MEDIA

Spring awakenings in Yamhill County

The pandemic thaw continues, with a lecture Trystan Reese, music, visual art, and a camillia fest

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included a reference to a lecture by Dread Scott at Linfield University. That lecture, however, is not open to the public. A press release by Linfield was incorrect.

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It’s not exactly a party yet, but Yamhill County’s long pandemic thaw continues. Intriguing events coming this week and later this spring include a chance to fire up your own raku in Willamina and a virtual lecture by LGBTQ+ educator Trystan Reese. Let’s begin with the raku, then take the rest in chronological order.

EAST CREEK IS A COMMUNITY ART STUDIO and retreat on 20 forested acres in the Coast Range outside Willamina with a 40-foot anagama wood-fired kiln. Artist/host/owner Joe Robinson has filled the 2021 calendar with a wide range of workshops and camps, from beginner friendly to a family weekend to an advanced, five-day intensive. Robinson has been part of the East Creek community for 15 years and owned the property for four. He has an MFA in Applied Craft + Design from the Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft. Tuition is $140, plus $30 for materials. Check the website for details and COVID protocols, or email Robinson at  joe@eastcreekart.org

Mezzo soprano Julie Cross (left) will sing works by Pauline Garcia Viardot on March 25 at Linfield University.
Mezzo-soprano Julie Cross (left) sings works by Pauline Garcia Viardot (1831-1910) in a virtual recital March 25.

WOMEN’S HISTORY month at Linfield University means an opportunity to hear A Woman of Genius: The Life and Music of Pauline Garcia Viardot. The virtual recital at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 25, by mezzo-soprano Julie Cross and pianist Susan McDaniel honors the 200th birth anniversary of “one of the greatest divas and overlooked composers of the 19th century.” Check here for details and the Zoom link. Also, keep an eye on the Linfield arts and culture calendar for upcoming theater productions and podcasts, previously covered here.

LGBTQ+ educator and speaker Trystan Reese will lecture March 31 on Linfield University's YouTube channel.
LGBTQ+ educator and speaker Trystan Reese will lecture March 31 on Linfield University’s YouTube channel.

INTERNATIONAL TRANSGENDER DAY OF Visibility will be marked by Linfield University with a free and open-to-the-public lecture by Portland-based LGBTQ+ educator and speaker Trystan Reese, streaming live on the university’s YouTube Channel at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 31. Reese, a transgender man, appeared on the national stage four years ago when he went viral as “the pregnant man.” Reese will detail his experience as an activist in the fight for LGBTQ equality over the past two decades.

CURRENTS GALLERY IN DOWNTOWN McMinnville celebrates its 16th birthday next month with a  Sweet 16 Show featuring work in a wide variety of mediums by Kathleen Buck, Sharon Cook, Phyllice Bradner, Claudia Herber, Ann Durley, Ilsa Perse, and Marlene Eichner. The show runs April 13-May 16. Check the website for days and hours, which are subject to change, email currents.gallery@gmail.com or call 503-435-1316.

THE CHEHALEM CULTURAL CENTER is back in the live music business. The  Spring Boxed Show series kicked off last week with Sherry Alves and George Colligan, and subsequent concerts (with limited, socially distanced seating in the Grand Ballroom) will include the Noah Simpson Quartet on March 26, Carissa Burkett & Friends on April 23 and the Jason Okamoto Duo on May 21. Shows start at 7 p.m., and $25 tickets are available through the website. Masks required.

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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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Zooming into a new theater

Director Patrick Nims, who moved to Portland just in time for the pandemic to shut down in-person performances, blazes a trail in live video theater

Patrick Nims was ready for a new start. After a three-decade theater career in the Bay Area, where he co-founded Marin Summer Theater, he and his wife, Marina — now empty nesters — were seeking a smaller city that was easier to get around. After auditioning a few California possibilities, in spring 2018 they moved to Portland, where their oldest son was attending Portland State University. 

Like many other newcomer artists, Nims found the city’s theater scene open to new arrivals, especially those with a track record in directing at various theaters. He reached out to several figures in the local theater community, and coffee dates led to promising opportunities with Stumptown Stages (where he’s now resident director), Beaverton Civic Theatre, and Clackamas Repertory. As last spring was about to blossom anew, so was his theater career.

Then came the coronavirus.

With live theater in suspended animation, Nims turned, like so many others, to Zoom, the online meeting platform that quickly became 2020’s second-most ubiquitous viral phenomenon. He’d used the technology in virtual meetings, so he realized — before almost anyone else in American theater — that the online platform offered real possibilities for making theater. 

