The Verona Studio

Bright spots peep through in Yamhill County arts forecast

Many events are canceled or scaled back for 2021, as gathering in crowds remains unlikely for some time, but it’s not all bad news

As the calendar rolled over into the new year, I reached out to more than a dozen leaders in Yamhill County’s arts scene (along with a couple in Salem) to ask what they could say about their plans and expectations for life returning to some degree of normalcy in 2021.

Bottom line? It probably won’t.

With a few exceptions, the organizers behind major local cultural events, institutions, and venues don’t expect we’ll be flinging our masks away anytime soon. We won’t be packing theaters to see plays, and we won’t sip wine at crowded artist receptions. More of us will (presumably) be vaccinated, but in terms of events where people come together to experience art up close and personal, 2021 pretty much resembles 2020.

“We have lost a lot of art and culture in this pandemic,” said Lisa Weidman, a Terroir writing festival planner. And, she added, “ a sense of community, too.”

It’s not all bad news. So let’s begin with the good news, because there is some.

McMinnville Short Film Festival: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the short film festival organized by Dan and Nancy Morrow. It is the only major tent-pole cultural event left standing in Yamhill County’s largest city. The festival barely squeezed under the quarantine wire last year because the event is held in February, which is otherwise a bit of a cultural dead zone. But organizers learned last fall, with their annual fundraiser, that people can and will attend such an event in significant numbers if the goodies are streamed online, which is where most of us are watching movies anyway. So instead of scaling down, they’re ramping up. The festival kicking off Feb. 18 will unveil 127 films with screening blocks scheduled over nearly two weeks. Visit the website to check out the titles and register.

“Chocolate Cake & Ice Cream,” an animated short about friendship between a dog and cat by Steve Cowden of Lake Oswego, is on the schedule for the McMinnville Short Film Festival.
“Chocolate Cake & Ice Cream,” an animated short about friendship between a dog and cat by Steve Cowden of Lake Oswego, is on the schedule for the McMinnville Short Film Festival.

Paper Gardens: Yamhill County’s annual writing contest, culminating in a spring publication of the best of the best, will soldier on. “We know the pandemic has sparked lots of writing,” said one of the organizers, Deborah Weiner. “So we encourage children, teens, and adults who live, work, or go to school in Yamhill County to submit their pieces.” Entries are due March 3 and a release party is tentatively scheduled for May 13 at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. As that date looms, organizers will reassess the COVID situation in crafting protocols for gathering in person.

Willamette Shakespeare: The theater company is sound financially, according to board chairman David Pasqualini, and operating on the assumption that an outdoor production of Pericles will be unveiled at select area wineries in August. They’ll be working with Patrick Walsh, executive artistic director of the Northwest Classical Theater Collaborative, and expect to have COVID safety protocols in place for both the company and audience. 

Chehalem Cultural Center: Along with local art galleries that remain open, the Newberg nonprofit will continue to be a cultural beacon for visual art. The exhibition calendar has shows booked through April 30, and beyond that, Director of Arts Programs Carissa Burkett has 2021 mapped out for visual art. “I do have additional exhibits planned for the rest of the year that aren’t on the website yet, primarily because of delays in getting info from the artists,” she said.

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Lines everywhere on the Yamhill County arts horizon

You'll find them in exhibitions exploring horizon lines and ikebana, and the plucked strings of a guitar. Plus, McMinnville Short Film Festival has a new leader

It’s one of those weeks where there’s so much going on, we have just enough space to squeeze in enough about everything for you to click ahead and decide whether to investigate further. Let’s go.

THE CHEHALEM CULTURAL CENTER IN NEWBERG has rotated in a new exhibit worth checking out. Oregon City’s artistic duo Clairissa and Colby Stephens are Stratifying the Unknown with a collection of drawings, paintings and sculptures “that explore the ways horizon lines shape our understanding of place and space and one’s location in it.” According to the artists’ statement:

"Field of View | Black Rock Desert" is part of the “Stratifying the Unknown” show by Clairissa and Colby Stephens in the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.

“Field of View | Black Rock Desert” is part of the “Stratifying the Unknown” show by Clairissa and Colby Stephens in the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.

