choral arts ensemble of portland

Zombies rising at Linfield Theatre

Night of the Living Dead opens a "monstrous" season tying into a campus-wide focus on political and social revolution

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead turns 50 on Oct. 1. This Thursday, the Linfield College drama team raises the curtain on Lori Allen Ohm’s stage version of the 98-minute black-and-white horror flick shot on a shoestring outside Pittsburgh in 1968. While it’s easy to make too much of it, Night of the Living Dead was, as one writer observed in Cineaste a few years ago, “Patient Zero” in a virtual epidemic of zombies in popular culture in the ensuing decades. As much as the genre obviously panders to audiences that, to paraphrase torture-porn king Eli Roth, “want to see people gettin’ messed up — bad,” it’s undeniable that the films occasionally offer flashes of insight into American life.

Therein lies the appeal of Night of the Living Dead to Linfield’s play selection committee. Plays at the McMinnville college traditionally grapple with a campus-wide PLACE theme. PLACE stands for Program for Liberal Arts and Civic Engagement. Piloted in the fall of 2012, PLACE highlights a theme or issue selected by a curriculum committee and voted on by faculty that is intended to serve as a sort of academic muse. Faculty are encouraged to incorporate it into studies and class discussions. This year, it’s political and social revolution.

Barbara (McMinnville’s Elise Martin) and her brother Johnny (Samuel Hannigan of Hood River) are the first victims of the living dead in Linfield Theatre’s production of “Night of the Living Dead.” Photo by: Hanna Trailer

Since the inception of PLACE, the theater department has tried to have at least one show that ties into the theme, said Brenda DeVore Marshall, a professor who chairs the Department of Theatre and Communications Arts. “It’s a way for us to contribute to that ongoing college dialogue through the arts,” she said.

The most striking recent example I recall was a 2015 production of The Tempest. The PLACE theme was Air, Water, Earth and Fire: The ancient elements on a changing planet. In the production directed by Professor Janet Gupton and designed by Professor Ty Marshall (who retired last year after 31 years), Prospero used his magic to harness the elements for himself and daughter Miranda, leaving Caliban and Ariel to fend for themselves on an island strewn with garbage.

In November 2015, Janet Gupton incorporated Linfield College’s PLACE theme of “Air, Water, Earth and Fire: The ancient elements on a changing planet” by setting “The Tempest” on a man-made island of trash. The scenic design was by then-Professor Ty Marshall. Photo by: Ty Marshall

The theater’s 2018-19 season (the 99th at Linfield College) is headlined Monsters and the Monstrous. After a single-weekend run of Night of the Living Dead, Marshall Theatre will dish up two weekends of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel. In the spring, we’ll see Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters, and the season closes with the alarmingly appropriate choice of Cabaret, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb.

Night of the Living Dead is directed by Melory Mirashrafi, a Hillsboro theater arts major in her senior year at Linfield. I was treated to a peek at the set last week, a monochrome ramshackle of an isolated farmhouse (to capture the look of Romero’s use of black-and-white) where seven people find themselves besieged by zombies. Visiting Professor Derek Lane handled the scenic and lighting design, and Gupton is mentoring Mirashrafi. Part of the production includes video, which was shot and edited by sophomores Alexandria Hunter and Hannah Curry.

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Out & About: voices rising

A peek behind the scenes as choral rock star Jake Runestad rehearses Choral Arts Ensemble's singers for a concert of his own music

In 2016 I was commissioned by the North Coast Chorale to create piece-specific art to be projected in the concert hall during their performance of Karl Jenkin’s The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace – 13 montages in total, one for each movement. While working on them I listened to the choral work over and over until I practically knew it by heart. Even though it probably now counts as one of the war horses of choral music, it was a glorious experience.

This week I was invited to a different, equally exciting occasion: to listen to and photograph composer Jake Runestad, from Minnesota, directing his own choral work in preparation for a concert on Saturday, The Hope of Loving, with the Choral Arts Ensemble of Portland.

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