, the creative director behind the event. We began with the obvious.  

What exactly is Live Culture Coast?

Peoples: It’s a 10-day celebration of food, art, and place that will travel the entire South Coast from Reedsport to Brookings, over 135 miles, Oct. 18-27. This is the first. We’re calling it the pilot.

And a Culture Stand?

The Culture Stand itself will be on a 5-by-10 trailer. We’ll put it on the back of a truck and haul it. It’s a traveling visitor center; it’s a merchandise table, a gathering spot. Its location will designate where the celebration is, where the Live Culture Coast is focused that day. We’re also creating a map.

Fermentation Fest in Sauk Country, Wis., bills itself as a “celebration of live culture in all its forms, from dance to yogurt, poetry to sauerkraut,” as well as home-grown sausage. The October event is the inspiration for “Live Culture Coast” to be held along 135 miles of the South Oregon Coast this fall. Photo by: Amber Peoples
Fermentation Fest in Sauk Country, Wis., bills itself as a “celebration of live culture in all its forms, from dance to yogurt, poetry to sauerkraut,” as well as home-grown sausage. The October event is the inspiration for “Live Culture Coast” to be held along 135 miles of the South Oregon Coast this fall. Photo by: Amber Peoples

Let’s say the Culture Stand is parked in Coos Bay on Saturday, October 19. The event happening that day could be a brewery demonstration. It could be an art class, or a coffee roasting. We’re hoping people will sign up for one of these experiences, and that will encourage people to travel and explore the South Coast.

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Bonnie Hull’s ‘Little Me’: Memories of a life

A sympathetic curator helps connect the dots for the Salem artist's Minthorne Gallery show in Newberg

Not to be hyperbolic about it, but my first impression stepping into the Roger and Mildred Minthorne Gallery at George Fox University in Newberg was one of visual perfection.

Occasionally, one walks into a show where a cavernous space swallows up everything — installed, perhaps, by a curator who wants the pieces to “breathe.” The other end of the spectrum, of course, is to cram too much in.

But with Salem artist Bonnie Hull’s Little Me exhibit, showcased in the Minthorne through July 19, one finds a happy balance. The show comprises about two dozen pieces, mostly paintings and a couple of quilts, which fill the small cube-shaped room, with neither dominating the other. Outside, through floor-to-ceiling windows, you see the greenery of the 134-year-old campus. Perfection.

The Minthorne Gallery strikes a happy balance between space and content in its exhibition of Bonnie Hull’s work.  Photo by: David Bates
The Minthorne Gallery strikes a happy balance between space and content in its exhibition of Bonnie Hull’s work. Photo by: David Bates

Hull is well-known in Oregon artistic circles. A painter, preservationist, gardener and quilter, Hull, with her husband, Roger, is affiliated with Willamette University in Salem. A list of her shows fills several pages of single-spaced type. A few recent, local highlights: In 2010 and again in 2017, Hull was artist-in-residence at Bush Barn Art Center in Salem. This is her second Minthorne show; in 2015, she and fellow Salem artist Kay Worthington showcased quilts here.

We’ll get to the circumstances leading to her return in a moment. First, here’s Hull’s words on the show: 

“Memory and image define my work from the last two years,” she writes. “All the ingredients of the work I’ve been making all my life are here: narrative, pattern and texture, the drawn line. The addition of memory and the interpretation of memory in the process of imagining new work has made this an interesting period for the maker: me.”

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Aquarium creates a fishy fantasy with “Seapunk”

The new exhibit uses elements of steampunk to showcase sea life. Across the bridge, the arts center welcomes Evan Peterson back to Newport

If there was any doubt the new exhibit at the Oregon Coast Aquarium was a success, one only had to listen last weekend as visitors discovered Seapunk: Powered by Imagination.

“This is awesome,” said one.

“This is so cool,” said another.

 And from a third: “I’ve got to come back tomorrow. I forgot to charge my phone.”

 And those were the adults.

A moray eel makes itself comfortable in the “Helmet Memorial” in the “Seapunk” exhibit.

“Seapunk” is a punning nod to steampunk, a genre of science fiction, art, technology, and fashion inspired by 19th-century steam-powered machinery. The exhibit’s story concerns Phineas K. Brinker, “a retro-futuristic and intrepid inventor” who is stranded in his submarine at the bottom of the sea and must find a way to survive. To do so, according to the aquarium website, Brinker “rebuilds the crippled submarine into a modern marvel of engineering by constructing imaginative variations on contraptions one may be familiar with today.”

