Friday, December 4, 2015

All done!

The final event for this project was Audra McDonald at the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, on October 25, 2014. I finished well ahead of my November 12 deadline and won the bet. Fortunately the blog was not part of the wager -  it took another month to complete all the blog posts.

There are many to thank for their encouragement and help along the way. First, Mari Horita and the ArtsFund staff. They provided all kinds of support: looking out for good exhibits, performances and events to catch, helping me learn more about the organizations and art I was seeing, and even joining me at several performances. 

Jim Duncan, of course, must be recognized for making the original challenge, for graciously offering a lot of encouragement (and some free tickets!) along the way, and for the dinner we will enjoy this Sunday evening.

The ArtsFund staff, particularly
Sarah Sidman, helped make
sure nothing was missed.
Our region provides many wonderful opportunities to enjoy art with everyone in the family, and I want to thank mine. Chris, my lovely wife of 41 years, joined me at the vast majority of performances. I also had fun outings with both daughters and their partners, individually and in groups, attending events that fit their diverse interests. Readers may have also noticed a slight tendency to share a bit about my Grandson. See Children Remind Us.

Finally, the greatest help came from my brother Scott. He painstakingly edited every post, offering a lot of encouragement along the way and not murdering me (although he threatened) for my repeated grammatical errors. Scott will be directing Mary Poppins next March for Theater Arts Guild, a wonderful community theater up in Mount Vernon.

And last but certainly not least, the pitch!

Over the twelve months I experienced just about every kind of art the Puget Sound has to offer - dance, film, theater, music, visual art and more. I learned that the organizations ArtsFund supports are more inventive, challenging and innovative than I ever imagined. These organizations serve thousands of students through outstanding education programs. They have large and diverse audiences, and many are expanding their reach to serve new communities in our region.

These organizations each make their own unique contributions, but they share at least one thing in common: they receive vital operating support from ArtsFund. We need your help to make it happen. Please make a contribution to ArtsFund during our 2016 Campaign. Here is the link: Donate Now!

Mari Horita and Jim Duncan certified completion of the project
at the ArtsFund Annual Meeting, held at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

55. Broadway Center for the Performing Arts: Audra McDonald

Fifty five down. All Done!!

In addition to being a fabulous entertainer and winner of six Tony Awards, Audra McDonald is a student of American Musical Theater. For this show Ms. McDonald and music director Andy Einhorn curated a selection of beautiful and engaging songs from the very familiar to those known only to the most ardent musical theater fan. She narrated the performance with wonderful explanations of each number's history, and of the actors, composers and lyricists who have been her inspirations.

McDonald knew she had an audience of kindred spirits.  With only slight prompting, the audience enthusiastically performed several verses of I Could Have Danced All Night all on its own, after which she complimented the impromptu chorus and, in particular, two sopranos near the stage. (She politely reminded them it was "her show.")

After the performance we had dinner in Tacoma with some good friends, one of whom was on the Broadway Center board. Our friend pointed out that the audience, which packed the Pantages Theater, had come from all over the region. That is what the Broadway Center does; based in Tacoma, it brings focused support to all forms of live performance in our region through four venues, seven resident arts organizations, and eight separate education programs.

This was the perfect final show for my ArtsFund project. In the past 12 months I have learned so much about our region's amazingly rich visual and performing arts. It has been fabulous to experience a broad spectrum of art, much of it beyond my comfortable favorites. This show was perfect reward for reaching my goal, however. It brought me back to something I already knew: I love American musical theater.

Sandy, as Curly in Oklahoma.
Highline High School, 1970.

There are many to thank for helping with this project, which I will do in a final post.

54. Seattle Symphony: Luminous Landscapes, The Sibelius Symphonies and Sonic Evolution with Shaprece and the Roosevelt HS Band

Fifty four down. One to go.

The two Seattle Symphony concerts we saw for this project demonstrated the orchestra's incredible depth and broad audience appeal. The first, Luminous Landscapes, featured the work of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The second, Sonic Evolution: Under The Influence was a co-presentation with the Earshot Jazz Festival and included Symphony performances with the Roosevelt High School Jazz Band, renowned jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and the very popular local singer Shaprece. 

In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth the symphony devoted six programs entirely to Sibelius music, presenting all seven of his symphonies. We saw the first two in a performance conducted by Thomas Dausgaard, Conductor Laureate of the Danish National Symphony. We particularly enjoyed the beautiful tone poem Finlandia, written following Russia's 1899 February Manifesto severely limiting civil liberties in Finland.

