Friday, January 17, 2020

Invasive Species

Unusual theme show at Tacoma Community College
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 16, 2020
"Bless This Mess" by Miles Styler, photo courtesy Tacoma Community College
As themes for art exhibitions go, Invasive Species might be one of the most intriguing imaginable. It’s a horror show in the making — animals brought in from foreign countries that destroy local plants and animals, plants such as kudzu from Japan that overrun everything in their path, species of living things that carry deadly viruses. But according to evidence presented by the artists shown in the Invasive Species exhibition at Tacoma Community College, humans might be the most invasive of all.
According to a collage by Olympia artist Lois Beck called “Caucasian Homo Sapiens,” overpopulation seems to be the culprit. Beck’s collage is a seemingly random mashing together of many photos of people with no apparent structure. It is not one of Beck’s better works, but it makes a point. The fun thing about it for me was spotting local theatrical personality John Munn among all the faces.
One of the more haunting images is a hydrostone and acrylic sculpture by Jeanette Otis titled “Unknown INVADER.” It is a cracked egg with two shining eyes of some frighteningly unknown creature peeking through the crack, possibly an alien from another solar system, about to be birthed.
Miles Styer’s “Bless this Mess” is a hoarder’s doll house crammed with stacks of old newspapers, barrels and boxes and plastic containers of all shapes and sizes, a Christmas tree in the attic, broken furniture and broken lamps made of clay, glaze, polymer, paint and other materials. This piece is fascinating to look at if for no other reason, just to see what all you can find in the house of hoarder horrors.
The prize for the best title must belong to Sharon Styer’s construction, “When the Gods leave, do you think they hesitate, turn, and make a farewell sign, some gesture of regret?” This piece is a wooden box with pictures glued to the outside and an interior overtaken with moss and vines and images of people at leisure at a lake that is being overtaken by its surrounding flora. What’s left, perhaps, when the Gods leave. Maybe their farewell sign was an evil wink.
There are six paintings and a charcoal drawing by Jeffree Stewart, all of which are nicely done — especially the charcoal drawing — but I can’t see how any of them relate to the theme. There are also a number of works on loan from Stewart’s personal art collection, the best of which is a haunting black-and-white photo by Mary Randlett called “Clear Cut: Coastal Hills.” It is a picture of desolation following clearcutting that looks like something seen on an alien planet.
It’s not the greatest show TCC has ever done, but it’s certainly worth a trip to the campus.

Invasive Species, noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, through Feb. 7, Tacoma Community College, Building 5A, entrance off South 12th Street between Pearl and Mildred, Tacoma, visitor parking in Lot G. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Family theater family

Photo: Ted and Jen Ryle, selfie by Ted Ryle

Ted and Jen Ryle, Olympia Family Theater
by Alec Clayton

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Jan. 9, 2020
The Ryle family at the awarding of the Achievement in the Arts Award, from left to right: Alexa, Jen, Mandy, Ted and Lu.

Olympia Family Theater is a family affair in every possible meaning of the phrase. The company was co-founded by Jen Ryle, along with Samantha Chandler, in 2006, and Ryle is the company’s artistic director. Her husband, Ted, has written and co-written many OFT shows, including the original adaptation of Cinder Edna with music by Ted, Rich Sikorski, Miriam Sterlin and Ryle’s daughter Mandy. He directed the world premiere of 3 Impossible Questions by local playwright Christian Carvajal and directed for the first Tales Told in Ten festival in 2016, and he has acted in more than 20 OFT productions.

“I grew up a theater kid,” Jen Ryle says. She met Ted at an audition at Shoreline Community College. “After grad school, Ted and I moved to Olympia with our daughters where I was a stay-at-home mom and they attended Lincoln Elementary. I enrolled at Evergreen once my kiddos were all in grade school and that is where my vision for creating a theater for young audiences crystallized.”

Ted and Jen Ryle
She graduated in June 2006, and they staged their first show, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, at the Midnight Sun in October of that year. “I directed the production. Samantha and my whole family were in the show (Ted and daughters Lu, Mandy and Alexa). That early, we had to rely on ourselves and our friends and families to fill many of our volunteer roles as actors and for help with costumes, sets, painting, hanging posters, and everything. ‘What a great show! It’s too bad there is no way this can last’ I remember hearing from one audience member who came to see the show with his wife and two children. Many years later, that same audience member's kiddos were enrolled in our education programs, acted on our mainstage, and he even served on our board of directors.”

