Thursday, May 21, 2015

Boycott! The Poster Show

 The Art of Economic Activism

"Boycott" by Ricardo Levins Morales, Northland Poster Collective, digital print2002, Minneapolis, MN

“Rosa Parks” by Donnelly/Colt, offset print, 1990. Courtesy American Friends Service Committee
The featured art exhibition at Obsidian Café in Olympia is Boycott! The Art of Economic Activism, a traveling poster exhibit of 58 posters highlighting diverse historical boycott movements, from Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott that fired up the civil rights movement in the 1950s to today’s Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions.

The exhibit features posters for more than 20 boycotts, including, in addition to those mentioned above, the United Farm Workers’ grape and lettuce boycotts in the 1970s and divestment from Apartheid in South Africa in the ’80s.

Protest posters are designed to be bold and grab immediate attention. Like advertising art of all types, poster art tries to convey the most information with the fewest words, to have an emotional impact and to move the viewer to action — whether that action is to attend a lecture or meeting or to spread the word or to not buy lettuce. Unlike a lot of advertising art, such posters tend to be less than aesthetically sophisticated or sophisticated in a way not normally associated with fine art – although that lack of sophistication itself can have an aesthetic impact, as witnessed by much of pop art or, as a prime recent example, rock posters by the likes of Art Chantry (see my recent review of Art Chantry Speaks in the Weekly Volcano).

Some of these posters are all words with no images, crudely hand-written, such as Ricardo Levin Morales’ poster that reads: “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let’s work together.”

Some are simple and elegant, such as the Rosa Parks poster with a sepia-tone photograph of the civil rights icon seated on a bus and the words: “You are the spark that started our freedom movement. Thank you sister Rosa Parks” — lyrics from the song by the Neville Brothers.

Bob Zierings’ poster “Divest Now” from 1978 is an anti-apartheid poster that combines strong and beautifully rendered drawing of a face with hands breaking chains with bold and simple Helvetica type in all caps: “FREE SOUTH AFRICA – DIVEST NOW.”

Another poster from the same year has a black and white line drawing of a stereotypical black mammy with a head scarf in the style of 19th century woodcuts and the legend “Del Monte Profits from Apartheid.”

One of the strongest images with the simplest message of all is a fairly recent (1992) poster by an unknown artist that has nothing on it but the words “Boycott Colorado” in all-caps with white letters over a black silhouette of a mountain range. Without knowing the story behind it there would be no way of understanding that it was in protest of an amendment of Colorado’s state constitution that prevented any city, town or country from recognizing LGBTQ individuals as a protected class. At the time, no explanation was needed.

Overall the posters in this show are bold and colorful, innovative and well designed. Artistically they accomplish what good posters should, and the show as a whole presents a history of political movements over the past half century that should be appreciated by everyone, whether or not they agree with the advocated political positions.

The show was organized by the American Friends Service Committee and Center for the Study of Political Graphics and is sponsored in Olympia by the Rachel Corrie Foundation.

Boycott! The Art of Economic Activism, through May 30, Obsidian, 414 4th Ave E, Olympia

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Black Women in Music Festival

Hey Tacoma, This is coming your way. Get ready.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why artists hate Dale Chihuly

Dale Chihuly "Basket Drawing," 2013 in the Dale Chihuly Drawings exhibition at Museum of Glass. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Oxblood Soft Cylinder with Payne’s Gray Drawing,” blown glass. Collection of Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of the artist in honor of his parents, Viola and George, and his brother, George W. Chihuly. Photo: Scott M. Leen, copyright Chihuly Studios.

I saw a poster in the office at the old Commencement Art Gallery. It was a take-off on a dictionary entry:
Chi-hu-ly (chü-hoo-lee) n.  The art of self-promotion.”