When Zoom introduced its virtual backgrounds feature last year, that made it possible to create apparent sets. And the fact that Zoom allows audience members to turn on their microphones and provide instant feedback — laughs, applause — to performers — could help ameliorate the canned feeling of recorded online theater, and allow plays to happen live, in real time — a critical element of theater to Nims. He decided to give live video theater (LVT) a try. He founded his own company — named Zoom Theatre, of course, though it’s in no way connected to Zoom Communications, which makes the app — and embarked on another journey, much less certain than the one that had carried him a few hundred miles north. Now he’d be creating an entirely new form of theater production.

Jesse Lumb and GiGi Buddie in Zoom Theatre’s Enter Your Sleep.

Since then, Zoom and other virtual platforms have become — for better or worse — the main ways to experience live theater, though onscreen instead of in person. Nims has now produced nine fully staged live shows to a live audience– not staged readings or webcasts of previously recorded performances — of steadily increasing complexity, with more coming this year. And he’s learned plenty of lessons that could benefit other live video thespians and theater fans alike.

“The platform is not perfect and is fraught with issues,” he wrote in a blog post, but “I can also testify to the creative joy and satisfaction I have experienced working with brilliant actors, designers and crew to bring exciting, thought-provoking scripts alive for our audience.”

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Theater for the Ears

Stop. Listen. What's that sound? In the pandemic’s wake, Portland theater companies turn to audio drama.

“Radio is something that has to be believed to be seen.”

That line from an old Twilight Zone episode explains the appeal of not just radio drama, but any theater meant to be heard instead of viewed. And now there’s more to believe in.

Since the pandemic shut down live theater, our screens have filled with streaming videos of previous productions or new creations, many created via Zoom, with actors recording parts from their homes. But even though we’ve been said to be living in a visual age for generations now, maybe screen fatigue has finally pushed us to giving our overtaxed eyes a break. Because another form of streaming theater is enjoying a resurgence — audio dramas.

Vin Shambry records his lines in the audio version of Artists
Repertory Theatre’s Magellanica. Photo: Kathleen Kelly.

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Linfield Theatre thinks outside the pandemic box

Yamhill County calendar: A "season like no other" on campus, plus a watercolor show in Newberg and a preview of McMinnville Short Film Festival

The pandemic has forced artists in every discipline to think outside the box, so I’m guessing that’s the analogy Linfield University’s Theatre department had in mind when it plowed into its 101st season Friday with an evening of improvisational sketches titled Out of the Box.

Students performed the live sketch comedy not before a live audience in the auditorium, but before audience members watching the live show on Linfield’s YouTube channel from home, regardless of whether home was a dorm room on the McMinnville campus or not; the show broadcast free to anyone with an internet connection.

They’re calling it “A Season Like No Other,” which it obviously is.

Out of the Box amounted to just more than an hour’s worth of sketches very much bound up with the present political and cultural moment, written and performed by a troupe of student actors and writers on a giant tic-tac-toe-style checkerboard with only a few set pieces constructed with what appeared to be PVC pipe. Graffiti adorned the rear wall: BLACK LIVES MATTER. SAY HER NAME. AMERICA IS BURNING.

Linfield Theatre students (from left) Caroline Calvano, Avery Witty, Sam Hannagan, Brielle Kromer (on ladder in back), Sara Cerda (on floor), Jordan Tate, and Sarah Ornelas perform an improvisational sketch during rehearsal for “Out of the Box.” The show can be seen on Linfield Theatre’s YouTube channel. Photo courtesy: Linfield Theatre
Linfield Theatre students (from left) Caroline Calvano, Avery Witty, Sam Hannagan, Brielle Kromer (on ladder in back), Sara Cerda (on floor), Jordan Tate, and Sarah Ornelas perform an improvisational sketch during rehearsal for “Out of the Box.” Photo courtesy: Linfield Theatre

Pieces were titled Womb to Tomb, We Don’t Need No Distance Education, A La Carte, and BBM in a TLB. Students wore transparent face masks. Student directors Clementine Doresey and Hailee Foster were assisted in putting the evening together by theater professors Derek Lane and Janet Gupton. With no copyright issues involved, the shows remain archived on the channel, available to watch anytime.

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It’s so 2020: A virtual conversation about Virtual Reality

The Virtual Reality component of the Venice Film Festival comes to the Portland Art Museum for a limited engagement.

