NEWS & NOTES

Theater news: Artists Rep prepares for another leap

Artists Rep has big plans for keeping its theater space in downtown Portland in downtown Portland—a two-theater complex with room for its ArtsHub partners.

Artists Repertory Theatre hired J.S. May to be its executive director less than six months ago, and he and his board are already about to make a big move—a $10 million-plus capital campaign that will redesign and renovate its building on Southwest Morrison Street.

Just looking at the recent financial history of the company, that qualifies as “jaw-dropping.” Since November 2017, the company has: 1) incurred a $309,000 lien from the IRS on unpaid payroll taxes, 2) parted ways with previous executive director Sarah Horton, 3) announced the sale of half its property at 1515 SW Morrison St. to a Texas-based real estate company, which will develop it into a 22-story residential tower (the sale closes on June 1, May says), 4) received an anonymous donation worth $7.1 million, and 5) notched another $500,000 donation that it needed to help shore up the half of the property the company will retain, a requirement of the sale.

The building concept by Lever Architecture for the proposed renovation of Artists Repertory Theatre/Courtesy Artists Repertory Theatre

The influx of money resolved the IRS problem, paid off the mortgage on the building, and covered some substantial bills and debts the company had accrued. Did it also tap out the company’s likeliest donors for the capital campaign? May seemed pretty confident about raising the money Artists Rep needs last week when we went over the company’s plans, primarily because of the value proposition: For $10-11 million Artists Rep will be able to build a theater complex worth more than $30-35 million, May said, if you had to buy the land, too. The proceeds of the sale of the half-block has already jump-started the process.

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Building Mozart’s garden

PSU Opera's designers and artisans create a world onstage for the comic "La Finta Giardiniera." Joe Cantrell tells the tale in photographs.

Photographs by JOE CANTRELL

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was 18 years old when his opera La Finta Giardiniera (The Pretend, or Fake, Gardener) debuted at the Salvatortheater in Munich in 1775. When it opens Friday evening at Lincoln Performance Hall in Portland it’ll feature a cast almost as young, made up of singers in the elite Portland State University Opera program. Under the artistic leadership of onetime New York City Opera star Christine Meadows, PSU Opera has become known for its high-quality, relatively low-cost, professionally designed productions.

The latter is definitely true in the case of La Finta Giardiniera, which is double-cast in seven major roles (“the students have grown incredibly through the experience of preparing Finta,” Meadows says) and will have four performances, April 19, 20, 26, and 28. Its design team is stellar: set by Carey Wong, lighting by Peter West, lavish period costumes by Hadley Yoder, wigs and hair (a major task for this period comic opera) by Jessica Carr and Randy Graff respectively, props by Sumi Wu.

Maeve Stier as the servant Serpetta, surrounded by painterly foliage.

Wong’s ravishing set is dominated in many scenes by a landscape painted on its walls and inspired by Wooded Landscape with a Peasant Resting, a bucolic painting by Mozart’s near-contemporary Thomas Gainsborough, perhaps best-known for his portrait The Blue Boy. Other scenes take place in a cave, providing a sharp contrast in mood between bright and colorful and dark and forboding.

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An ocean of musical opportunities

The Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival supports music in public schools -- and students don't have to sell 5,000 candy bars to take part

More than 100 students and their teachers will arrive in Newport next week for four days of workshops and performances, a visit to the Oregon Coast Aquarium – and of course, ample time on the beach. They’ll stay in oceanfront hotels and dine on local cuisine. And it won’t cost them a dime – not even one raised through the usual fundraising sale of doughnuts or gift wrap.

It’s all part of the Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival, a program designed to support music in public schools, with priority admission given to those from underserved communities.

Students from six Oregon high school orchestras will participate in the third annual Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival, April 25-28 in Newport.

Students from five Oregon high school orchestras will participate in the third annual Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival, April 25-28 in Newport.

The idea for the festival – now in its third year – came from a handful of locals, including the late David Ogden Stiers, who were concerned about the loss of music programs in public schools, said Michael Dalton, chairman of the festival board of directors, retired Oregon State University professor, and a member of the Oregon Arts Commission.

“We were looking for some way we could help support music programs in our schools,” Dalton said. He noted that without school programs, parents who have the means will nevertheless provide private instruction. But for those without funds, some students “have no other opportunities. We have created this festival to meet that need. We don’t want it to be an obstacle, or for the school to have to sell 5,000 candy bars to be able to do something. It’s the heart of what we do.”

Schools pay only the cost of transportation to and from Newport. The festival pays for lodging and the professional conductors who lead the workshops. Local boosters provide food for the students and Local Ocean restaurant hosts the Conductor’s Dinner for conductors, teachers, and board members. The festival also partners with the aquarium, which provides free admission to students, who in exchange share their talent in trios and quartets by the entrance.