Artists hate Dale Chihuly. Not all artists, but a lot of them. They hate that he’s so amazingly successful. They hate that he’s much better than they are at doing what all artists must do if they are to have any chance at popularity and financial success. They also hate that he doesn’t blow his own glass but has a team of workers who do all the work for him. Some resent the fact that he, almost alone, is credited with the rise in popularity of the modern glass art movement, which is almost exclusively a Pacific Northwest movement, when he is but one of many equally talented artists associated with the Pilchuck Glass School, the catalyst for the modern glass art movement. Granted, he was one of the founders, long with Anne Gould Hauberg and John H. Hauberg. But there are many other Northwest glass artists who are as good as, if not better than, Chihuly. Martin Blank, Preston Singletary, Rik Allen, Cappy Thompson, William Morris and Ben Moore are a few that come to mind.

Back to the idea of not doing his own work. A lot of famous art has been done by assistants. Andy Warhol was notorious for that. So is Jeff Koons. Since the 1970s a major tenent of contemporary art has been that the idea is supreme. It doesn’t matter who did the work or how well it is done. It’s the idea that matters. Blame it on Marcel Duchamp who bought a urinal and entered it in an art exhibition in 1917 under the title “Fountain” and attributed to “R. Mutt”.

Not creating the work with his own hands should not disqualify Chihuly from recognition, but there is something inherently grating about the assembly-line nature of his art.

When I see a large collection of his work all in one place, such as in the current shows at both the Tacoma Art Museum and the Museum of Glass, I am struck with the notion that he comes up with something good and then has his studio workers repeat it with slight variations thousands of times (reference Warhol again: “I think everybody should be a machine.”)

It also bugs me — and yet I have to begrudgingly admit that it somehow impresses me as well — that what he has accomplished is essentially to take precious craft items and blow them up to gigantic scale. By so doing he has elevated a decorative craft to the level of fine art. Actually that is kind of the basis of the entire modern art glass movement just as elevating pop culture and advertising to the level of fine art was the basis of pop art. Still, it was easier to accept pop art because it was so audacious, and because people like Warhol and Lichtenstein and Wayne Thiebaud were such good painters. It’s not as easy to accept the same premise when it comes to glass art because with glass there’s this niggling idea that no matter how big or how attractive, every glass art piece is really nothing more than a pretty vase or bowl. Colored glass is pretty no matter what you do with it. The only one of the modern glass artist who has pushed his art into a more transformative realm is not Chihuly, but Morris, whose work is monumental, ageless, and doesn’t look like glass at all.

Having said that, Chihuly can also be monumental and audacious. Just not consistently enough. At its worst, his work is mediocre and boring; at its best, it can be so beautiful that it boggles the mind. The best of his best might be the drawings, now on display through June 30 at Museum of Glass. There is also a large and varied collection of Chihuly work on display on extended view at the Tacoma Art Museum.

Theater Review: Time Stands Still


Troubled Love between a Photojournalist and a War Correspondent

Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 14, 2015

From left: Jenny Vaughn Hall as Sarah, Matt Shinkus as James, Steve Manning as Richard, and Helen Harvester as Mandy in Time Stands Still. Photo by Scot Whitney
The wartime love story Time Stands Still by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies is now playing at Harlequin Productions in Olympia. It is an intense and intimate portrait of a pair of lovers — Sarah Goodwin (Jenny Vaughn Hall) and James Dodd (Matt Shimkus) whose passionate devotion and equally passionate conflicts are exacerbated by their friend Richard Ehrich (Steve Manning) and his girlfriend, Mandy Bloom (Helen Harvester).

The show takes place entirely within the Brooklyn apartment Sarah and James share. Beautifully designed by Linda Whitney, the apartment appears to be a loft in possibly a former industrial building with a giant arched window looking out over the city. The dim city scene seen through the window is a video projection by Marko Bujeaud. The furnishings appear typical for people who spend little time at home.

