Tuesday, December 23, 2014

9: Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Nine down. Forty six to go.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has been a Seattle Public Theater tradition for over a decade. Last Sunday afternoon the large and diverse cast of adults and kids were incredibly energetic and appealing, and the full house (with, of course, lots of children in attendance) clearly loved the show. Our four-year-old grandson spent all 55 minutes of the production in rapt attention, complaining only at the end that it was over too soon.

SPT seeks to produce theater that is intimate, engaging, emotionally powerful and affordable to everyone. SPT's youth program serves a large number of young people in our community with year-round productions, technical training classes and performance opportunities. Every show is cast from those who register, guaranteeing roles for all the young actors and providing them wonderful opportunities for development through ensemble work.

By the way, the show got off to a fun start for me when the woman at will-call turned out to be a theater friend from college. She volunteers her time as house manager, serves on the SPT Board, and is an enthusiastic supporter of Seattle Public Theater – one of the countless volunteers who help keep our arts organizations thriving.

The Grandson was anxious to be
 first in the theater.

8. Book-It Repertory Theater: Pride and Prejudice

Eight Down. Forty Seven to go.

Our family has a mild obsession with Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps it began with my wife's Gramma Claire, who re-read the book every year during her entire adult life. On more occasions than we can remember our clan has gathered to watch the entire BBC miniseries in a single sitting. We find the distinct characters a useful way to describe those we meet (as in "well, she is much more of a Lydia than an Elizabeth") and we delight in finding ways to work Austen quotes and expressions into everyday conversation.

On Saturday night we joined the packed house at Book-It Repertory Theater to enjoy their very fun and broadly comic romp through the literary classic. The cast is strong and delightful, the staging excellent, and the show a fast-paced and thorough telling of the story (for us Austen purists).

Formed as an experimental artist's collective in 1987, Book-It has grown into a thriving regional company, unique because of the theater's commitment to encouraging a love of reading. Book-It productions adapt classic and contemporary literature for the stage, preserving the narrative text of the book as dialogue by the characters in the production. Book-It has over 90 world-premiere adaptations of full-length novels to its credit.

Pride and Prejudice runs through December 28. You can still enjoy the show if you have no fixed engagements next weekend (and worth canceling one to attend if you do).

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Business of Art: Washington Lawyers for the Arts

Lawyers have to report a minimum number of continuing education hours every two years, and on Monday the nonprofit Washington Lawyers for the Arts held their Art Law Institute just in time for me to meet my year-end deadline.

Few things are more heartwarming than a room full of lawyers
 hard at work … for the arts!
Attended by artists and attorneys (and a few who are both), this event turned out to be a lot more fun than your average legal seminar. We heard about appellate court decisions where the Judges include spoiler alerts, listened to music, watched some video clips, and learned about things like why the waiters at your local restaurant don't sing Happy Birthday and why not all the Sherlock Holmes stories are in the public domain. Important stuff to understand when you're creating art or advising artists.

Founded in 1976, WLA supports the arts in our state by making legal resources accessible to artists and arts organizations at very low cost. WLA sponsors legal clinics where artists meet with attorneys who specialize in arts and entertainment law, a speakers bureau, workshops, and education programs such as the Art Law Institute.

I'm making plans to take two more off the ArtsFund list this weekend: Jane and Elizabeth find true love in the shadow of the Space Needle, and a really great Christmas pageant on the shores of Green Lake. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 8, 2014

7: Early Music Guild of Seattle: Seattle Baroque Orchestra - European Christmas Potpourri

Seven down. Forty eight to go.

I have to admit that Jim Duncan has been remarkably supportive of this project, particularly considering that we are planning for him to buy us dinner at The French Laundry when he loses the bet. Saturday evening Jim and Gaylee joined us at Town Hall for the Seattle Baroque Orchestra's European Christmas Potpourri.

Before the show we ran into a friend, obviously an Early Music Guild regular, who commented, "I didn't know you were into early music." This event helped me appreciate the difference between enjoying Bach and Handel and being "into early music." The term refers both to a repertory of music written before about 1800 and an approach to performance informed by history, including the use of period instruments. The Early Music Guild is a nonprofit formed in 1977 to promote early music in Seattle. Its main stage events include the International Series and Seattle Baroque Orchestra.

Saturday's performance featured Eric Milnes as guest conductor and harpsichordist and Helene Brunet, a superb Canadian soprano. Both gave virtuoso performances and were a perfect complement to the orchestra, whose members were obviously enjoying themselves. Their enjoyment was reflected in the music. A highlight was Handel's cantata Gloria in excelsis deo, which was discovered by a German music professor in London in 2001. The evening capped a great week of live music performance, from fine fiddling in Ballard to French Carols on Capitol Hill. 

The concert featured Eric Milnes as guest director and harpsichordist. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

6: Seattle Pro Musica: Family Holiday Concert

Six down. Forty nine to go.

We began a Saturday music performance double-header with Seattle Pro Musica's annual family holiday concert. These folks really know how to put on a show with, and for, children. We know because we were there with two little ones under age five. It was a perfect family holiday event.