The Sonic Evolution concert began with composer Derek Bermel's Migration Series for Jazz Ensemble and Orchestra. Composer Bermel joined the orchestra on clarinet along with the Roosevelt High ensemble. The music was based on 60 panels about the Great Migration painted in 1941 by artist and former UW professor Jacob Lawrence. The panels were projected above the orchestra, art and music combining in a moving telling of the migration, from wide open southern landscapes to life in northern cities. Following a new work by Wayne Horvitz, Shaprece's high-energy performance (complete with two onstage dancers) was the perfect cap to a diverse, high quality concert, full of youthful energy both onstage and in the audience. 

Under the direction of Ludovic Morlot since 2011, the Seattle Symphony performs to more than 500,000 people each year, both onstage and through radio broadcasts. Its home is in Seattle's beautiful and acoustically superb Benaroya Hall. Each year the Symphony's education and community engagement programs reach over 65,000 children and adults. The Symphony has a deep commitment to new music, commissioning many new works each season. Since its founding in 1903 the orchestra has made nearly 150 recordings, received 18 Grammy nominations and won two Emmy Awards. A gem in our midst, indeed. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

53. Northwest African American Museum: Flying Home with David Nicholson

Fifty three down. Two to go.

The Northwest African American Museum was a great place to spend a long Saturday afternoon learning more about the history of our region and the Black experience in America. 

NAAM seeks to spread knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of the "histories, arts and cultures of peoples of African descent." This was evident in the reading I attended at the museum by Washington, D.C. based author David Nicholson. His excellent book Flying Home is a collection of short stories about ordinary men and women in our nation's capital. Described as "sad, wise and funny", it takes us "behind the curtains of race and class that separate us and often hides our common humanity." Mr. Nicholson's wisdom and humanity was certainly evident in the long discussion that followed his reading.

Another way NAAM seeks to accomplish its mission is by presenting the connections between the Pacific Northwest and people of African descent. The museum's exhibits do that in masterful fashion. I particularly enjoyed learning more about the civil rights movement in our region, much of which I witnessed as a kid growing up in Seattle. The museum was also featuring an exhibition of beautiful glass orchids by artist Debora Moore, one of many cultural, artistic and historical exhibitions offered each year in NAAM's  three galleries.

NAAM opened in 2008 and is thriving today, with over 14,000 visitors last year. Its workshops, lectures and community conversations were attended by over 3,400. NAAM also offers space for private events, with a "unique cultural backdrop" available for meetings, weddings and other functions. 

NAAM's vision is broader and more ambitious than just building an outstanding museum - it is about driving change in our region. It seeks a Pacific Northwest where the important histories, arts and cultures of people of African descent are embraced as an essential part of our shared heritage and future. A wonderful goal indeed.

The museum was featuring an exhibit
of glass orchids by artist Debora Moore. 
NAAM tells the story of the civil rights movement in our region through
photographs and multi-media installations.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

52. Earshot Jazz Festival: Tomeka Reid, Nicole Mitchell and Mike Reed

Fifty two down. Three to go.

Earshot Jazz has a message for the Pacific Northwest: Jazz is not dead. It isn't even ailing. This year's Earshot Jazz Festival proved that once again, with more than 50 events in clubs and concert halls around Seattle. The number of events, however, is just part of the story. The size and and diversity of the audiences at the Festival demonstrate the strength of jazz in our community, along with the vibrancy and artistry of the players across a broad spectrum of ages, races and cultures.

We saw a jazz trio perform at the Good Shepard Center in Wallingford, one of 19 Festival venues. The musicians were cellist Topeka Reid, flutist Nicole Mitchell and drummer Mike Reed. From Chicago, the three are prominent jazz performers, composers and educators. They are also key figures in the Chicago jazz collective known as the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Their music was engaging and approachable and we particularly enjoyed Ms. Reid's beautiful jazz flute.

Earshot Jazz has been supporting and presenting jazz in our region since 1984. In addition to the annual Festival and many other presentations, Earshot provides jazz education and publishes a monthly jazz magazine. Although the Festival presents jazz artists from around the world, its strong Northwest roots are shown through performances by local groups such as the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, the Westerlies brass quartet and the Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra.

51. Northwest Sinfonietta: Mozart and Beethoven

Fifty one down. Four to go.