By MARC MOHAN and LAUREL REED PAVIC

The Portland Art Museum is the only venue in the United States for the Venice Film Festival’s Venice VR Expanded exhibition. The event began September 2nd and runs through September 12th. Credit for this exclusive honor goes entirely to the new director of the Northwest Film Center, Amy Dotson, who started in September of 2019 (Dotson is also the Museum’s Curator of Film & New Media). Dotson arrived in Portland with a close connection with Michael Reilhac, the Curator of Immersive Media Content and Experiences for the Venice Biennale VR Competition. The Northwest Film Center celebrated Reilhac in March as the 2020 Cinema Unbound honoree.

The virtual reality exhibition is also a piece of the overall vision that Dotson, who took over from longtime director Bill Foster last year, brought to the position. As she related in an interview with ArtsWatch, Dotson has a future-facing emphasis on expanding the definition of “cinematic experience.” That emphasis was evident in the programming for the 43rd Portland International Film Festival (rebranded Cinema Unbound), which viewers didn’t have a chance to fully explore since the festival was abruptly interrupted midstream by the coronavirus. 

VR sets at Venice VR Expanded at the Portland Art Museum. Image courtesy of the Portland Art Museum.

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Young writers, burning bright

The Fire Writers conference helps Yamhill County teenagers tap into their potential while fighting the stigma associated with being a smart kid

A literary scene is a knotty thing to define and locate. Unlike live theater, music, or visual art, it has no brick-and-mortar base. It is everywhere and nowhere, from the “local author” shelf at a bookstore to events such as creative writing festivals to the occasional open mic night to the world that exists in the electronic ether: Instagram posts, tweets, Facebook, even text messaging.

Yamhill County has had for a while two tangible measures of the region’s literary life: the Terroir Creative Writing Festival, which was scheduled for its 11th annual renewal in April until COVID-19 shut it down, and the 27-year-old Paper Gardens literary journal. Published every spring by the Arts Alliance of Yamhill County, the journal features prose and verse by locals of all ages. Oregon authors including William Stafford, Kim Stafford, Primus St. John, Robin Cody, and many others have served as judges.

A third, writer-centric tent-pole event has sprung up. On a mild, overcast Monday morning last winter, more than 100 high school students from around Yamhill County sauntered into the ballroom at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg for the Fire Writers Conference. The brainchild of retired McMinnville educator Deborah Weiner, the 2-year-old gathering is as ambitious, polished, and well attended as the Terroir festival.  The goal of the daylong conference is to “ignite the fire” in teenagers who show an aptitude and interest in writing. Validating that interest, organizers say, makes students, who pay nothing to attend the event, feel they are part of a writers’ community and can instill confidence in kids who might feel marginalized for being academic achievers.

The opening session of Fire Writers organizer Lisa Ohlen Harris addresses the opening session of the Fire Writers Conference at the Chehalem Community Center in Newberg. “Writers are everywhere,” she told students, “doing things that on the surface may seem to have nothing to do with writing.” Photo by: David Bates
Fire Writers organizer Lisa Ohlen Harris addresses the opening session of the Fire Writers Conference in Newberg’s Chehalem Community Center in January, before masks and social distancing were the norm. “Writers are everywhere,” she told students, “doing things that on the surface may seem to have nothing to do with writing.” Photo by: David Bates

“There is still a stigma for being a smart kid, a kid who reads, who cares about grades,” said Julie Stubblefield, one of several language-arts teachers at Amity High School, which sent nearly 30 students to the January conference. Teaching writing to teens poses several additional challenges, she said.

“One thing is that this is not a reading culture right now,” she said. “The current culture in high school is dominated by smartphones, YouTube, social media, Netflix, and video games. The practice of imagination, self-reflection, and the slow work of resourcefulness is not a part of their everyday lives. So when it comes time to get quiet and listen for the inner voice, the creative voice, the imagination, it can take a lot of patient exercise and reorientation to wake it up and get in touch with it.”


THE ART OF LEARNING: An Occasional Series


This year’s conference drew 123 students from eight schools — five public, three private, and a couple of homeschooled students. Attendance is largely by invitation. Teachers have an eye for which kids have taken to writing, who might benefit from what ultimately amounts to an educational field trip. One other brand of stigmatization — or possibly something else — emerges in talking with organizers, who asked that two students not be photographed; their parents didn’t know they were attending.

Writer and organizer Lisa Ohlen Harris, who is also instrumental in organizing Terroir, opened the event with a casual attempt at perhaps removing some of the stigma and illusions students might connect with writing and writers.

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