"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Monday, June 20, 2011

OSF 2011: Unprecedented Bowmer Theatre drama! (Updates)

Earlier I wrote, partly tongue-in-cheek, about how OSF dealt with bad weather in an outdoor performance, so I must follow up here with how they deal with a real problem: on Saturday it was discovered that the main supporting beam in the Angus Bowmer Theatre (the largest of the OSF indoor theatres) was unsafe, and the theatre would have to be closed until it was fixed.

Bowmer house: OSF photo
Whoa! This is the  height of the OSF season and most performances at the Bowmer are sold out; people travel here from all over and plan their OSF visits for months in advance.

 Historic Ashland Armory open!
Photo by Paul from blog:
How the Festival and audiences are dealing with the situation is a classic example of "the show must go on." Here's the OSF press release, and here's a report from a blogger who happened to be here for one of the improvised performances. Great story! Be sure to review the comments to that post, as well. Bravo! I do love this town.

I hope this problem with the Bowmer doesn't cause big financial losses for OSF, which has weathered the Great "Recession" very well so far. If I had a ticket to one of the cancelled Bowmer performances, I'd count myself lucky to see what they do in the Armory.

Update: The problem is in a huge beam that goes all the way across the ceiling in front of the stage and supports other beams. Apparently, a loud crack was heard during a rehearsal Friday night and an engineer was called in right away. The theatre closing also affects the spaces under the stage that cast and crew use for both the Bowmer and the Elizabethan theatres: they're off limits until the beam is fixed, so I can only imaging the scrambling going on for things like costume changes at the Elizabethan, which has three plays in repertory and is still open.

The Ashland Daily Tidings reported June 22, "Actors needed the outfits that night for a production of "The Pirates of Penzance" in the Elizabethan Theatre — which connects to dressing rooms underneath the Bowmer stage. With the dressing rooms deemed unsafe, employees set up makeshift changing spaces in the festival's costume shop. For the next two nights, actors had to rush off the Elizabethan Stage and across the festival's campus to change for their next scene."

Plays are being performed all around town (and even in Medford, with shuttle service provided by OSF) until early in July, when the Bowmer will come home to a large tent now being set up in Lithia Park (just next to the OSF campus). It's full circle - back so the early Chatauqua days, of events in a tent in the park!

Click on this "OSF Connect" link for ongoing status updates including links to photos showing repairs, performances, and tent construction. The OSF home page has a crawl with new stories. Here's one they posted, an audio interview with actor Tony Heald and Executive Director Paul Nicholson. Heald describes the sound of the crack, which occurred as he was delivering a soliloquy, and denies that it was the power of his performance that caused the damage to the beam. Nicholson says the damage is "fairly significant" and describes how the repairs are proceeding.

And check out the audience comments on the OSF update page: http://www.myosf.org/connect/ They're priceless.

The story continues to unfold - here's a YouTube of audience reaction after seeing the restaged Mockingbird at the Armory:

UPDATE: OSF just posted this on YouTube - the actors' reaction to working in the alternate theatres!

Here's another blog post I found - it describes two of the OSF theatres, including the Bowmer (as well as the Green Show, the Varsity, the Columbia Hotel, and Ashland's Dog Bar). Interesting blog on topic such as public spaces, history, and architecture.
Full circle - back to the Chatauqua tent in the park! OSF photo of tent under construction.

Meanwhile, the tent's going up in the Park - I went over there to be a sidewalk superintendent the other day. I will at least get to see a slightly different version of the wonderful Measure for Measure in that venue, since the Bowmer won't be open yet on the date of my ticket. It will be fun to compare it with the full production I've already seen twice, in the Bowmer. And I have a ticket to a talk by Bill Rauch (director, and OSF artistic director) about the play soon. If you come to OSF, be sure to catch some of the lectures, Park Talks, and Prefaces.


The saga continues - July 7, the new "Bowmer in the Park" theatre opened! Here's OSF's special page about it with links to photos and more.

The last update: The tent is being taken down now, and the Bower was back in business on Tuesday, Aug. 2. What a ride it has been for OSF. Anyone who cancelled their trip here on account of the Bowmer problem has missed being a part of what will always be remembered as one of OSF's greatest moments. I'm glad I did get to see a performance in the tent - on the last day of Bowmer in the Park - Measure for Measure on Sunday July 31. It was fabulous.