My trip to Puyallup to hear the Northwest Sinfonietta held a few surprises.  The Sinfonietta's excellent music was to be expected. The venue, however – a gorgeous laminated beam structure at Pioneer Park – looked nothing like a concert hall. At first it seemed that I was in the wrong location, but before it was over even conductor David Lockington expressed surprise at the wonderful acoustics. The informal table seating, with light lunches and wine available, was delightful. It all made for a very congenial atmosphere on an otherwise dreary Sunday afternoon.

The program featured Gabriela Martinez, an exciting young pianist from New York, playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20. The Orchestra also performed Copland's Music for Theater and Beethoven's Symphony No. 8. The conductor introduced each work, providing historical context about the composers and the music. The informal atmosphere was perfect for a chamber orchestra, typically around 35 musicians (about half the size of a symphony orchestra). The smaller ensemble provides the chance to experience classical music in a close and intimate fashion.

For its 25th Anniversary Season the Sinfonietta has adopted an artistic leadership model where a rotating group of  "Artistic Partners" conduct the orchestra. They are engaged for multiple seasons and collaborate with the musicians on programming and artistic quality. In addition to Puyallup, the Sinfonietta performs in Seattle at Benaroya Hall and at the Rialto Theater in Tacoma.
It turned out that the Pioneer Park Pavillion in Puyallup was an excellent venue
 for an informal chamber orchestra concert.

50. Seattle Art Museum: Disguise - Masks and Global African Art

Fifty down. Five to go.

The exhibit Disguise: Masks and Global African Art demonstrated the strength of the Seattle Art Museum. Brilliantly conceived, it showcased African masks from SAM's collection along with new works created for the exhibit by artists from around the world. The immersive multi-media installations flowed through several rooms. Each was an exploration of the theme by a different artist, featuring stories and experiences, and accompanied by an original sound track written for the exhibit. It was beautiful, challenging, mystical, at times whimsical, and thoroughly compelling. ArtsFund was a presenting sponsor.

Yours truly, taken
at the Disguise exhibit.
Last year, SAM's 80th anniversary, over 750,000 people visited its three locations: the museum's home in downtown Seattle, the Asian Art Museum on Capitol Hill, and the Olympic Sculpture Park just north of Seattle's central waterfront. Almost 50,000 young people from the Seattle area and beyond participated in SAM's varied educational programs. They include numerous summer activities and events for kids, education programs in the classroom and at the museums, and extensive programming for teens.

The 80th anniversary celebration featured a special exhibit at the Asian Art Museum which explained how the SAM collection began, focusing on its founder Dr. Richard Fuller. At the Olympic Sculpture Park SAM installed Echo, a monumental new sculpture by James Plensa. SAM continues to expand its global collection with significant new acquisitions that fill gaps and add depth to the collection. SAM is strong, growing, truly world-class and clearly makes our region a better place to live.
SAM has added the monumental sculpture
Echo to its Olympic Sculpture Park. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

49. Three Dollar Bill Cinema: 20th Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival- Welcome to This House

Sometimes one arts event will inform and inspire another. At least that was the case for us with Welcome to this House at the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.

The film, which explored the life of poet Elizabeth Bishop, was in the Festival's "Know Your History" category. It was the perfect sequel to Dear Elizabeth, an excellent play produced at the Seattle Repertory Theatre last season about the friendship between Bishop and poet Robert Lowell. Screened at the Northwest Film Forum Theater on Capitol Hill, the documentary told the rest of the Bishop story. I particularly enjoyed the sequences about the poet's life in Brazil and her fiery relationship with Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares. Prior to the movie the group Puget Sound Old Lesbians Organizing for Change did an interesting and light-hearted presentation about their programs.

Now in its 20th year, the Festival had 26 co-presenters and filled thousands of seats at five theaters around Seattle. It showcased over 30 films selected from more than a thousand submissions. It explored serious and important themes, but was also a lot of fun – there were a dozen parties and receptions over the Festival's eleven days, including a Closing Night Gala to celebrate the winners of both juried prizes and those awarded by popular vote.

Three Dollar Bill Cinema provides access to films by, for and about LGBT people and their families. In addition to the Festival, their programs include outdoor theater, a transgender film festival, youth programs, and acting as fiscal sponsor for film projects. I was pleased to see that the Three Dollar Bill Cinema homepage thanks donors who, through ArtsFund's Power2Give program, helped them establish a new home in the 12th Avenue Arts building on Capitol Hill.