The program began with the 80-voice Seattle Pro Musica choir singing five traditional French carols, most of them familiar but wonderful to hear so beautifully sung in French.

Thierry Rautureau, the Chef in the Hat, read
A Visit from St. Nicholas
 with a captivating French flair.
Seattle Pro Musica is committed to building future audiences and singers. Through their Education and Outreach Program they support music educators, helping them inspire students to love singing and choral music. This concert featured a Children's Honor Choir with students from schools in Burien, Everett, Redmond and Duvall.

A highlight of the program was a delightful rendition, with a French flair, of A Visit from St. Nicholas ('Twas the night before Christmas ...) by celebrity Chef in the Hat Thierry Rautureau, supported by the choir. Everyone also loved the carol sing-along, with children from the audience as guest conductors – and, of course, a visit from Santa.

Artistic Director Karen P. Thomas directed the combined Seattle Pro Musica and Children's Honor choirs.
 Photos, by the way, were encouraged - a good choice with so many parents in the audience!


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Live Performance: An Acoustic Connection

Egan's Ballard Jazz House has been open
 over eight years.
Earshot Jazz, a Seattle-based nonprofit that supports jazz in our community, maintains an excellent calendar of local jazz events at:
I was glancing through it the other day when I spotted an event I knew I couldn't miss: an evening with Margo Murphy & John Roberts at Egan's Ballard Jam House. You see, a few years back Margo and I went to kindergarten and grade school together in Burien, but it wasn't until our 40th high school reunion that I learned she sang professionally.

We are blessed in this region with some fabulous large performance venues, both new and restored. But on a cold, dark and drizzly weeknight in December it's fun to catch some acoustic guitar in an intimate space where it feels more like a group of friends gathering in your living room. Egan's is just that sort of place, a very cozy spot to hear live music while enjoying good food and drink. Margo and John served up their own brand of vintage country duets, tasteful guitar work, and with Ruthie Dornfeld, fine fiddling. 

Note to Jim: I am not counting this for our wager as my official "Earshot" visit. Just a chance for a lovely evening of live music. Earshot is sponsoring a lot of great events in the coming year, so checking that box will be no problem at all!

Monday, November 24, 2014

5: The Seattle Repertory Theater: All the Way

Five down.
Fifty to go.

My college roommate Mark is a very successful wheat farmer in Dusty, Washington. It takes a lot to get him off his tractor and over to the "coast" for a weekend – particularly a weekend when snow closes the pass for a couple hours both days. With a little encouragement from his lovely wife Kathy, however, All the Way got him to the big city last weekend, to everyone's satisfaction.

I guess it is a blessing when you live long enough that events from your own life  start to be presented as history, in this case informed by a lot of newly available information. This is powerful theater. I am not a critic, and All the Way has already received plenty of critical acclaim, but this show left us all wanting more. Fortunately, more is on the way when we see The Great Society in December. And you can bet Mark and Kathy will be there, too. 

One more thought. There is something fundamentally different and exciting about attending a performance where every seat is taken. So please, go buy more tickets for live theater!

It's more vibrant when the house is full!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

4: The Nordic Heritage Museum: Yulefest

Four down.
Fifty-one to go.

Yulefest at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard was a wonderful way to spend a dreary Saturday morning in November with the Grandson. The place was packed as usual, but this year a large tent was added outside the museum to provide more space for vendors, food and exhibits.

Yulefest and Viking Days (in August) are the two annual community festivals at the museum, in addition to many other events and exhibits throughout the year. The festivals are great fun, but the museum is also a serious venue for history and art. One of our daughters has been working as an intern at the museum for the past few years, helping with an oral history project that documents the experience of local folks with a Nordic heritage. The last piece I saw from the project was a fascinating and moving account by a local woman of her experience as a child in Nazi occupied Norway.

Authentic Clinker Craft "Viking Ship"
built in Ballard's Historic Fire Station Number 18 in 1976.

Aquavit has been produced since the 15th Century.
This one is from Ballard, so must be a bit younger. Best at cask strength I am told – 120 proof.
The distiller says it is very dark, packed with extra spices, and only for the hardcore Viking. 

 A sweet little Nordic pancake ball with jam. Yumm!

The Grandson shares his holiday art creations.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

3: ArtsWest: Dogfight

Three down.
Fifty two to go.

When Balagan Theater announced it was closing last month it had a collaboration underway with ArtsWest Playhouse to produce the Ben Pasek/Justin Paul musical Dogfight. Balagan received ArtsFund support last year and was on my original list of 55 organizations required to win the bet. As this was the last chance (and not wanting to create any interpretation questions on the wager for our umpire, Sarah Sidman) I found myself in West Seattle Wednesday evening. It was my good fortune.

Dogfight is a wonderful but difficult vehicle. ArtsWest rose to the challenge. It was my first, but certainly not my last trip there. It's an easy drive from downtown in the evening with lots of nearby restaurants, plenty of inexpensive parking, and a comfortable venue. Most of all, it was a poignant, thought-provoking and engaging performance that had me glued to my seat throughout and standing with the rest of the audience at the end.

