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Newberg professional theater goes beyond “The Hamlet Show”


There are surely stretches over the year when not much is going on in Yamhill County, artistically speaking. Those lazy weeks will afford opportunities for deep dives into our scene, with in-depth interviews and profiles of individual artists. But July is not one of those times. So grab a pen, or fire up the calendar app on your phone — whatever you’re using these days to organize your life — and get ready, because we have a lot to cover.

Nathaniel Andalis and Patricia Alston of Penguin Productions rehearse a scene from Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband,” which opens July 19 in Newberg. Photo by: Kris Klancy

This is especially true in Newberg, where a remarkable thing has happened. A small group of talented and endlessly energetic young people have joined forces to launch a theater company — a professional theater company. Penguin Productions was formed in 2017 by Chris Forrer and fellow Pacific Conservatory Theatre (PCPA) alums Daphne Dossett and Garrett Gibbs, on whose family property the outdoor productions are staged. Their mission to create “classical theater for a contemporary world” began last summer with gender-fluid productions of As You Like It and Macbeth.

This week, they kick off the 2018 season with what Forrer promises will be a brisk Hamlet (around 2 hours and 40 minutes) and Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, in which politics with a capital “P” plays out in contemporary Washington, D.C. (thanks to a 1895 script that falls well within the public domain). Shows start Thursday, July 19, and run through Aug. 4, with four performances of each. Tickets are $8 to $15 and may be purchased at the website.

Hamlet, directed by co-founder Gibbs, sounds particularly interesting. The company’s take, basically, is that Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius have, in their own way, been painted into the corner of caricature over the years in ways that are not necessarily supported by Shakespeare’s text. The play, Forrer told me, is much more interesting with a charismatic and even likable Claudius. Gertrude isn’t necessarily cold and distant, and Polonius (played here by a woman) is not an idiot. Forrer thinks the text supports Gibbs’ direction and makes for a much more exciting story than what all too often becomes “The Hamlet Show.” Sure, it is that, but you know what he’s saying.

It’s worth noting that Penguin Productions, despite its small size, is an ambitious project led by seasoned professionals who know what they’re doing. Many of the players (all of whom perform in both shows) spent two years with Santa Maria, Calif.-based PCPA, and this season’s productions also have drawn talent from Portland. Selene Betancourt, who directs An Ideal Husband and appears in the ensemble, is currently the Allen Lee Hughes Directing Fellow at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. The company isn’t equity (yet, anyway), but the actors are paid for their work.

Chris Forrer

“Absolutely, all of our artistic positions are paid,” Forrer said in a phone interview. “We feel the artist’s time is valuable, and their craft is worth something. I had this interesting conversation with some of the cast about what is the difference between professional and community theater. Because, a lot of times, it can be really nebulous, and I don’t think that paying actors, in and of itself, suddenly means that the product is going to be professional. But I do think it’s an important distinction, that artists know their time will be compensated fairly if they work for us.”

Penguin’s 2017 debut with two Shakespeares drew nightly crowds of around 30 or so, but by the end of their respective runs, Macbeth and As You Like It were pulling in more than 50 paying customers every night. Seating is limited, and lawn chairs and blankets are welcome. The shows start at 7 p.m. and end between 9 and 10. It’s Yamhill County, so there’s also wine.

I’ll be visiting with Forrer and his crew more in the coming year as they continue to put stakes down in Newberg, but for now, check out the ensemble and plan on a trip. An Ideal Husband opens Thursday, July 19, and Hamlet takes flight July 26.

In Willamina, the Wildwood MusicFest combines an eclectic musical celebration with a family campout on a farm owned by artist Kim Hamblin and husband Dan Ranke, who organized and host the weekend bash with Katie Kendall-Vinson, who runs a funky little hotel with her sister. The festival started in 2010 with a couple of bands invited to a word-of-mouth family-and-friends potluck.

Sleepy Willamina isn’t so sleepy the weekend of July 20-22, when the Wildwood MusicFest draws dozens of bands from around the Pacific Northwest and the country. Photo by: Chad Lanning.

“That was just to see how it felt to have people come there, and the parking, and how was the sound?” Kendall-Vinson said. “And everything felt like it was really right. We had a jar out for people to put a little bit of money in for the music, and it was exactly the amount we needed to pay the musicians.” Following the successful trial run, they went official in 2011.

This year, the festival showcases nearly two dozen bands over the weekend of July 20-22 at Roshambo ArtFarm, which is about 1,400 feet north of Oregon 18 on Pittman Road midway between Willamina and Sheridan. Weekend camping passes are on track to sell out, but day passes for a few bucks are plentiful. They also have a school bus on Saturday that will loop between the farm and Blackwell Park in Willamina. It’s a genuine grassroots affair, homegrown, and a portion of the proceeds go to local nonprofits. The music, Hamblin adds, “all falls under the umbrella of Americana. But it’s a really big umbrella.”

ALTHOUGH MY TERRITORY is officially Yamhill County, I do pay attention to what’s going on around the Willamette Valley, where there are some intriguing options. In Corvallis, the 30-year-old da Vinci Days unites Leonardo da Vinci’s left-brain/right-brain approach to life with a heady mix of science, art, engineering and technology. The three-day festival begins Friday, July 20, with a lecture by Oregon State University writing instructor Tekla Bude that explores the question “What Did Medieval Music Sound Like?” It’s free (as are all events at da Vinci Days) and starts at 7 p.m. in the LaSells Stewart Center on campus.