Monday, November 9, 2015

48. Museum of Glass: Bird Lovers Weekend

Forty eight down. Seven to go.

My wife Chris has always loved birds, so the Bird Lovers Weekend was the perfect time for our visit to the Museum of Glass in Tacoma. One seldom has the opportunity to observe world famous sculptors at work. The Museum of Glass, however, provides that chance: it has a working hot shop where you can watch premier artists create fabulous glass art. It is exciting to watch and there is always some suspense. What will the final creation look like? Will it survive the creative process without shattering?

We spent close to an hour in the hot shop on a recent Sunday afternoon observing Finnish master glassblowers Arto Lahtinen and Helena Welling create beautiful glass birds. This is the twelfth year they have spent time in the hot shop creating works designed by Professor Oiva Toikka from Finland's famous Iittala glass company. The museum's hot shop is within a 90 foot tall cone-shaped amphitheater where visitors are very close to the action. You can also watch the work in progress on a large live screen, with commentary provided by Museum staff.

In the hotshop you can watch
the artists at work and follow
the action on a live screen.
The Museum of Glass and the adjoining Chihuly Bridge of Glass opened in July of 2002. The opening was the result of a 20 year incubation and development process involving artists and civic leaders who believed a world-class museum celebrating the Studio Glass movement would help anchor Tacoma's redevelopment. In addition to the hotshop, the museum features galleries that host many exhibitions throughout the year as well as the museum's permanent collection. The museum also has a number of School Programs and, of course, the opportunity to purchase beautiful glass art in its gift shop.

It is exciting and suspenseful to watch
 the glass artists in action.

The museum galleries feature many
exhibitions and a permanent collection.

Bird Lover's Weekend featured an appearanceby the Seattle Seahawks' live mascot Taima, an Augur Hawk.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

47. UW World Series: Sankai Juku presents Umusuna

Forty seven down. Eight to go.

For the start of its 34th season the UW World Series presented Umusuna, a new work by Sankai Juku, a contemporary butoh dance company from Japan.

Umusuna was a visually stunning performance, beautifully lit and accompanied by haunting music. A thin stream of sand fell at a single point on the stage for the entire ninety minutes, a beautiful and striking metaphor for the work's theme, described in the program as Memories Before History. The program explains that the Japanese word umusuna is rooted in concepts of birth, existence and nothingness, the ground and soil, and one's native place. The dancers' movements were contained and precise, and the ensemble flowed seamlessly between various combinations and the full company of eight dancers.

This was my first experience of butoh, described in the program as the only genuinely Japanese form of modern dance as well as a leading world trend. Alice Kadershan did a wonderful preview of the show in the Seattle Times that describes butoh's origins.

The UW World Series at Meany Hall presents a wealth of live music, dance and theater performances. There are currently some 25 shows listed on their website in four distinct performing arts series: World Dance, World Music & Theater, President's Piano, and International Chamber Music. There is also an education program called Community Connections which includes a K-12 component involving the Seattle Public Schools.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

46. The Vera Project: Risk!

Forty six down. Nine to go.

RISK! is a live show and popular podcast "where people tell true stories they never thought they'd dare to share in public." RISK! has monthly shows in New York, Los Angeles and on occasion, other venues around the country. On a weeknight in September The Vera Project was one of those venues.

The Vera Project seeks to fuel "personal and community transformation through collaborative, youth-driven engagement in music and art." Vera's programs focus on young people ages 14 to 24 and include training in skills such as audio engineering and silkscreen printing. In its Seattle Center home Vera has an art gallery and a performance space featuring weekly concerts designed to promote artistic experimentation. Volunteers are an important part Vera's operation, with  a committee for each programming area and a wide range of volunteer opportunities.

The Vera project
 encourages free expression,
as shown by this wall inside
the venue.
Vera says that its programs are always "all ages." I helped establish the truth of that statement at this event, being easily the oldest person in the audience. The performance was hosted by a comic from the Risk! organization and featured three personal vignettes by talented locals with a gift for storytelling. The show lived up to its reputation as funny, touching and no-holes-barred truth. A fellow ArtsFund board member asked if I had trouble staying awake given the 10 P.M. start time. I assured him there was no sleeping given the interesting content. Intrigued? Listen to an episode on their website.

