Barry Lopez

Suddenly, the Theater of Chaos

ArtsWatch Weekly: Insurrection at the Capitol; Barry Lopez' connected world; in the galleries; a new literary year; last word on 2020

ON WEDNESDAY THE BIGGEST SHOW IN AMERICA BROKE INTO NEW TERRITORY, adding a hard-right plot twist that raged across the nation’s television screens and Twitter feeds like a renegade character actor rushing into the spotlight and brandishing a sword. America’s actual theaters have been shut down for ten months. But the metaphorical theater – the great big blustering morality play of the body politic, screeching and bleating its lines in some hyperdrive version of a medieval drama – reached a new climax in Washington, D.C.

It had seemed, in the morning hours, that the old play had settled into its dénouement and the crew was ready to clear the stage to make room for the new show in town, the one with a familiar old star making a dramatic comeback in the leading role. In the halls of Congress the thunder sheets were rattling up one final mini-storm of protest as stock characters bellowed their closing curses to the sky, insisting to the end that night was day and the world was flat and the emperor was draped in dazzling costume. A mob of rabid groundlings, caught up in the raw fiction of the plotting and egged on by the antics of the morality play’s Ravening Beast, stormed the Capitol stage and attempted to turn the tide of the battle’s choreography with a show of brute force. But surely this was only show and tell?

Medieval mystery play, with product placement. “2nd mystery play in the Middle Ages,” from the Liebig Collectible Card series, “Theater Then and Now,” 4.3 x 2.8 inches.

AND THEN THE INSURRECTIONISTS BROKE THROUGH. It was a shocking, if not surprising, violation of the fourth wall. The performers rushed into the audience space and transformed the measured fantasy of the script into a fresh form of ugly reality, looting and vandalizing and strutting for selfies. During the storming of the Capitol a woman was shot and killed. Four others also died, making it all too plain that the passions unleashed by the cheap theatrics had very real and serious consequences.

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2020 in review: At last, over & out

2020? Perish the thought. The ups, downs, disasters, trends, outrages, and occasional triumphs of Oregon's arts & culture in a tortuous year.

2020? Perish the thought. Good riddance to bad rubbish: We’re gonna wash that year right out of our hair. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Or, as the old curse has it, “may you live in interesting times” – but not quite this interesting, thank you very much.

The Year That Should Not Speak Its Name led pretty much everyone, including all of us here at Oregon ArtsWatch, on a frantic and astonishing chase. It was discombobulating, because for the most part we were chasing in isolation inside the confines of our own homes, like cats in a cardboard box desperately racing after our own tails. Oh, sure, there were those fair-weather walks through the neighborhood, and the masked-up trips to the grocery store. But, really: Things might’ve been new, but they were far from normal.


LOOKING BACK: 2020 IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR


Normality, of course, is how the year began. Even optimism. On Jan. 1, 2020, a year ago today, ArtsWatch strode brashly into the Brave New Year with the first dispatch in Vision 2020, an ambitious series of 20 interviews over 20 days with a cross-section of Oregon arts figures who agreed to talk with us about how things looked from their corners of the cultural world, and what they hoped to see in the coming year and decade. They had some terrific insights and ideas, and the series makes for some fascinating reading: From Rachel Barreras-Kleeman’s tale of why she teaches dance to low-income kids on the Coast, to Dañel Malan’s vision of creating bilingual arts through Teatro Milagro, to 18 compelling stories in between, you can find all 20 interviews here. But nobody – least of all those of us at ArtsWatch Central, in our eager editorial innocence – anticipated what was lurking just around the corner.

In January Maya Vivas and Leila Haile talked with Martha Daghlian for ArtsWatch’s “Vision 2020” series about the joys and challenges of running an adventurous art gallery on North Mississippi Avenue featuring work from a wide range of artists who identify as QTPoC (Queer Trans People of Color). Because of the Covid-19 crisis, their Ori Gallery has since shifted to an online presence. Photo courtesy Ori Gallery

And how could any of us have? Yes, news reports buried on the inside pages of the newspapers alerted us to some new virus very far away, but it didn’t seem like much to get alarmed about. Then things began to build, until, come March, the virus was all very real, and all over the place, and in spite of a determined right-wing campaign to persuade people that it was all fake news and the disease was a hoax, the world began to shut down.

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Passages: The ones we lost in 2020

Looking back: Remembering Oregon writers, dancers, musicians, theater artists, and others who died in the past 12 months

The year 2020 included, among its many disruptions, the deaths of several notable arts and cultural figures in Oregon. Here are 15 who we remember in particular for the art they made and the lives they led. Some, like the National Book Award-winning writer Barry Lopez, whose Arctic Dreams is a genuine classic, have international reputations. Some, like contemporary choreographer and dancer Mary Oslund, had outsized and lasting impacts that focused on Oregon but also reached beyond. All deserve our notice and gratitude for helping to shape our notion of culture in the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon’s passages join a long list of national and international cultural figures who died in 2020. Among them are the likes of playwrights Larry Kramer and Terrence McNally; the stage designer Ming Cho Lee; visual artists Christo, Milton Glaser, and Peter Beard; musicians John Prine, Little Richard, Bill Withers, Charlie Pride, Leon Fleisher, and Krysztof Penderecki; novelist John le Carré; dancer/actor Ann Reinking; and actors Chadwick Boseman (brilliant in his final role as the trumpeter Levee in the Netflix film adaptation of August Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Olivia de Havilland, Zoe Caldwell, Kirk Douglas, and Diana Rigg.


LOOKING BACK: 2020 IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR


A note on Rigg: Many people remember her primarily as the sizzling secret agent Emma Peel in the TV series The Avengers; others for her sterling stage career. I revere her also as the author of the collection No Turn Unstoned: The Worst Ever Theatrical Reviews, an often achingly funny compilation of terrible and frequently wrong-headed notices gathered from historical records and sent her by her friends and fellow performers. It was prompted in part by a 1970 review by the legendarily caustic John Simon of her appearance in the play Abelard and Heloise: “Diana Rigg is built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient buttresses.” Sometimes turnabout is fair play: She showed that she could play the game just as well or better, and her book landed on Simon and his soulmates like a ton of tongue-in-cheek bricks.

The people we lost in Oregon, and will remember:

Sara Waddell and BRAVO’s Seth Truby, passing the torch. Photo: Joe Cantrell

Sara Waddell, teacher and music lover. Sara “Penny” Waddell of Beaverton was a teacher and mother and aspiring cellist who learned, in her early 50s, that she had a fatal cancer. She and frequent ArtsWatch photographer Joe Cantrell had become friends, and when she told him she wanted to pass along her cello and violin to students who could use them, he helped her connect with BRAVO Youth Orchestras, many of whose members can’t afford their own instruments. On Jan. 21 we told her story, with Cantrell’s photographs, in A cello, a violin, a final grace note. On Feb. 23 Waddell died, at age 52 – but her memory, and her musical instruments, play on.

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