PS And now there's a movie! This lovely short doc was screened at this year's film festival: http://www.bowmerinthepark-movie.com/

PPS 1 Here's how one fan remembers it months later. Some inaccuracies, but a very nice piece that is quite accurate in what the spirit was like. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karen-kimseyhouse/happiness_b_1511217.html

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Perkins and Baker: a new kind of empire - corporatocracy, mutant capitalism, and can we blame Obama for this?

I seem to have entered into a season of mostly just sharing videos, lately. I thought this one was particularly good. In a little over 20 minutes it pretty much says it all. In an interview with Laura Flanders, John Perkins and Russ Baker talk about their recent books on global empire, how it works, and what can be done to change it. "We're at a watershed of history like nothing we've ever experienced before" but also "for the first time in history we're all talking to each other" (on the Internet) and more people are understanding (even if their "leaders" don't) that we're all in this mess together, whatever country we happen to live in. Not sure when this aired but it might have been in 2009. Not much has changed yet.

I particularly appreciated the perspective Perkins offers on the de facto assassination of Clinton, since this is how I've always seen it too. Not to mention the rest of the conversation - there are many good, useful perspectives here. Perkins, as always, offers hope.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

OSF 2011 August: Osage County, and Downfall (play and film review)

This is a really quick review of August: Osage County. Here's the thing: by an odd coincidence I just happened, the day before, to see the movie Downfall, which is a faithful reconstruction of the last days in Hitler's bunker. It's a train wreck of a story, of course, the End of Days for Hitler and the party faithful who are, like some of those other crazy cults that make the headlines from time to time, committing suicide rather than returning to the real world. Increasing degrees of insanity and disintegration infect all within the bunker while without, the Russians inexorably close in.

It is a very impressive movie and a fascinating one, but though the people are all shown to be human, I could not identify with any of them: they are all completely off the rails and, to say the least, unsympathetic. But it's a beautifully done movie and I'm full of admiration for the people who pulled it off with such sincerity, as somehow they avoid exploiting the terrible story for its shock value and sensationalism; the story itself was shocking enough and it happened. It was enough. It was just right. There could be no other movie quite like this one.

So what does a film about the last days of Hitler have to do with a play about a family in Oklahoma? Quite a lot, actually, but I'll leave it to you to figure that out. I'll just say that the next day, as I sat through August: Osage County I felt like I was in that bunker again. The play, which has won prestigious awards, is beautifully written in terms of storytelling structure and characterizations, and the story resonates well beyond the confines of the family under the microscope. The scattered siblings and their families are gathered back into the family fold to attend a funeral; the characters seem very real and believable even though the family is over the top crazy and everyone is in some sort of crisis. The direction here must be extraordinarily good because I can't imagine how anything more could have been wrung out of the material; the evening was a nonstop high-wire act balancing tragedy and comedy with perfect timing and pitch, every role a juicy one and all the actors fabulous, just fabulous.

 Savannah Edson,
Ashland High School student. She
delivers a nuanced and mature
performance, holding her own among the
high-powered cast of
August: Osage County
In short, the whole production was amazingly good. And yet I felt absolutely no emotional identification with any of the characters, and didn't really care what became of them. I'm glad I saw this play, but even though I could see how good it was, I personally didn't like it much.

My bad.

Rating: five out of five stars. A fine play, beautifully done, and most people who see it are praising it. I have to be honest about my own lack of affect, but at the same time, I hope I also made it clear that even so, I'm glad I didn't miss it. It's an interesting play and a great production.

Friday, June 3, 2011

AIFF 2011 Day 5: Two in a Million, A Guitar Maker's Path, Summer Pasture

Day 5 was Monday April 11. By now we're bleary-eyed and a little punchy, but happy! So many great films. So much good company. What an incredible festival.

I took a morning break while Jeanie and Peggy went to see Benevides Born. I think they liked it well enough but then our attention became focused on getting Jeanie to the airport and using our last few minutes on the way there to get caught up some more, which we did; and then Peggy and I high-tailed it back to Ashland to get in line for the sold-out "Locals 2" show at 3 pm. This was a pairing of two very fine films of strong local interest, both about music and musicians: Two in a Million, which I'd been following since its inception and was extremely eager to see, and A Guitar Maker's Path, which was a delightful surprise. This is cool: in the AIFF listings, for each film they cite the country the film originated in. In the listing for the Locals 2 program, Two in a Million's country is "Ashland," and A Guitar Maker's Path's country is "Pistol River". Heh.