Most Vera programs are in our venue at the Seattle Center, including the following:
These activities are initiated and driven collaboratively by Vera’s volunteers, staff, Board of Directors and youth-led Membership.
Weekly concerts promote artistic experimentation and excellence in a professional setting, leveraging industry-standard technology to showcase music and arts. Classes fuse with experiential learning opportunities and a volunteer-driven structure that engages young people in the arts, fosters inter-generational communication and gives constituents the skills necessary to pursue their creative and professional passions. The skills participants gain at Vera activate future creativity, careers and leadership within Vera and in the greater creative community. Vera engages thousands in the arts, develops the future of the music industry and supports a vibrant Seattle culture.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

45. Artist Trust: Anna Skibska Studio - Summer's End Soiree

Forty five down. Ten to go.

Open to anyone willing to make a small donation,
the Summer's End Soiree was a fun party inside
Anna Skibska's Fremont Studio.
Artist Anna Skibska received a Fellowship from Artist Trust in 2001 and wanted to give something back: she wanted to help this organization continue its important work of supporting artists in Washington State. So, she hosted a benefit reception in her Fremont studio where she sold some of her beautiful jewelry, and shared the proceeds with Artist Trust.

I was a beneficiary of this event as well, in the form of a very fun outing and the chance to buy a birthday present for our eldest daughter. The artist herself confirmed my selection as "perfect", based on a photo of said daughter. At the event Ms. Skibska gave a wonderful demonstration of her signature and well-recognized glass technique.

Artist Trust offers some very important and tangible support for individual artists of all disciplines in Washington State, providing financial help, career training, and professional resources. Their grant-making is based on artistic merit, with awards (which range from project grants to major merit awards and residencies across the country) selected by peer panels of artists and arts professionals. The organization's Creative Career Center holds workshops and classes around the state where artists learn best business practices and entrepreneurialism. It is easy and inexpensive to become an Artist Trust member, which provides for discounts at arts-related businesses and Artist Trust programs, among other benefits.

Ann Skibska received her diploma from the Academy of Art in Wroclaw, Poland and has taught creative glass in Japan, at the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle, and at the Pilchuck Glass School. She has lived and worked in Seattle since the late 90's and her work has been exhibited in Europe and across the U.S.  Opportunities to meet the artist and see her work can be found on her Facebook page.

Our daughter loved the necklace and
earrings handmade by the artist.

44. Tacoma Symphony Orchestra

Forty four down. Eleven to go.

Tacoma is excited about its new orchestra conductor, Sarah Ioannides, and with good reason. They’re calling it the "era of Sarah."

The recent opening of the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra's 2015-16 season showcased her in a winning combination with high-voltage pianist Andreas Boyde and an orchestra obviously energized by her leadership. In her second season as music director, Ms. Ioannides has impressive credentials. Trained at Oxford and Julliard, she has conducted throughout the United States and around the world. The New York Times described her as "magic" and said she conducts with "unquestionable strength and authority".

The concert began with a robust singing of our National Anthem accompanied by the Orchestra. And I do mean singing. This audience loves music and they don't just stand there while someone else sings the Star Spangled Banner. Styled the "Russian Season Opening", the evening featured works by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky. The large and enthusiastic audience was particularly thrilled by pianist Boyde's performance in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2.

Tacoma Symphony Orchestra, which began in 1946 as an amateur orchestra, has been a professional symphony for 20 years. With 80 contracted musicians and an affiliated community chorus, the Orchestra performs annually to an audience of over 15,000. It has strong community support from patrons and many donors in addition to ArtsFund. Education is central to its mission; the symphony's flagship education program Simply Symphonic focuses on 5th grade students with classroom programs and the opportunity to attend a specially-created concert at Tacoma's Pantages Theater.

Ms. Ionnades follows the very successful 20-year tenure of Harvey Felder, who took the organization from a community orchestra to a professional symphony. Together with a fine company of dedicated musicians, Sarah Ioannides and the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra have a bright future indeed.

Under the direction of Sarah Ioannides,
Tacoma SymphonyOrchestra and pianist Andreas Boyde
were a winning combination.

43. Whim W'Him: Choreographic Shindig

Forty three down. Twelve to go.

Whim W'Him is an ensemble of seven dancers – four men and three women – founded in 2009 by former PNB principal dancer Oliver Wevers. Choreographic Shindig was built on the work of three choreographers selected by the Whim W'Him dancers from over ninety proposals submitted by choreographers from around the world. That is correct: over ninety choreographers wanted to stage a work for this company!

