On with the show? Hold on. Really.

ArtsWatch Weekly: In Oregon arts & culture, COVID-19 changes the game. Everything's shifting, and the future's uncertain.

. . . AND THEN THE DAM BURST. Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s announcement late Wednesday that large public gatherings will be banned in the state for the next four weeks while the health system tries to put a cap on the rapidly growing COVID-19 pandemic crisis changed everything. What had seemed a kind of wait-and-see, business-as-almost-usual unreality (well, goodness: It’s not like we’re Seattle or Italy, is it?) overnight became the new not-so-normal: It’s here. It’s real. It’s serious. Already universities had shifted their students to online classes. The aged and infirm were paying close attention, understanding they were in high-risk categories. Homeless advocates were worrying about potential disaster on the streets. Busy parents were juggling daycare as schools took time off, and if they were lucky, telecommunicating to the office from home. Stores were being wiped out of toilet paper, providing Internet wags a running joke. Then the NBA canceled the rest of its basketball season, and that shook people a bit. Tom Hanks announced he’d tested positive for the virus, and that shook things up a little more. But for a lot of people, until the governor literally called off the show, the seriousness of the situation – and the serious lack of planning or preparation on a national level – hadn’t quite sunk in.

The loneliness of the long-distance human: Laurits Andersen Ring, Mrs. Sigrid Ring Standing at a Stone Ballustrade, 1912, oil on canvas, 12.6 x 10.6 inches; private collection.

In the circumstances, whether a play or concert is canceled falls pretty far down on the list of international priorities. But for the arts and culture world, the shutdown is a true crisis. All day today, a flood of cancellations and postponements has been pouring in. (And it’s not just here. In New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is shutting down all three of its campuses for rigorous basement-to-ceiling cleanings. In the nation’s capital, tours and events at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery are canceled through May 3.) The Oregon Symphony has canceled several concert series, including some high-profile ones. The Oregon Historical Society has canceled all programs through April 12, and Portland Opera has canceled its run of Vivaldi’s rarely performed Bajazet. School tours to museums and performances have stopped in their tracks. PassinArt has postponed its opening of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars for a week, and the city’s biggest theater company, Portland Center Stage, has called off or rescheduled performances of both of its current shows, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and 9 Parts of Desire, through April 8. March Music Moderne, Fear No Music, Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra have canceled concerts. Music Editor Matthew Neil Andrews gives details in his column MusicWatch Weekly: Stay home!, and fresh news of postponements or cancellations keeps pouring in.

In Portland and around the state, cultural organizations are in deep meeting mode. In Ashland, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival canceled today’s performances and said it will announce further plans soon. It’s hard to imagine, given the state’s restriction on gatherings of more than 250 people, that it can continue to run performances. Organizations are scrambling to determine just what the restrictions mean – can they stay open and meet the requirement to keep visitors at a three-foot distance from one another? Does 250 mean in one space at one time, or, for instance, wandering around an entire museum? How should they deal with normally crowded lobby spaces? More significantly, what are their ethical and medical obligations?

Small companies in small spaces with small audiences appear to be in luck, if that’s the right word for it. Still, many are reconsidering their plans, and at the least taking safety precautions. How, for instance, do they keep visitors sufficiently distanced from one another? Portland Playhouse, among other things, is limiting ticket sales to 85 percent of capacity so audience members can space themselves out. Large gathering places including museums, cultural centers, and libraries might well be able to stay open, depending on how they handle crowd control: Ensuring a slow and steady stream of visitors will be vital. Even so, the sorts of talks and gatherings that so often take place in such spaces will almost certainly be shut off.

And, artists being artists, some creative solutions are likely to emerge. Yesterday Suzanne Nance, president and CEO of All Classical Radio, sent a message to several cultural groups offering what help the station could give, from announcing closures, to remote-broadcasting performances to audiences in lieu of concert-hall appearances, to welcoming visiting artists into the radio studios for performances or interviews if their live performances are canceled.

However things shake out, the COVID-19 crisis is likely to cause a financial crisis throughout the cultural world as well. Arts organizations almost without exception run on tight budgets and can’t afford to lose money through unanticipated closures. Artists and support staff will lose income, if not their jobs. Some organizations might not survive. At the same time, the coronavirus-caused stock market crash means that the people and organizations who keep cultural groups going will have less money to dispense, and will have to make tough choices on how to do it. We’re entering uncertain territory: If you have tickets to a show that’s canceled, you might consider donating the money instead of taking a refund.

Stay tuned. By tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, everything might have changed. Before you head out, call or check the website of the place you’re headed to make sure it’s open. Consider carefully if it’s worth the risk. Good luck. And at the very least, wash your hands.
 