Dave Marston, playing at Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Two in a Million is a 70-minute documentary about two local musicians, Dave Marsden and Robin Lawson, who were in many ways the heart of our community, and the strange coincidence of their dying of the same extremely rare disease within months of each other. The community was in shock and in no small way the making of this documentary, which reflects the search for meaning in the terrible loss, was part of the healing we needed. It was wonderful to see this with a local audience, many of whom had some connection with these special people. It's a fine film and I think anyone will be moved and inspired by it, as Dave's and Robin's lives moved the people they knew. Peggy liked it, and she's not from Ashland. Good job, Cici Brown and fellow filmmakers! Check out the link for trailer, interviews, other links and videos.

One small step in the guitar maker's path
to a fine Flamenco insrument
A Guitar Maker's Path... Because of my personal interest, I was focused on seeing Two in a Million, but was also delighted by the 19-minute documentary it was paired with, A Guitar Maker's Path. This fascinating and beautiful film uses still photos and time lapse photography by Joe Curren to show how Les Stansell constructs his world famous flamenco guitars at his workshop in Pistol River, Oregon, using the local Port Orford Cedar. The wordless process, which takes thousands of steps from the felling of the tree to the signing of the final product, is accompanied by beautiful music played on the guitars by Grant Ruiz and Terry Longshore. Here's a fine website with photos, interview, and review - by someone who knows something about guitars: http://www.guitarbench.com/2010/12/02/les-stansell-guitar-maker%E2%80%99s-path-dvd-review-2/
And here's a video of the opening minutes of A Guitar Maker's Path:

 It's sometimes hard to come across these shorter documentaries, but if you get a chance to see either or both of these, do.

We skipped one screening slot while I gave Peggy a tour of my semi-intentional community (long story), and then we traveled all of two miles back across Ashland to downtown, for our last treat...

At 9:40 pm, Peggy and I joined other die-hards to see the last screening of the festival, Summer Pasture.  We both thought it was a very fine documentary, taking the viewer into the lives of Tibetan yak herders in "the highest, coldest, poorest, largest, and most remote area in Sichuan Province, China." Though life is hard, there is beauty and love in it; this kind of film inevitably has an elegiac quality, as it's clear that a whole way of life probably will soon be lost to the world. Yet it seems a very good thing to save something of it on film, at least, and seeing it is the closest most of us have ever come to experiencing such a timeless kind of human existence. And who knows, if global "civilization" collapses fast enough, these people are likely to rebound and do better than anyone. Check out the trailer:

So, it came to an end. It was a wonderful few days with dear friends and I miss them, but I'm already looking forward to AIFF 2012. In the meantime I'll be looking for chances to see all the fine films I wasn't able to squeeze in during the festival. Some will be coming to the Varsity, and I hope the rest will be in Netflix, or online, soon. Especially:
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Library of Dust
One Voice 
Holy Wars
Hot Coffee
Waste Land (This has been on PBS but again I missed it)
We Were Here
These were all getting very good word-of-mouth in conversations held not online but in-the-line as people waited to get in to see the next movie. And there are probably other gems in the lineup still to be discovered.

Meanwhile, if it all seems too good to be true, here are those Jim Teece videos again; just look at those happy, thoughtful, friendly faces. It's the people who make the festival - filmmakers, organizers, and all those smart people who come - 7,000 this year. Thank you, AIFF.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

AIFF 2011 Day 4: "Subject Matters," Hot Coffee, and Pat O'Scannell

Catching up on some great films we saw last month at the film festival...
Lobby of the Ashland Springs Hotel where the TALKbacks take
place, in a room on the mezzanine. The great thing about AIFF
is that all the venues are within easy walking distance; the
hotel is just up the block from the Varsity Theatre.
On to Sunday, April 10: We started with another of the reliably entertaining panel discussions they call "Filmmaker TALKbacks," at the Ashland Springs Hotel from 10-11:30. This one was "Subject Matters", moderated by AJ Schnack and featuring filmmakers Marshall Curry, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front; Lisette Flanary, One Voice; Stephen Marshall, Holy Wars; Peter D. Richardson, How to Die in Oregon; and Tiffany Shlain, Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death & Technology. Wow! What a high-powered and interesting discussion that was. As it happened, every one of these films had caught my eye and I tried at one point or another to fit them into my schedule. It's never possible to see everything you want, and because I'd had to miss most of these, I was glad to be able to hear from the filmmakers here and they only whetted my appetite to catch the films later. The ones I missed are in my Netflix queue (you never know - they might get them) and some will be on PBS or HBO. The only ones I saw at the festival were the last two, and I've written a little about each in previous posts.