The Pacific Northwest has a rich history of fostering dancers and choreographers of enormous international influence: Merce Cunningham, Robert Joffrey and Mark Morris, to name a few. Mr. Wevers is a potential candidate for that list. Unlike some of his predecessors with strong local ties, however, Wevers has stayed right here to establish a company. Why? It is because our region has outstanding professional dancers nurtured by local companies, the artistic and technical skills required to support world-class live performance, and the desire (one might say clamoring) of international dance artists to participate in our local dance scene. Of course, we shouldn't forget growing patron and donor support for dance, in which ArtsFund plays an important role.

To learn more about Choreographic Shindig, read one of the outstanding reviews. That is another strength of our local dance scene: dance-literate critics.

It is exciting to look forward to what this company will do in the years ahead. Whim W'Him has already selected the choreographers for next year's Shindig.  I can't wait.

Whim W'Him is a wonderful ensemble
of seven dancers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

42. Seattle Chamber Music Society: Summer Festival

Forty two down. Thirteen to go.

The Seattle Chamber Music Festival presents an incredible opportunity for all of us – the chance to hear chamber music at its finest, performed by extraordinary musicians from around the world, right here in our own back yard: Benaroya Hall.

We saw the thirteenth and final night of the Summer Festival. It featured nine musicians with international reputations in an evening of Brahms, Borodin and Rachmaninov. The performers ranged from the concertmasters of both the National Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra to a Korean-born pianist, a Taiwanese-American violist, and leading artists from the Cleveland and SanFrancisco Orchestras, among others. These outstanding musicians were just a few of the over 45 artists who appeared over the thirteen nights of the festival.

Founded in 1982, the Seattle Chamber Music Society presents a January winter festival and a summer festival in late July. In addition to these high quality performances, the Society offers programs for adults and youngsters to build audience appreciation and understanding of chamber music, including summer concerts in Seattle parks and an annual Young Artists Awards Competition in partnership with Classical King FM 98.1.

41. Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas: Resilience at the Crossroads of Race & Climate Justice

Forty one down. Fourteen to go.

Resilience. This program was a powerful mix of art, stories, food and music designed to show that resilience is the "hidden strength people of color take for granted, after centuries of unhealed oppression." In particular, on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it sought to explore why the best climate solutions must address racism, and vice-versa.

Co-organized by the Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas, the program was held on a gorgeous Sunday at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Seattle's Discovery Park.

The afternoon began with great food and the chance to interact with presenters at tables hosted by government organizations and environmental groups. There was a lot of lively and animated conversation around those tables at this very well-attended event. A number of visual artists exhibited work related to the race and climate justice theme and there was a performance by the Metis fiddlers group Montana Shorty.  The event featured several presentations, including a keynote by Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental & Climate Justice Program, a choral performance, and discussions with the audience.

The Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas seeks to inspire new thoughts and challenge assumptions about Black culture through the performing arts. It presents events featuring dance, music, theater and the literary arts, with performances by both national and local artists. Examples include programs that have explored the international impact of Black artists with Seattle roots (think Quincy Jones, Octavia Butler and August Wilson), and the "Kitchen Sessions" featuring powerful poetry and storytelling by young Black women artists.

The program opened with a story that
included some audience participation.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

40. The Esoterics: Audacior

Forty down. Fifteen to go.

We weren't sure what to expect when we set off to a choral concert at St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Seattle recently. After all, the group was called “The Esoterics” — where did that name come from, we wondered? 

It happened like this: In early 1992, conductor and ethnomusicologist Eric Banks brought together a group of singing friends to perform his Master’s and Doctoral recitals in Choral Studies at the University of Washington. After Banks’ recitals were completed the group wanted to keep singing together, so Banks chose a name for his ensemble based on the Greek adjective εσοτερικος, which describes a close-knit community and the secret knowledge that its members share.

Now in its twenty-second season, The Esoterics is a well respected Seattle based vocal ensemble dedicated to performing rarely-heard contemporary a cappella choral works from around the world. Since 1993 the group has performed over 300 concerts throughout the Pacific Northwest and has commissioned and premiered more than 100 new works for a cappella voices in dozens of languages.

The program we saw, Audacior, was a collection of modern choral music "celebrating brazenness, bravery, and bravado." The chorus performed six works inspired by "revolutionaries, journalists, professors, nonconformists, and those unafraid of speaking truth to those in power."

It turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening!

