Kathleen Lane

Dramatic? It’s like an opera out there

ArtsWatch Weekly: Where's Frida; how to (maybe) reopen; farewell to Ross McKeen; puppets; comics; art that tells stories & more

AS WE ZOOM PAST THE ONE-YEAR MARK IN ENFORCED ISOLATION, shutdowns have caused havoc everywhere, sometimes straining well-run organizations and sometimes exposing structural weaknesses that pre-existed the pandemic. Being big can be a problem in itself: You might begin with a bigger bankroll, but the larger a group’s budget, the harder it is to shift direction, and the more a shutdown stands to imperil the entire operation. Being small can mean you’re nimble, but it can also make it tough to scrape up the wherewithall to hunker in and just survive for a while.

Portland Opera’s “Frida”: heading to the great outdoors? Photo: Keith Blakoff/Long Beach Opera

How’s that playing out in the world of opera? Herein ArtsWatch presents a new three-act contemporary work, which we’ll refrain from calling Stayin’ Alive:

ACT ONE: New York’s Metropolitan Opera is undergoing monumental convulsions, as Julia Jacobs reports in The New York Times, with 40 percent of its laid-off musicians leaving the expensive New York area, and abrasive battles being waged between management and unions. Massive debt is being piled up, veteran musicians are choosing to retire, and shop work is being farmed out to non-union companies as management pushes for big salary cuts. (Subtheme: Conductor and music director James Levine, the leading artistic force at the Met for almost a half-century until being fired in 2018 over multiple allegations of sex abuse and harassment, died at age 77 on March 9, it was reported Wednesday.)


‘Pity Party’: This one’s for you

Portland writer Kathleen Lane and her smart new novel for middle schoolers turn the table on anxiety and use it to spark creativity

Can I ask something? Can I ask you to think of something? Can I ask you to think of a time you felt as though you were at war with your brain, a time you felt overwhelmed by your own thinking? Can you think of a time you felt this way? I know I can. I have struggled with mental illness throughout my life resulting in a number of diagnoses, therapists, medications and assorted treatment plans.

After reading Portland writer Kathleen Lane’s new middle-grade novel Pity Party, published in January by Little, Brown, I knew I was not alone. I knew there were other people out there with minds often riddled with stress and worry. Most importantly, I knew that the focus didn’t have to surround dissatisfaction with my own brain. 

Lane is also a nonprofit founder and program director, and all of her work centers on shifting the focus from what is wrong with us to what is right with us. Through her writing, her work with Create More, Fear Less (which helps kids combat fear and anxiety through creativity) and SHARE (in which gatherings of artists work in a single evening to create new pieces based on a shared prompt), Lane invites people of all ages to investigate their relationship with their minds. 

“Pity Party” author Kathleen Lane at her book launch. Photo courtesy the author.

Open Pity Party and you’ll find an invitation to the pity party. Right off the bat, Lane makes a point of letting readers know they are accepted and understood in all their wonderful wackiness within the worlds of the book. The book is separated into five parts linked together by the story of Katya and “The Voice,” which is the manifestation of Katya’s anxiety. Constantly filling her brain with what-ifs and reminders of danger, “The Voice” has kept Katya safe. However, it does so at the expense of Katya’s self-esteem until Katya stands up for herself.


ArtsEd: Age of anxiety

Create More, Fear Less provides imaginative art projects that empower middle-schoolers to take on anxiety during school and in our new era of distance learning


Create More, Fear Less is an arts-based program that helps schools respond to their students’ anxiety levels, which had reached alarming levels in this country, even before the Covid-19 pandemic closed kids in. 

None of us is immune from either the anxiety or the coronavirus: Peel back the neutral façade of a reporter and who’s there? An anxious single mother trying to regulate herself and her high school son, home 24/7, while social distancing. A few years ago, I performed in Mortified comedy shows reading diary entries from my middle school years, the prime time for Create More, Fear Less art projects. To huge crowds, I said, “What’s wrong with me? Will I live my life in the shadows covered by doubt? … Why do people worry about who their gym partner is? Is that the purpose of school? Join the pep club? When children are starving in India?” I read these entries for laughs, though when I wrote them back in middle school, I was completely earnest. 

Since 2014 I have taught creative writing residencies through Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools program, where I incorporate space on the packets I distribute for students to sketch before writing. Part of the reason for my months’-long reporting into Create More, Fear Less was to subtly incorporate de-stressing techniques into my teaching process, especially since my current residency is moving online. 

“capture the feeling” a drawing by Abby, age 10,
a student at Grout Elementary School/Image courtesy of Kathleen Lane