Sarah is a photojournalist home from Iraq where she was almost killed in a bomb explosion after which she spent time in a coma. In the opening scene she hobbles into the apartment on crutches wearing a large cast on one leg and with scars on her face. She adamantly refuses help from James, who hovers protectively. In successive scenes we see her with smaller and smaller casts and finally only a knee brace as her leg injury slowly heals. The heavy scarring on her face never heals.

Both Sarah and James are living with post-traumatic stress. She does not want to admit it. What she wants more than anything is to heal enough to go back to the war where she feels her work gives her meaning. James, a war correspondent, was so emotionally scarred by his tour of Iraq that he had to get out, only to go back to help Sarah when she was wounded. Now he wants to marry Sarah, have children, and work on safer writing assignments such as celebrity profiles. He accuses Sarah of being addicted to the adrenalin rush of war.

Richard is Sarah’s photo-editor. He wants them to collaborate on a photo-book about their adventures in the war. Richard’s new girlfriend, Mandy, is 20 years his junior and is seen at first by Sarah and James as empty headed arm candy, but proves to be much deeper than they supposed.

The conflicts between these four friends are monumental, intense, and in-your face. Their arguments are emotional explosions analogous to what we can only imagine they went through in Iraq. Thankfully there is also a lot of comic relief with smart and witty dialogue and the love between the two couples is palpable.

All four cast members are excellent. Hall plays Sarah with controlled intensity and seems ready to explode throughout the play. Harvester transitions seamlessly from playful and goofy to deep burning anger. Manning is solid and down-to-earth, sometimes gruff but mostly walking on eggshells in the face of the others’ explosiveness. Shimkus particularly impressed me with his eye-rolling and smirking reactions to the other three. His performance is award worthy.

I liked the city scene out the window, but when the projected images change for dramatic effect the changes are mostly ineffectual, with the exception of two scenes of war when Sarah was describing a particularly horrible event.

The final scene is something of an extended denouement that trickles to an expected end. I wish the playwright had been able to find some more dramatic way to wrap it up. Nevertheless, Time Stands Still is a powerful drama of love and domestic strife on par with such classics as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I highly recommend it.

Time Stands Still, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday through May 30, State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave. , Olympia, 360-786-0151;

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Preview: BUDDY – The Buddy Holly Story

Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 14, 2015

Matt McClure as Buddy Holly. Photo courtesy of Venice Theatre, FL. Credit: Renee McVety
Don McClean said the day Buddy Holly died was “the day the music died,” but Buddy’s music will never die. I first saw BUDDY at Tacoma Little Theatre in 2009 and then at Capital Playhouse in 2012. And now it’s going to rock the big stage at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, opening May 15 and running through June 7.

TMP artistic director Jon Douglas Rake said, “Before the Beatles, The Beach Boys or The Rolling Stones ever played a note, Rock ‘n’ Roll was forever changed by Buddy Holly, a 19-year-old kid from Texas. BUDDY – The Buddy Holly Story tells the true story of Buddy’s meteoric rise to fame, from the moment in 1957 when ‘That’ll Be the Day’ hit the airwaves until his tragic death less than two years later. The show features more than 20 hits including ‘That’ll Be the Day,’ ‘Peggy Sue,’ ‘Maybe Baby’ and ‘Oh Boy’!”

In addition to so many of Buddy’s hit songs, audiences will be treated to rousing renditions of the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace,” and Richie Valens’ iconic “La Bamba,” as performed in the final concert in Clear Lake, Iowa, in 1959 before the plane wreck that took their lives.

The play opens with Buddy (Matt Mcclure) as a raw teenage singer at the KDAV Radio dance party at the Grand Ballroom in Lubbock, Texas, defiantly sliding from a standard country tune to a rocking “Reddy Teddy” and later fighting with his manager and a record producer because they want him to sing country and he wants to rock ‘n’ roll. It follows him to recording studios in Nashville and in Clovis, N.M., and then to the great Apollo Theatre in Harlem where he wows the audience with some of his most popular hit tunes, including “Peggy Sue” and “Not Fade Away.” We see him romancing and marrying Maria Elena (played by Deanna Martinez Niedlinger), and finally the big concert with Richie Valens (Anthony Deleon) and the Big Bopper (Lance Zielinski).

