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

Saturday, September 5, 2015

34. The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture: 80 Days of Summer

Thirty four down. Twenty one to go.

The Burke Museum on the University of Washington Campus was a wonderful mid-summer outing for two kids of different generations (a sixty something Grampa and a very active five year old).

A bit shy at first, before we left the Grandson insisted we see all the exhibits and do all the special fun stuff for kids – which turned out to be a lot. We made a Tyrannosaurus Rex mask, scoured the museum on a dinosaur scavenger hunt, and learned dinosaur secrets hidden in a mystery box. Many other kids were enjoying the museum that rainy summer day, including large groups of day-campers from the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club.

Founded in 1885, the Burke is a research and collections-based museum. The collections contain over 16 million objects and are used for education, research, and the preservation of our cultural heritage. In addition to two popular traveling education programs, more than 35,000 Washington K-12 students visit the Burke every year. The traveling programs, Burke Boxes and BurkeMobile bring objects and educators directly to classrooms across the state.

The Burke's collections are used by researchers from around the globe on topics ranging from medical research to the health of Puget Sound. The museum is also an important repository for our cultural heritage, preserving and displaying thousands of beautiful objects that teach us about the past and inspire new contemporary works of art.

The Burke's docents are outstanding!

Last stop on the scavenger hunt
was outside the museum and could
 only be found by carefully
 following the directions.

The Burke was filled with day-campers on a Wednesday
 in August. The visits were very well managed by the
 camp counselors and museum staff.