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.
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.
On stage, the department is filming an original play by the university’s Janet Gupton, A Night in New Orleans, which is scheduled to premiere April 23 on Linfield’s YouTube channel. The story begins in New Orleans in 1918 (at the height of the last pandemic), then journeys back to 1897 to explore stories from the city’s red-light district, Storyville. According to the press materials, the play is a “fictionalized account based on three real-life madams who transform themselves into their own ‘brand.’ These women became very successful businesswomen during one of the most virulent racist eras of the South, when Jim Crow laws were rampant but sex across the color line was the most lucrative product on the market.” Obviously, the show will include adult language and content. Gupton directs, and the film production process is being mentored by Lacroute Initiative Visiting Artist Kahlil Pedizisai.
On the podcast front, students are working on “micro-projects” that will be released at noon Fridays starting March 5. Each podcast consists of two episodes of roughly 30 to 60 minutes and include: I Wanna Be in the (Class) Room Where it Happens, conceived by Hannah Curry and Rachel Goines; Button Man, an original two-act play by creative writing major Caroline Calvano that has been reworked for the audio-only format; and The Deal of a Lifetime, a two-act play that depicts “the lethality of capitalism” by theater arts major Ellie Gossett and creative writing major Helika Campbell.
MUSIC GOES HERE: Linfield University’s Music Department has teamed with the Portland-based chamber music ensemble Fear No Music for a series of recitals this spring that explores works by Black composers.
Next up is flutist Amelia Lukas, who will perform a 30-minute recital at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 1, followed by a panel discussion. The event is free and open to the public, though pre-registration is required. Lukas will perform several works, including Valerie Coleman’s Danza de la Mariposa, Move It by Carlos Simon, Homeland by Allison Loggins-Hull, and Perennial by Joshua Mallard.
March 18 offers a recital with Kenji Bunch on viola and Monica Ohuchi on piano performing works by Adolphus Hailstork, and an April 5 recital features Jeff Payne on piano. See the schedule for times and registration information. The program is sponsored by the Lacroute Arts Series at Linfield University and the Department of Music.
DANCE: Linfield Theatre in April plays host to the Music Department’s Spring Dance Showcase in the Marshall Theatre. It will feature student and faculty choreography in a variety of styles, including ballet, contemporary, hip hop, jazz, lyrical, modern, musical theater, and tap. Adjunct dance instructor Eve Brindis directs and streaming happens on the Linfield Theatre YouTube channel at 7 p.m. April 9 and 10.
The schedule and additional details for all Linfield University performing arts events are available online.
ARTS JOURNAL: As always, I’m grazing. Finished Philip K. Dick’s 1981 novel VALIS (that’s Vast Active Living Intelligence System for those not up on their PKD) and Shirley Jackson’s creepy short story The Summer People, first published in 1948. TV viewing: The Queen’s Gambit and WandaVision. Plowed through Scott Snyder’s brutal Batman tale, Court of Owls, from DC’s New 52 reboot in 2011, Marvel’s 2016 Thanos run, and currently reading Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo and Elizabeth Acevedo’s 2018 poem/novel The Poet X.