Contestants negotiate a mud bog as part of the Graand Kinetic Challenge. Photo: da Vinci Days

The main event, a 10-mile, pedal-powered Graand Kinetic Challenge takes participants over land, mud, clay, sand and water over two days. It begins Saturday afternoon at the Benton County Fairgrounds and ends there Sunday, but not before taking a dip in the Willamette River. Check out the website for pictures of some of the clever contraptions racers have built do get the job done. Think Steampunk crossed with Mardi Gras.

As with most small-town summer festivals, the bulk of the fanfare is Saturday, with a children’s village, science and art exhibits, food and plenty of live music — reggae, soul, funk, indie rock, bluegrass, Americana, drums, and even “acoustic conscious folk.” Scheduled bands include: Organized Chaos, the OSU Drumline, Cassandra Robertson, The Severin Sisters, The Crescendo Show, Despite the Whiteness and The Sentiments.

Portland Playhouse The sounds of Afrolitical Movement Portland Oregon

If political news and the general state of things have got you down, you can always head into Salem to catch … um, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four at Pentacle Theatre. Yes, Orwell’s 1949 dystopian masterpiece (which for some reason shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list in January 2017) is also a play. If you read about the production in London last year that had audiences fainting and throwing up, relax; this adaptation, directed by Jenni Bertels, is not that adaptation. This version was written by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall, Jr., and William A. Miles, Jr., and features McMinnville’s Lance Nuttman as Winston (John Hurt in Michael Radford’s 1984 film adaptation) and Emily Loberg as Julia, both of whom spend their dreary days producing Big Brother’s propaganda (think “alternative facts”). The show runs through July 28.

Across the Willamette River, the 69th annual Salem Art Fair & Festival runs July 20-22 at Bush Pasture Park a few blocks south of downtown. It’s loads of family-friendly fun, although finding a place to park can be challenging. Look for more than 200 artists working in all media, and also live music, theater and dance. It’s $5 per day, or $10 for a 3-day pass. Kids 16 and younger get in free, and it’s free for everyone Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m.

In Polk County the following week, Valley Shakespeare Company opens Moliere’s Tartuffe at Western Oregon University in Monmouth. The free, family-friendly shows are blankets-and-lawn-chairs affairs that start at 8 p.m. July 26-29 and Aug. 2-4. WOU’s David Janoviak directs this comical tale about religious hypocrisy in the period the play was written, the mid-1800s, “complete with flowing wigs, snuff boxes, puffy sleeves and corsets.” The cast is a mix of students, community and professional actors, including Ted deChatelet (also with WOU’s theater department) in the title role and Stephen Price as Orgon, whose household is hilariously taken over by Tartuffe.

By now we’re past the Aquilon Music Festival, but we’re not done with opera. Portland Opera’s Opera a la carte touches down at Remy Wines in McMinnville from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday July 29. Program details were not available, but given that Rossini’s La Cenerentola is playing at the Newmark in Portland, you might get something Cinderella-y.

Also in McMinnville: Fast-forward to Aug. 1, and you’ll find celebrated children’s book illustrator Carolyn Bracken reading her “Mr. Owliver’s Magic at the Museum” at The Gallery at Ten Oaks. The picture book cleverly provides an opportunity to introduce kids to famous paintings. Other artists whose work is available at the gallery will also be on hand to talk about what it’s like to do what they do. The reading is from 2 to 3 p.m.

Pamela Quataert’s “Woodland Rhythms Triptych” is included in her show at the Chehalem Cultural Center.

Let’s wrap this up by returning to Newberg, where there’s always something going on at the Chehalem Cultural Center. Most of the center’s multiple galleries currently house exhibitions, with two closing Saturday, July 28. As you walk through the front door at, look up and you’ll see dazzling paintings by Pamela Quataert in the Mezzanine Gallery. Her Resonance paintings capture the rhythm and harmony of rural Yamhill County life. She cites influences ranging from Cezanne and Willem de Kooning to her own experience as a mental health therapist.

Moving into the Parrish Gallery, you’ll find Intimate Spaces, a retrospective body of sculptural work “that manifests the divine, wounded and everyday contradictions of a lived female experience” by Portland artist Tyler Mackie. While most exhibitions are “look but don’t touch,” this one has a large piece you’re invited to gently embrace. The show features both two-dimensional and sculptured. Mackie was interviewed July 3 by Amanda Clem on Portland’s KBOO. It’s worth a listen.

Head down the hall, and you’ll find yourself wandering literally through Herbert Hoover’s Oregon Boyhood: Years of Growth, which was created specifically for the Chehalem Cultural Center by the Hoover-Minthorn House Museum, also in Newberg. It’s there through Aug. 4.

Finally, enter the Founder’s Gallery at the center’s north end, and you’ll find Barbara Martin’s arresting Super Ply series of black and white acrylic, oil pastel and pencil paintings on bare plywood. Martin starts with random, hand-doodled images, then grabs two brushes and lets each work develop organically, capturing the mood she senses in her work space, even if she has an audience. Her show also ends Aug. 4 and, for what it’s worth, is my personal favorite of the four.

David Bates is an award-winning Oregon journalist with more than 20 years as a newspaper editor and reporter in the Willamette Valley, covering virtually every topic imaginable and with a strong background in arts/culture journalism. He has lived in Yamhill County since 1996 and is currently a freelance writer whose clients have included the McMinnville News-RegisterOregon Wine Press, and Indulge, a food-oriented publication. He has a B.S. degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and a long history of involvement in the theater arts, acting and on occasion directing for Gallery Players of Oregon and other theaters in Oregon.

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