McClure played Buddy for the first time at the sold-out run of the show at Venice Theatre in Florida in January of this year. He is a graduate of Piedmont College with BA degrees in Theatre Performance and Technical Theatre. Other than Buddy, some of his favorite roles at Venice Theatre were in Don't Dress For Dinner (Robert Dubedat) and in The Elephant Man (John Merrick).

The creative team for BUDDY is Rake, director and choreographer; Jeff Strvtecky musical director; Bruce Haasl, technical director and set designer (he played Buddy at Capital Playhouse and has both designed sets for and starred in more shows in area theaters than you can shake a stick at); and John Chenault, lighting director.

BUDDY The Buddy Holly Story, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through June 7, with Saturday matinees, May 30 & June 6, $20-$29, Tacoma Musical Playhouse, 7116 Sixth Avenue, Tacoma, 253-565-6867,

Review: “Mama Won’t Fly”

Published in The News Tribune, May 14, 2015

Stephanie Kroschel as Hayley Quinn, from left, Nicole Galyearn as Savannah Sprunt Fairchild Honeycutt, and Gretchen O’Connor as Norleen Sprunt (Mama) perform in “Mama Won’t Fly” at Olympia Little Theatre. Photo by Austin Lang

The writing team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten hit upon a winning formula for writing silly, Southern-fried comedies for small town community theaters including such popular shows as “Dixie Swim Club” and “Dearly Beloved.” Their latest to hit the boards at Olympia Little Theatre is “Mama Won’t Fly.”
It is directed by Kathryn Beall and features a cast of little-known actors.
Southerners Savannah Sprunt Fairchild Honeycutt (Nicole Galyean) and her mother, Norleen Sprunt (Gretchen O’Connor) have a typically toxic mother-daughter relationship. A divorcee with a track record of bad choices in men – note the many names – Savannah blames her mother’s meddlesome nature for everything wrong in her life. And as this play quickly proves, Mama really is meddlesome in the worst way.
Savannah’s brother is getting married and his fiancé has traveled from California to Birmingham, Ala., to fly back across country with her future sister and mother-in law. But Mama refuses to fly and they embark on a four-day road trip with stops along the way in small towns such as Tater Mound, Miss., and Nickle Bone, Tex. (These are made-up names, cleverly invented by the playwright team. The closest I could find to a similar name on Google was Tater Creek, Miss.)
In Tater Mound they tour the big local attraction, a brassiere museum where a little old lady (Claire McPherson) conducts the tour wearing a bra on top of her dress. In Nickle Bone, population 31, they visit horrible aunts and uncles and cousins. They have to escape in the night due to circumstances I can’t divulge, and they wind up in a bar run by brothers who fight over whether it should be a cowboy bar or an Irish pub. And oh yes, the bar apparently doubles as the town’s little theater.
The improbability of having a theater in a town of only 31 inhabitants is but one of many countless improbabilities in this play, which relies on stock characters, absurd situations, and groaner punch lines. The many minor characters are all overblown Southern or country stereotypes.
The three principle characters, Galyean, O’Connor, and Stephanie Kroschel as the fiancée, Hayley Quinn, are talented actors who give it their all playing characters that demand over-acting. The rest of the cast, playing a multitude of minor characters are either absurdly histrionic or they do not act at all but just walk through their lines.
There are a few funny scenes and lines, the scene in the brassiere museum being one of the funniest. The succession of cartoonish cars and trucks they travel in are something between interesting and ridiculous, and most of the costumes are almost laughable because they are so bad, but overall “Mama Won’t Fly” is not a funny show. The over-the-top characterization of some roles and at least one entire scene near the end is offensive. At almost three hours it is a chore to sit through.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through June 7
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$14, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia
INFORMATION: (360) 786-9484,