After that, Jeanie and Peggy went to see Family Shorts (check out that link - some fun trailers there) and said they really enjoyed the show. I took a break and the next slot, 3:00, saw Peggy getting into Hot Coffee, another one that she snagged a ticket to and I didn't (for Jeanie and me) even though we were online at the same time. They had two showings of that one but the other conflicted with something else we were seeing; it was a hot ticket both because it's the kind of subject that an Ashland audience relishes, and because it was made by a local attorney - her first film, and she seems to have knocked the ball out of the park. She had said in the TALKback on Friday that she organized her narrative for the film in much the same way that she would argue a case in a courtroom; it's a much-needed explanation of what so-called "tort reform" is really about and I heard lots of positive comments about it from people who did get to see it. I think it's one of the films that will be on HBO later this year. Watch for it!

Then we all took a break from the festival and did some catching-up over a lovely dinner at Larks, followed by a trip to nearby Talent, for a little local wine and dessert, and to take in a terrific show at the Avalon Bar and Grill--an Edith Piaf tribute by Pat O'Scannell and several charming backup musicians. It made me very nostalgic for a time and place I'd never known, and Peggy and Jeanie said they felt the same. Check out her website, linked above. She's an amazing musician; look at the programs she's created and the work she does, including the highly-regarded Terra Nova Consort. Go see her whenever you can!

So, another long but highly enjoyable day at AIFF and the Rogue Valley! Next - Day 5, the last day, and maybe a wrap-up.

(note: oops! When I first published this, I included Summer Pasture but actually we saw that on Day 5. I've moved it over to the next post.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

OSF 2011: The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth, or, Rumors of War


Henry IV, Part Two (Theatre Review Weather Report)
Michael Winters as Falstaff

[Note: I saw this a second time during summer, in better weather; see that later post here.]

A disclaimer: I'm not a critic; this is a journal-blog. And this isn't really the review I'd like to write; it's more of a weather report. The OSF's summer season may have begun, but as the gods would have it, it was cold and raining steadily throughout the first performance of the season in the outdoor Elizabethan Stage.* But wait - I'm not complaining!

On schedule a fanfare sounded, the flag went up above the theatre, an actor waved to the audience from an upper window, and the audience responded with the customary hearty cheer. But we had Weather. An announcer came out and explained to us that the play would go on, but because the stage was very wet, tonight's performance would be "minus some of the action." (How would we know what action? None of us had seen it before, anyway.) He said that according to the weather service, it would continue to rain steadily for at least another two hours (in fact I think it went on all night; it was raining the same way this morning), and assured us that anyone who didn't want to stay could leave at any time until 9:30, and collect a voucher for another play of their choice. 

My seat was out of the rain (in one of the back rows, under the balcony) so I wasn't about to go anywhere, but some people in the exposed seats did leave then. Some others stayed until 9:30 and then left at the last minute, in the middle of a scene, to collect their vouchers, having seen the first half of the play. Most of those in the open seats did stay, though, stoical under their plastic ponchos and a few umbrellas. The temperature, which started in the 50's, must have gone down to the lower 40's by the time the play ended at 11:30. 

Rain slickers and blankets are always available at this theater, in case you need them. And that's how it works. 

Elizabethan stage. I was sitting about here, but to the left, in the center. If you want shelter from the rain, you have to sit this far back, in row M or farther back, so you're under the balcony (you can just see the overhang, upper left in this photo). I've heard that some of the side seats, such as Row E, are also under cover. I had a seat in Row O because it was all I could afford; I prefer the balcony or the front rows, but as it turned out, I was glad to be sitting where I was!
I was eager to see this one. The History plays are my favorites, and I was a big fan of last year's Part One. For some months I'd been enjoying the vlog by John Tufts (Prince Hal; future King Henry V) and his wife Christine, also an OSF actor, posted as they toured England and France in search of the historical sites in these three Henry plays. Also, the Previews are just a little cheaper than the regular run. So I made a beeline for the first performance and took my chances with the weather. 

Well, from what went on, on the stage, you wouldn't have known it was raining and cold. Did they have a hidden roof up there? No; the stage was wet. THEY must have been wet and cold. Some of the cast wore skimpy costumes (such as a tavern girl, and Rumor, who wore that iconic Rolling Stones t-shirt with the tongue on it). How did they keep their voices from shivering?