Monday, September 28, 2015

39. Vashon Allied Arts: Vive la France - Picnic in Provence

Thirty nine down. Sixteen to go. 

  The Picnic in Provence was a great party. It had everything that makes a charity auction lots of fun: great entertainment, wonderful art for sale, a vibrant crowd and a fantastic cause. We ran into a couple old friends, made lots of new ones, and of course, spent more than we had planned.

Every year, Vashon Allied Arts has not one, but two sold-out auction nights exclusively featuring the work of Vashon artists. The French picnic theme was beautifully executed with just the right combination of authenticity (think food and wine) and tongue-in-cheek fun – including the opportunity to have a quick portrait done by a local artist. We learned that VAA serves as the focus of a vibrant and close-knit arts community that supports artists, patrons and students. Oh, and did I mention, they love to party?

Henri did my portrait. I was later
 advised that his prodigious talents
 may lie more in the theater than
on the canvas. You can be
the judge below.

Established in 1966, Vashion Allied Arts is one of the oldest nonprofit art centers in the state. Last year it produced 111 performances and events with over 21,000 attendees. VAA offered 140 classes that served over 1,400 students (many of whom received VAA scholarships), and paid $350,000 to visual artists, teaching artists, and performers. Hundreds of artists (including over 100 Island artists) showed work in the VAA galleries. Vashon Artists in Schools, a partnership between VAA and the Vashon Island School District, is in its 28th year. Last but certainly not least, VAA is building an impressive new building and campus that will feature performance, classroom and gallery spaces.

I wasn't particularly flattered
that our dinner table-mates
thought I resembled Henri's portrait.
The woman next to me, a partner
 in a large Seattle law firm, thought
it looked like an axe-murderer.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

38. Jack Straw Productions: Ugly Me

Thirty eight down. Seventeen to go.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, where does self-worth reside? That question was posed by Gabriela Denise Frank's Ugly Me installation at the Jack Straw New Media Gallery. I visited the gallery one beautiful summer evening to hear a talk by the artist and see the exhibit, described as an exploration of "the interplay between appearance and self-worth through fashion photography, distorted selfies, and spoken prose."

Ugly Me explored beauty, worth, and the "power of the selfie." It was a serious and thought-provoking work, but also a fun and whimsical exploration of the world of distorted selfies (taken with various apps you can download on your smartphone). The artist said that through this project she has "learned to not to squirm (too much) in the presence of cameras." She also invited folks to tweet selfies to the exhibit or post them in person at the gallery.

Founded in 1962, Jack Straw is a multidisciplinary audio arts center. Its home on Roosevelt Avenue in Seattle's University District has exhibit, classroom and office space, and a production facility for local artists to work creatively with sound.  Among its many offerings, Jack Straw has three different artist residencies, art and technology education (including programs in the public schools), and collaborations with arts and heritage organizations to integrate sound and music into their programs. Jack Straw has a full-service recording studio and provides creation and production opportunities in all forms of audio media, including radio, theater, film, video, music and literature.

Jack Straw is producing a podcast interview of Ms. Frank discussing Ugly Me which should be fun and interestingwill share the link here as soon as it is available. 

The Ugly Me installation included a dozen poems by
the artist, Gabriela Denise Frank

The installation included many images from public media.

Friday, September 25, 2015

37. ACT Theater: Hold These Truths

Thirty seven down. Eighteen to go.

ACT's Hold These Truths was an incredibly powerful telling of the Japanese internment story. Even before the show I was reminded by a good friend how recent this history is; her mom, who had been taken to an internment camp as a child, was trying to decide whether or not she would see the show. As the play unfolds, the many references to Seattle neighborhoods, streets, schools and events made the story immediate and uncomfortable. Of course we know this is recent history and that it happened right here, but live theater and a bravura performance brought it home in a particularly compelling way. 

The play, written by Jeanne Sakata, was based on interviews with Gordon Hirabayashi, the University of Washington student who became one of three Japanese Americans who refused internment; along with contemporary news accounts and
Hirabayashi's letters from prison. Actor Ryun Yu received rave reviews for his portrayal of Mr. Hirabayashi. There was no intermission, just a stunning ninety-minute solo performance. 

ACT is, of course, a long-standing pillar of our theater community. Its Mainstage productions such as Hold These Truths are the core of its mission, and ACT has been producing them for over 50 years.  Since 2003 ACT has presented 11 world premieres including seven by local writers. ACT's innovative Central Heating Lab initiative (now known simply as ACTLab) nurtures and supports new works, new talent, and local artists spanning not only theatre but also cabaret, music, dance, spoken word, film, and both visual and performance art. 