The underwater fantasy plays out in a series of galleries with exhibits that are at times poignant, at others, humorous, each built around art, antiques, and sea life.

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Where earth meets sky

Clairissa and Colby Stephens' multimedia exhibit at Chehalem Cultural Center explores horizon lines

This is the late spring lull before Yamhill County’s summer stage productions come to life. The Aquilon Music Festival is still a month away, though the wise would do well to buy tickets now. Tickets are also on sale for the 8th annual Wildwood MusicFest on the beautiful Roshambo ArtFarm in Willamina, like Aquilon, also set for July. A crew started working on the set for The Graduate at Gallery Theater in McMinnville last weekend. We’re still awaiting the final schedule for music downtown in the plaza, and Willamette Shakespeare’s As You Like It, set for August, feels like forever away.

If you’re in quieter, more contemplative mood, here’s a show for you: Stratifying the Unknown, an exhibition and installation by the husband-wife team of Clairissa and Colby Stephens. You’ll find it occupying the Parrish Gallery of the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg through June 28. I visited it last week and encountered a Portland TV crew preparing a feature on the place.

Stratifying the Unknown explores “the ways horizon lines shape our understanding of place and space and one’s location within it,” according to the exhibition notes. It’s a collaborative effort by artists who obviously understand what neuroscience and psychology tell us about architecture: that our physical environment, the very space we occupy, affects how we see, think, and feel about the world.

“When Earth Becomes Sky 360° ” by Colby Stephens (photograph on watercolor paper)

The Stephens did a lot of their thinking about 520 miles southeast of Newberg, in the Black Rock Desert — the supposed setting for the 1955 John Sturges thriller Bad Day at Black Rock. (The film actually was shot in California in a “town” that was built for the movie.) The couple was living in Reno in 2011, which gave them an opportunity to explore a physical space completely different from the Willamette Valley, where wooded hills, farmland, and subdivisions mark the outer limits of our field of vision.

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‘God’ lends a hand to Newport theater drive

Ed Asner stars in "God Help Us!," a fundraising political comedy scheduled for August

What started out as a plea for cash has turned into what likely will be the biggest draw at the Newport Performing Arts Center this summer.

It’s a play called God Help Us!,  and playing the title role is the actor with more Emmys — seven — than any other male performer. You may know him best as Lou Grant, the ornery TV news director with a soft spot for Mary. Yep, that would be Ed Asner.

Here’s how it happened.

For the past seven years, the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts has been raising money for its seven-phase capital campaign to expand and improve the Newport Performing Arts Center. That campaign is in the final stage, with efforts to transform the former Black Box Theater. The Black Box originally was designed as rehearsal space, morphed into a small theater, and recently was renamed for the late David Ogden Stiers. Improvements totaling $1.6 million will make it a fully functioning theater.

Ed Asner as God judges a debate in purgatory between a former couple — one liberal, one conservative — in the political comedy “God Help Us!”

Charged with figuring out how to raise the money, Andrea Spirtos, capital campaign consultant for the council, got her hands on an extensive resume of Stiers’ work. Stiers was a Newport resident and actor best known for his role as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III in the TV series M*A*S*H.

“It included all the shows he was on,” Spirtos said. “And then I researched each of those shows to find out which episode he was on and which actors would have been filmed with him, including what lines he may have said surrounding his appearance.”

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Remembering Lyndee Mah

The Portland vocalist was also a crucial community resource for artists

Every culture needs at least one Lyndee Mah—an indomitably positive source of energy, compassion and commitment to art, a connector and facilitator, an advisor and advocate, someone to console us when that is necessary. Fortunately for Portland, we had Lyndee Mah herself. A gifted artist, Mah was possibly even more gifted at the creation of community, in her case, a community that included many artists.

Mah died in her sleep on April 1 from a heart attack. She was in Spokane, Washington,  caring for her brother Marshall Mah. She was born in Idaho Falls on August 29, 1958. She studied music at Mt. Hood Community College and finished her general education studies at PSU.

Lyndee Mah during her House Concert Series with her A String Ensemble./Photo by Julie Keefe

Mah was a vocalist in Portland for more than 20 years. She was a founding member of the band Pink Martini and collaborated with a host of Portland musicians and dancers over the years, including 3 Leg Torso, the late pianist Janice Scroggins, and choreographer Gregg Bielemeier. She created  “E`-Bon E`-Bon,” an original mixed-media, musical-memoir performance piece, based on her Chinese-European-American heritage, and she performed with Imago and Liminal theater companies. She touched, literally, hundreds more at her home hair salon.