“We became captivated by horizon lines when we moved to Reno, NV, in 2011. Distinctly different from our Western Oregon stomping grounds, we were captivated by the desert and the 360-degree view of horizon lines that it offered. As avid backcountry explorers, we use a compass for navigation: a process that is heavily dependent on horizon lines. And so we began to consider the various ways that horizon lines impact our lives. But lines do not simply demarcate the boundaries of three dimensional space: They also trace the ways that humans, animals, plants, and water move through it.”

You’ll find it in the Parrish Gallery through June 28. And don’t miss the Art for All Youth project in the Community Gallery, the fruit of an artist-led partnership with Providence’s Outreach program to work with students on ceramics, paint-pouring and watercolor. Runs through June 1.

Portland filmmaker Justin Zimmerman is on board as executive director of the McMinnville Short Film Festival, which is accepting entries for the 2020 event.

Portland filmmaker Justin Zimmerman is on board as executive director of the McMinnville Short Film Festival, which is accepting entries for 2020.

THE NEXT McMINNVILLE SHORT FILM Festival is nearly a year off, but there’s news to report. Portland filmmaker Justin Zimmerman, whose work has appeared in more than a hundred festivals around the world, has been named executive director of the event. Festival co-founders Nancy and Dan Morrow, who operate The Gallery at Ten Oaks in McMinnville, will remain involved in the expanding, filmmaker-friendly enterprise as board members, but this will mark the first time a professional filmmaker (and Portlander) has been in charge of steering the ship.

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‘Miss Julie’ still challenges the chains of convention

If Strindberg's classic, at The Verona Studio in Salem, is too intense for the holidays, head to Gallery Theater for "It's a Wonderful Life"

The Verona Studio in Salem will do some heavy lifting in the Willamette Valley’s theater scene this month. The company, based in the Reed Opera House Mall, is mounting a production of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, where the Darwinian theory of “survival of the fittest” is put to the test with a romantic encounter that crosses class lines.

The show opens a three-weekend run on Nov. 29. While the show was in rehearsal last week, director Gregory Jolivette exchanged a few emails with me. That interview is below, but first, a bit about the play, for the uninitiated.

Johan August Strindberg was a prolific Swedish writer (in addition to the naturalistic theater for which he is famous, he was also a novelist, essayist, and poet) whose career spanned about four decades — mostly during the latter half of the 19th century. He wrote more than 60 plays, and his 1888 drama Miss Julie is widely considered his masterpiece. It’s performed frequently and has been adapted to film many times — most famously in 1951 by the Swedish director Alf Sjöberg and most recently in 2014 by Liv Ullmann. I haven’t seen that one, which stars Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell, but I have seen Sjöberg’s version, which is available on home video through the Criterion Collection and is well worth your time.

Belladina Starr and Seth Allen tackle the bucket-list roles of Julie and Jean in “Miss Julie,” Strindberg’s searing classic about class, gender, and money. Photo courtesy: Roman Martinez of Roman Films for The Verona Studio

Miss Julie features a cast of three. The title character (played in Verona’s production by Belladina Starr), the daughter of a Swedish nobleman, is drawn to Jean, her father’s valet (played by Seth Allen). Christine (Penelope Bays) is a cook for the estate who finds herself in the thick of it. It’s such a challenging, complex work, so rich in its themes and characters, that I wanted to know something about the person who decided to tackle it for The Verona Studio.

Tell us about your background and involvement in theater.

Gregory Jolivette: I stumbled into the theater during my freshman year of high school and have since been doing it as a hobby. I’ve been involved in over 40 productions, mostly as an actor in both community and professional theater companies. Although I grew up in Northern California, Oregon has been a significant part of my theater journey because of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Seeing plays there as a high school student is what really got me hooked on theater arts. Those formative experiences at OSF also explain my interest in the classics. My interest in directing was piqued around the time I moved to Salem in 2013. I started out by assistant-directing a couple of shows at the Pentacle Theatre, and, in 2017, had my directorial debut with The Verona Studio’s well-received production of ‘Night, Mother.

Do you remember a particular play and/or performance you saw at OSF that showed you what theater can do?

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