ACT has a significant national presence, too.  Since 2006 it has developed or premiered 22 new plays, which have gone on to over 60 productions elsewhere in the country. Its 2012 world premiere musical First Date, (in partnership with The 5th Avenue Theatre) was produced on Broadway, and plays developed at ACT have won the prestigious Steinberg Award for new work.

Shows like Hold These Truths are why we need theaters like ACT. Important stories like this demand to be told in a compelling manner.  It takes a strong, capable professional theater organization to succeed in such a telling.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

36. Velocity Dance Theater: Dance Innovators in Performance

Thirty six down. Nineteen to go.

I think of myself as a dance lover, but before seeing this show I really knew next to nothing about improvisational dance. A night with Velocity Dance Theater (and some helpful coaching from an ArtsFund staff member) cured my ignorance and provided a wonderful introduction to this exciting dance form.

Dance Innovators in Performance featured eleven works created and performed by the faculty from Velocity's 22nd Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation. Each built around a theme or narrative, the works were performed by both individual dancers and groups. They ranged from light and whimsical to thought-provoking and even challenging.  Some were done in silence, others to music ranging from vocalization to an onstage didgeridoo.

After the performance I spoke with Krina Turner, an ArtsFund staff member who is also a dancer, and who had performed in the Festival two years ago. She explained that improvisational dance began in the 1960s in reaction to modern dance, just as modern dance had been a movement away from strict ballet technique. I also learned that dance training and good technique are just as important in improvisational dance as they are in more traditional forms; and was reminded that, after all, improvisation is often used by choreographers in the creative process.

Since 1996 Velocity Dance has done a lot to advance contemporary dance and movement-based art in our region. Home to dozens of independent choreographers, Velocity has classes every day, performances almost every week and more than twelve artist development programs. It is renowned for producing innovative, cutting-edge work.

Velocity has weathered a few storms, most particularly the challenge of losing its original home of 13 years back in 2009. While continuing its programs without interruption Velocity found a new location on Capitol Hill and conducted a capital campaign to renovate the facility. In 2010 Velocity moved into a beautiful new facility, a cohesive space which links the offices, theater and studios.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

35. Village Theater: Cabaret

Thirty five down. Twenty to go.

Innovative. Exciting. Thought-provoking.

We saw the opening night of Cabaret at the Everett Performing Arts Center. It was everything we have learned to expect from the Village Theater, and more.

The production sought to explore the musical as a memory play for the male lead, Cliff. In his program notes, Director Brian Yorkey describes Cliff as a man searching "to understand who he was and who he became as a result of his experiences." This theme resurfaces with every character. They all must decide who they will be "when faced with difficult decisions in a world that is full of evil." Those choices, Mr. Yorkey believes, are what Cabaret is truly about. "It's a play about choice and consequence. It is a journey of seduction and destruction that forces us to take an honest look at ourselves and our world."

For me, a couple highlights of this solid professional production were Billie Wildrick's performance as Sally Bowles (which got outstanding reviews), and the onstage Kit Cat Club orchestra led by Tim Symons and described as "sizzling" by the Seattle Times.

A great deal could be written about Village Theater's phenomenal success. It begins in 1979 at a little old movie theater in what was then the small town of Issaquah. It goes on to include a 36-year track record of professional shows, strong and varied educational programs, and a very successful expansion in Everett.

A single page on the Village Theater website tells the story. It is the page where you can track the progress of Village Original shows as they are produced around the world. It lists over 80 original productions back to 2002, including Next to Normal written by Cabaret's director and Issaquah native Brian Yorkey. Developed and first produced at Village, that show won the Pulitzer Prize and three Tony awards in 2009.

Village Theater has a very strong
presence in Everett.
At the Cabaret opening we said hello to music director Tim Symons. Years ago Tim did musical theater with my kids in Issaquah.  My brother Scott and I also renewed an old connection with Village Theater's Executive Producer Rob Hunt. A few years before Rob helped found Village Theater, Scott and I appeared with him in musicals at our alma mater, Highline High School. We also reflected a bit on our parents. Rob reminded us that he used to take dance lessons from our mom in her Seahurst studio, and for 35 years Rob's folks were the leading lights of Burien Little Theater.

The Theater's Everett programs include
 a Second Stage Education Center