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Playing chicken at the book bash

Stamina, lively conversation & Colson Whitehead's chicken recipes help our correspondent survive the crush of the AWP's national gathering

I don’t eat chickens, much less cook them. That didn’t stop me from enjoying the delectable chicken-themed keynote speech by Colson Whitehead that officially kicked off the 2019 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) national conference the last week in March at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

Established as a nonprofit group by fifteen writers in 1967, AWP “supports literary authors who teach, provides services, advocacy, resources, and community to nearly 50,000 writers, 550 college and university creative writing programs, and 150 writers’ conferences and centers.” To get a sense of the breadth and scope of this year’s conference, imagine how such a mission statement translates into the organization’s premier annual event—the biggest of its kind in North America, one that draws somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 attendees each year.

Colson Whitehead: on writing, and cooking chicken. Photo: Madeline Whitehead

Like any story, time—the actual fact of it, and how it’s negotiated—is really the engine of the narrative. Sessions began at 9 a.m., lasting an hour and fifteen minutes, and went all through evening, with fifteen-minute breaks, allowing for an airport-like rush from one end of the convention center to the other. Preparation was unruly and complex, and scrolling through the substantial online schedule seemed to be the only real option (though, I confess, it took me hours to do this: more than once, I would get half way down a page and forget what time-slot I was looking at). I did hear a few stories from those daredevil types who went without any plan whatsoever, and they seemed to fare just fine. If I had advice to offer future attendees, just know that your swag bag will contain a comprehensive glossy program, and unlike the impressively designed online app that didn’t work because my phone could not manage to stay connected to the internet in the conference center, the glossy program never let me down!

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Remembering Jim Mesi

An all-star lineup will play at a memorial on Sunday, April 7, for the virtuoso Portland blues guitarist, who has died at age 69

Portlanders will have the chance to say goodbye on Sunday to one of the towering talents of the local blues scene, guitarist Jim Mesi, who died on March 4 from complications of emphysema. He was 69.

He was also stone brilliant, an incandescent guitarist who first appeared on the scene with Paul deLay and Lloyd Jones in the seminal Portland blues band Brown Sugar in the late 1960s. Mesi played with many musicians since then, but notably with the Paul deLay band for years, the Losers Club with fellow Portland legend Steve Bradley, and fronting his own Jim Mesi Band with a crew of Portland music veterans for the last decade or more.

Jim Mesi, guitarist extraordinaire.

He was universally respected for his inventive and exuberant style, which could range from an achingly sweet, subtle Sleepwalk played with volume-knob swells and chiming harmonics to the speed-picking sturm und drang of Miserlou. It wasn’t just locals who revered the man, either: He counted guitarists such as ZZTop’s Billy Gibbons as fans, and the Jim Mesi Band web site shows him onstage with Les Paul, backstage with B.B.King.

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In the Frame 4: Culture now

In a fourth collection of images, K.B. Dixon continues his photographic portraiture series of Oregon arts and cultural leaders

Text and Photographs by K.B. DIXON

“The portrait,” said legendary photographer Arnold Newman, “is a form of biography. Its purpose is to inform now and to record for history.” It is hard to imagine a better, more succinct summation of the genre.

The portraits informing and recording here are the latest in a series titled In the Frame—a survey of the talented and dedicated people whose contributions to the art, character, and culture of this city have made it what it is today, people whose work has become part of our collective consciousness, whose various legacies are destined to be part of our cultural heritage.

As with the previous portraits in this series, I have tried to produce first a decent photograph—a photograph that acknowledges the medium’s allegiance to reality as its primal source of strength but one that is more than simple transcription—a photograph that presents a feeling as well as a form, one that preserves for myself and others a faithful representation of its subject.

 


 

Steve Wax

First U.S. Federal Public Defender for the District of Oregon and now Legal Director of the Oregon Innocence Project.

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Actor Russ Fast, 1947-2019

A memorial gathering for the Portland stage and film actor will be at Milagro Theatre on Saturday, March 30

Russ Fast, who died Feb. 20 at age 71 after a fight with cancer, left a lot of memories for a lot of people across a lot of areas when he moved on. He was a sometime musician – a drummer and backup singer – and made an early name for himself as a tap-dancer and lip-syncher. He was a man of the theater, performing, by his own count, in 143 productions in Portland, New York, Seattle, and elsewhere. He sometimes made his living as an accomplished voice actor, and worked regularly in film: movies, television, commercials, industrials. He directed, and taught acting. And with his friend, the actor B. Joe Medley, and Jeanne Medley he opened Character Actors, one of the first talent agencies in the Pacific Northwest.

Friends, family, and fans will gather from 2 to 4 p.m. next Saturday, March 30, for a celebration of remembrance in his honor at Milagro Theatre, 525 S.E. Stark St., where he once was “privileged to play my lifelong hero, Pablo Neruda,” in Burning Patience, Antonio Skarmeta’s play about the great Chilean poet. It’s open to all. There’ll be a light potluck, and attendees are encouraged to share memories and stories.

Portland actor Russ Fast in three undated photos.

Russell George Fast was born July 19, 1947, in Pasco, Wash., and moved with his family while he was still in school to Portland. He graduated from Grant High School, then attended the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatrical Arts, toured with the school’s children’s theater, worked with the Hollywood Actor’s Group, and moved back north to work with the Director’s Studio in Seattle.

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