Waiting in the wings: William Blake, The Ghost of a Flea, ca. 1819, tempera on mahogany wood, Tate Britain, London.

CATCHING UP ON A WEEK OF GOOD READING


Lauren Modica as Titania (left) and Daniel T. Parker as Nick Bottom in OSF’s 2020 A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo: Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Theater

NATAKI GARRETT ON OSF’S JUBILANT FUTURE. As a new season begins in Ashland, Marty Hughley interviews the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new artistic director about where the festival’s headed. (The immediate future, clouded by the pandemic, is not so jubilant.)

FERTILE GROUND 3: HERSTORIES. Jae Carlsson’s third of four looks back on Portland’s recent Fertile Ground festival of new works concentrates on visions of love and sex from woman writers and performers.

DRAMAWATCH: CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION AT OSF. Marty Hughley takes a look at the themes and cross-themes of the new Shakespeare Festival season, which is now at least temporarily in limbo.

AT PCS, A SEASON FOR ALL SORTS. Marty Hughley considers the mix-and-match of Portland Center Stage at The Armory’s just-announced 2020-21 season, which kicks off in late August and runs from “Hair” to “Hedwig” to “Gem of the Ocean” to Jane Austen and more.

DRAMAWATCH: YOUR NO-SHOW OF SHOWS. Hughley takes a look at the week’s suddenly slimmed-down theater offerings, sorting out what’s here, what’s gone, and what might come later.
 

Disability rights champion Kathy Coleman, far right, and dancers.

Dance

KATHY COLEMAN, BEYOND DISABILITY. Brett Campbell writes a memorial to Kathy Coleman, a beloved activist who fell in love with dance, founded the Disability Art & Culture Project, and created opportunities not just in dance but throughout Oregon’s arts and culture world. Coleman died last month, but her legacy – and the organization she built – live on.

DANCEWATCH: DEAR MARCH, COME IN! Keep tabs on what’s moving and shaking on Oregon’s dance scene with Jamuna Chiarini’s monthly calendar and commentary. This week’s events take place in three small spaces: Milwaukie’s Chapel Theatre and Portland’s Performance Works NW and The Headwaters Theatre. Call or check online before you go.
 

Music

OPEN WIDE. Brett Campbell talks with Emily Lau, the musician and talented force behind Big Mouth Society, which embraces inclusivity, high artistic standards, and socially engaged art. A shipwreck, she tells Campbell, brought her to Portland.

THE SYMPHONY ANIMATED AND ILLUMINATED. Martha Daghlian visits the outstanding animator Rose Bond in her studio to talk about Bond’s film collaboration with the Oregon Symphony on a SightSound performance of Luciano Beria’s Sinfonia. The three-concert series has been canceled. The interview remains fascinating.


THE EYES HAVE IT: IN THE MUSEUMS & GALLERIES


John Buck, The Cat, 2016, nine color woodcut with hand coloring, 37 x 74.25 inches, collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer, © 2019 John Buck / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Aaron Wessling

THE POLITICAL PRINTS OF JOHN BUCK. Shannon M. Lieberman reviews the retrospective show of Buck’s prints and sculptures at Salem’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art, and finds meanings lurking below the surfaces: “In an election year, during a highly contentious presidency, and practically in the shadow of the Oregon State Capitol building and courthouses, Buck’s highly political prints emerge as the clear stars of the show.”

FIRST THURSDAY: SOLITUDE AND CONNECTION. A prescient headline, as it turns out, for Martha Daghlian’s review of opening-night shows in several Portland galleries, among then Leslie Hickey and Erin Murray at Holding Contemporary, and Barbara Stafford and Heather Lee Birdsong at PDX Contemporary.

A QUILT SHOW TAKES ON ECOCIDE, CONSUMERISM, AND CAPITALISM. David Bates reviews Shifting Tide, a remarkable show of work by fiber artists at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg that provides, in Bates’s words, “a penetrating look at the planet’s ecological predicament, particularly as manifested in the oceans.”

Lisa Jenni’s Rings of Eternity, 33 by 41 inches, incorporates plastic rings from bottles and jugs into its design. Photo: David Bates

QUOTABLE


“Being Anna’s boyfriend was like training to be a Navy SEAL while working full-time in an Amazon fulfillment center in the Oklahoma Panhandle in tornado season. Something was going on every moment of every day. My 2:30 naps were a thing of the past.”

– Actor and writer Tom Hanks, in the wry and gently funny Three Exhausting Weeks, the first story in his collection Uncommon Type: Some Stories. Hanks and his actor wife, Rita Wilson, announced Wednesday that they’ve tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

 

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