I'll get one thing out of the way, about this play, right now: humor. Yes, there is something wacky and strangely off-base about this play, but it's not what you'd call funny. Yes, there are chuckles over some of the wordplay that swirls around Falstaff. But last night there were also two big laughs. The first came when Falstaff is recruiting soldiers in the country; wearing full sun-gear and mopping his brow, he complains that it is hot. The other came when Hal visits his ill father in his bedchamber--a bed on the wet stage-- and exclaims "How now! rain within doors, and none abroad!" Now, THAT was an audience-pleaser. I hope the cast relished the rare opportunity to find humor in the deathbed scene.

On to the play...  First, we all know this is not Shakespeare's best, most successful, most popular play. But it's interesting to read -- Shakespeare at his worst is still never less than interesting, with terrific nuggets to be found -- and when I saw it performed once before, I liked it well enough, though I can't remember why. But certainly, after Part One's high moral conflicts and bloody civil war (and, in last year's production, very well-wrought women's scenes) this one is going to be anticlimactic and pallid, if you're expecting more of the same. 

In this Part, Shakespeare gives Falstaff a lot more lines and scenes but mostly without Hal, and Hal has very little to do except for two magnificent moments toward the end (but just for this, I recommend seeing the play: John Tufts is so very good). The war gears up but then never happens, and the "traitors" aren't particularly interesting because at this point they're just rehashing old grievances, and they're dealt with through a kind of trickery that's so summarily announced that you can miss it altogether if you doze off. 

Further, where Part One was fraught with paradox in the character of Henry IV, who doesn't really seem to have had a right to the throne, yet he won it and keeps it, in Part Two that's over; he is old, ill and on his way out, and he's gone back to fretting about Hal's fitness to take over. In fact everyone here but Hal has become very old and cynical; gone are the earnest political bull sessions of the Hotspur days. Hal doesn't get old, but he does at least give up his childish ways, which sets the stage for his emergence as a real leader in Henry V.

But to me this play is now far more than just a bridge between Part One and Henry V. I think it's precisely this difference between the two Parts that makes Part Two interesting to me now: take out the extended (and to my taste grievously overlong) sessions at the tavern with the low characters, and what you have is a surprisingly modern take on the hollowness of the life that seemed so vital in Part One. Rather than being about war, it's about rumors of war. How did Shakespeare do that, write a play about the absence of things? That's what I mean about its having a modern feel to it, to me, now. In fact, the Part Two I saw yesterday is a sort of anti-Part One play. Where the first is full of fireworks, Part Two explores the opposite quality. Its chief interest is therefore intellectual, not emotional. But there is plenty of that kind of interest, and the OSF brings it out. It was a very engaging evening and in better, less distracting weather, might be a compelling one.

Apart from some of the outstanding performances - John Tufts as Hal, of course; Michael Winters as Falstaff; Rodney Gardiner as Rumor; several others too - what I relished most in this production were the beginning and the end. They do a very amusing thing there. At the start, they unfurl a very long, thin banner saying, in charming Elizabethan style, "previously on..." and do a set piece with a group of players and freeze-frames highlighting what went on in the previous two History plays. And at the end, the speech is modified in a similar way, using the whole cast to do a teaser for the next episode play. At that, I left the theater with a big smile on my face. Very nice! Thank you, OSF.

Finally, let me just say that for this outing I was wearing several layers including a very warm Irish wool sweater, wool socks, a raincoat lined with flannel, and a wool scarf all around my head and shoulders. In this ensemble I was warm enough, except when the wind changed direction, but as the temperature went slowly downwards over the course of three hours, and in the absence of exercise, it wasn't that comfortable really.

Final score: Four stars out of five. I still don't like Falstaff and the tavern scenes (though I understand why something of the sort had to be there), and the rain and cold were distracting, but in the face of these drawbacks this production did more than just hold hold my interest. I found myself rereading the play, when I got home, and wanting to see this OSF version again. When I do, later in the season, I'll be very surprised if I don't enjoy it even more. And maybe then I'll write a review (or at least some better insights into why it worked), and not a weather report. 

*The OSF season begins in February with plays in the two indoor theatres, but the Elizabethan stage doesn't open until "summer" (May 31 this year). In case you're wondering how it works, having outdoor performances in cold, rainy Oregon, it's not as bad as it sounds: we don't have Portland weather here. Spring is rainy, fall may have storms, but the summer is very dry. Nights are cool in summer, but not uncomfortably so. The first plays, in late spring, and the last ones, in the fall, sometimes see cold and rainy conditions, but throughout the summer it is mostly very fine weather. And when it isn't fine, performances are only very rarely cancelled on account of weather.