Next up at ArtsWest is Judy's Scary Little Christmas (as in Judy Garland) by Joe Patrick Ward, December 4-28. Count me in.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Live Performance: Children Remind Us

The boy formerly known as Pippi.

Children remind us of the incredible power of live theater. This little boy – my grandson – saw his first play last year at age 3. It was a performance of Pippi Longstocking at Seattle Children's Theater. Almost immediately after the show he began re-living the character of Pippi. He literally became Pippi. He staged endless re-enactments of the play, casting the adults around him, me included, in various roles. For weeks he insisted that he was not my Grandson, but was in fact Pippi; the Grandson, he informed us, was doing something else upstairs.

Finally, last weekend, Pippi saw Dick Whittington at SCT and it was Dick, not Pippi, who returned from the theater. I didn't make that show and don't know much about the character, except that he apparently wears a tri-cornered hat and has some exciting adventures with pirates. 

Dick and I will be going to Robin Hood at SCT next June and I can't help wondering who will return from that show – and what my role will be in the subsequent family performances. Undoubtedly Friar Tuck.

By the way, the parents are delighted that Pippi has more or less permanently returned to Villa Villekulla. Pippi had attitude. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

2: Tacoma Art Museum: Art of the American West - The Haub Family Collection

Two down.
Fifty-three to go.

Art can bring us together, and Saturday night it brought together a group of old friends and colleagues at the Grand Opening of the Art of the American West exhibit and new wing at the Tacoma Art Museum.

It was a fun party, but the star was the exhibit and its special new home. This first exhibit of the Haub Family Collection (we are told there is a lot more art for future shows) runs through the fall of next year.  It examines more than 200 years of work by historic and contemporary artists, showing how concepts of the West continue to evolve and influence us today. The art is effectively presented around themes and subject matter rather than chronologically or by artist, and it is housed in a beautiful new space. TAM has become a big dot on the art world map. 

The fellow in the middle with the black hat is Rick Little,
Tacoma bon-vivant and nine year ArtsFund associate and former associates chair. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

1: Pacific Northwest Ballet: Director's Choice

One down.
54 to go.

Director's Choice featured the premier
of Justin Peck's work Debonair.

I never danced, but in 1953 my Dad built a dance studio next to our home in Seahurst. Mom taught ballet in that studio for 50 years. She made sure her three boys saw every ballet that came to Seattle, and we were drafted every year as stagehands for the annual "story ballets".

After our own girls were grown, my wife Chris and I starting going back to the ballet. I re-discovered dance and found that ballet appreciation was instilled long ago somewhere deep in the recesses of my brain. Thanks, Mom.

At the Seattle Chamber luncheon last summer Satya Nadella responded to a question about living in the Northwest: "Every time I go to the ballet I am thankful I am here." I couldn't agree more. PNB was the natural place for me to start this campaign.

Director's Choice lived up to the artistry and excitement we have learned to expect from PNB. My favorite moments were the partnering in both A Million Kisses to my Skin and Debonair. Also loved the way the dancers walked to their places in A Million Kisses and found myself looking for and finding reflections of that movement in the otherwise (to my untrained eye) generally classical technique. In Rassemblement, the varied and intelligent program challenged the audience with the experience of slavery in Haiti. 

Finally, it was fun to watch our daughter and her girlfriend check out all the old Nutcracker programs in the lobby, finding those from the years they attended as little girls.

A PNB School student collecting donations for
Second Stage, PNB's career transition program for dancers.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Off and Running ... on a bet!

In which Sandy attempts to take in 55 plays, operas, ballets, galleries, museums
 and other worthy arts organizations in 12 months.

On November 12th I became Chair of the ArtsFund Board. A few weeks earlier I'd made an offhand comment to my good friend and former ArtsFund chair Jim Duncan that I'd like to experience something from all the organizations ArtsFund supported last year -- you know, take in a play here, an opera there, a museum and a gallery along the way. How hard could that be?

Pretty hard, apparently. Jim told me that he had concluded it was impossible: there were way too many organizations spread out all over the region. In fact, he said, he'd bet me a dinner out that I couldn't do it. So, of course, I rose to the bait.

ArtsFund's mission is to strengthen the community by supporting the arts through leadership, advocacy and grant making. It has been making grants to arts organizations through a rigorous allocation process for over 40 years. To win the bet I have to attend (on or before November 12, 2015) a performance, exhibit or program at all 55 organizations that ArtsFund supported with grants last year.

Of course, ArtsFund supports many additional organizations with other programs including an innovative crowd funding platform at power2give.org/PugetSound. My plan is to learn about many of the power2give projects as well, but visiting all those is not part of the wager. Got to leave something for the second year of my term. But I will try to share my thoughts and experiences here along the way.

Was I set up? Maybe, but either way I am looking forward to this journey -- and the fabulous dinner for four with wine (all provided by Mr. Duncan) at the restaurant of my choice when I win the wager!

 Game on!