Mah is survived by her partner Elahi Bradley-Muhammad and her son, Halston Mah-Minniweather.

A celebration of Lyndee K. Mah’s life will be held 7-10 pm August 4 at the Lan Su Chinese Garden, 239 NW Everett Street. Friends, admirers and collaborators of Lyndee’s will honor her incredible artistic and cultural legacy in this community.

Editor’s Note: Choreographer Linda K. Johnson gathered remembrances of Mah from six of the people whose lives she touched. We appreciate her efforts.

Lyndee Mah performing at one of her House Concerts with guitar given to her by Kristy Edmunds/Photo by Julie Keefe

Courtney Von Drehle, musician and composer

I first got to know Lyndee when 3 Leg Torso worked with choreographer/dancer Gregg Bielemeier, and we were enlisted for the music, with Lyndee as our vocalist. Working with Lyndee, who had been Pink Martini’s first vocalist, was our first collaboration with a singer. We went over to Lyndee’s big old house, and coming into her space, with its deep purple curtains, various adornments on the walls—both stately and casual at the same time—right away I felt at home. Downstairs, in the basement, was Lyndee’s salon, where I, and many I know, would visit for Lyndee’s transformative magic. She knew how to make us look good, and chatting away while her scissors orbited our heads, with her easy going and real nature, she’d make it easy to transcend surface connection, and make us feel good in a far deeper way than just one of her glorious hair cuts alone could provide. It was natural for Lyndee to share her deep empathy and caring with all of those around her, and her home reflected the warmth that she embodied.

Arriving at Lyndee’s for rehearsal would often start with some hanging out on the porch, a fresh cup of coffee in hand, chatting with her partner, Brad, who like Lyndee has an easy ability to connect with others in a deep way. Moving inside and working on music was always relaxed and playful, qualities Lyndee would bring to her performances. I remember a particular Conduit benefit I performed where Lyndee was the MC. At one point, out of the blue, she started beating the microphone against her chest and doing a little rap, a spontaneous departure from the script that brought the room together. I’d seen her and Janice Scroggins perform as a duo at Conduit a while before that, and I was deeply moved by their music. One tune in particular, with the lyrics full of reminiscent observations from a later point of view in life, just floored me. With Janice’s always exquisite playing and Lyndee’s rich and present vocals, they were a powerful duo, two masterful musicians at play.

Lyndee was resourceful and self-reliant. From her independent hair salon, her voice lessons, teaching Body Mapping to musicians, to putting on her one-woman show, Lyndee found her own way forward.

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Earlier this month I landed in Ashland to see the first five plays of the 2018-19 Oregon Shakespeare Festival season, Bill Rauch’s last as artistic director.


The plays under inspection here include:

  • the vastly popular stage version of the John Waters film “Hairspray”
  • Lauren Yee’s instantly (and deservedly) popular “Cambodian Rock Band”
  • an “As You Like It” that preserves the “Shakespeare” in the “Oregon Shakespeare Festival” and also interprets the play in a progressive way
  • the world premiere of long-time festival favorite Octavio Solis’s “Mother Road”
  • and “Between Two Knees,” a seriously pointed sketch comedy by the Native American improv group The 1491s and another world premiere.

Last season I made a similar trip to see a similar batch of new productions, relatively soon after the announcement that Rauch was heading for New York to become the first artistic director of the Perelman Center in New York City. What struck me then was how far the festival had evolved during Rauch’s tenure: “Suddenly, they [the plays] became a sort of emblem of the changes that Rauch has brought to the festival—and to American theater in general—during his run at OSF, which began in 2007.

What changes are we/was I talking about?

Jessica Ko and Roman Zaragoza in director Rosa Joshi’s production of
“As You Like It” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 2019. Photo: Jenny Graham.

“Rauch was ahead of the times at OSF, although he was also drawing on important changes initiated by previous artistic directors Henry Woronicz and Libby Appel. From the beginning he explicitly linked the festival to social change, both internally and onstage, embracing diversity, feminism and social justice, well ahead of other regional theater companies and even national equality movements—#blacklivesmatter, #metoo, #occupy. During his tenure accessibility projects flourished, sharpened their focus, and had a real effect on how the festival does business and what it puts onstage.”

This first round of plays in the 2019 season follows and extends the programming developments Rauch began in 2007. The productions themselves retain the high-end production values the festival is known for, and they are populated with persons of color, tell stories about communities the festival (along with most of the rest of American theater) once neglected and have the edgy energy that new plays, new voices, new actors and directors can bring.

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