For eight seasons, OFT performed both in the South Puget Sound Community College and Washington Center Black Boxes, with a few shows at the Midnight Sun. In 2014, they got their own theater space in the old Capital Playhouse on 4th Avenue, downtown Olympia. “It is such a luxury to have costume and prop storage, a shop, and our theater all in one space,” Jen says.
Their first show in their new home was the musical Busytown. They have now produced 63 mainstage shows, 27 at the current location. These include many adaptations of well-known children’s classics with some of the area’s best actors.

Jen was honored by Masterworks Choral Ensemble in their Salute to the Arts Award for outstanding contributions to the arts in our community. In the Summer of 2018, the Washington Center honored Olympia Family Theater with its Achievement in the Arts award. 

“I’ve worked with the Ryles and OFT since 2008 in varied capacities: as an actor, OFT board member (then President), writer, director, and parent,” Andy Gordon says. “I think they do an incredible job in the community, providing a place for families to experience and enjoy theater, and the educational opportunities that go along with that. As a director, I was very impressed with the company’s commitment to collaboration and support of every production. Where I think they go above and beyond is their fostering of original local work. It’s a joy to work with a company that’s so committed to championing new material. As a creator, I couldn’t be more grateful to OFT for their support. Jen’s leadership in this regard has been amazing; new work can be risky, and she manages to both be supportive and maintain the high quality for all productions. Ted’s a fellow creator, and I’ve always appreciated his support and willingness to collaborate.”

Actor John Serembe, seen in The Wind in the Willows, says,Jen and Ted Ryle have moved and inspired countless Olympia children, as well as those who perform on their stage.”

The next show coming up at OFT is Number the Stars directed by OFT's co-founder Samantha Chandler.

Number the Stars, 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 31-Feb. 16, $15-20, Olympia Family Theater, 612 Fourth Ave E., Olympia,, 360.570.1638.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Crows and Ravens, oh my


Group show all about these ubiquitous birds
By Alec Clayton
Note: This review was written for the Weekly Volcano but there was a schedule mixup -- my fault -- and they were not able to publish it. Instead, watch for my writeup on Art House Designs next week in the Volcano.

"Hero & Trickstermixed media by Christopher Mathie, photos courtesy Childhood’s End Gallery
Images in art of crows and ravens are ubiquitous and often dramaticwe if not downright frightening. Myth and legend hold it that they are prescient, and they are known to be highly intelligent birds — revered as tricksters by some Native tribes.
Childhood’s End Gallery’s exhibition Crows & Ravens features interpretations of the clever tricksters by a dozen area artists, most of whom are well known and are regularly shown at Childhood’s End. On the upside, these are all accomplished artists. On the downside, too many of the works look too much alike, and taken as a whole the show becomes rather trite.
Please excuse me if I call them all crow paintings. Having said that, here are a few words about some of the good stuff.
"Visitation" pastel by Judith Smith

raku pot by Dave and Boni Deal.
Tom Anderson’s “Eight Points of View,” mixed media on board depicting one majestic bird in flight surrounded by seven much smaller birds, is bright and exciting with intense yellow and black-and-white contrasts, with energetic lines set off against large black masses and — the little touch that sets it above the commonplace — cast shadows in the sky as if the birds are cut-out figures set in from the surface. Anderson is mostly known as a painter of abstract forms. His crow paintings have the same kind of texture and structure his abstracts are known for.
Christopher Mathie is also known as an abstract painter but also often ventures into seascapes and animal paintings, and like Anderson, his paintings of recognizable subjects include all the same heavy impasto and energetic slashing of paint on canvas as his abstracts. In this show he has one large painting, "Hero & Trickster," and two smaller ones that look like they should be sold as a set and displayed together. "Hero & Trickster" pictures two birds perched on a limb with a turbulent sky in the background. The colors and the stormy look remind me of both J.M.W. Turner and Joan Mitchell.
One of the nicest pieces in the show is a raku pot by Dave and Boni Deal. It is a large, almost perfectly round pot with a picture of a crow on the surface. It has monumental presence and would actually be better if the images of the crow had been left off.
Judith Smith is known for her crow paintings, prints and pastels. There are at least seven of her pictures in this show. A large pastel on canvas called “Visitation” dominates the entrance to the gallery. It pictures three birds in flight, possibly fighting, over an abstract background that looks like a scene of war with fiery orange fading to brown and black and sharp orange outlines on one of the birds while the other two have see-through bodies drawn with white lines. The rich variety of lines and shapes and colors and the interaction of imagery and background make this an exciting painting.
The one piece in the show that is quite different from all the rest is Sara Gettys’ carved sintra, a type of etching, titled “Before the Storm.” This is an iconic image in black and white with bold lines and stark contrasts and an eye that hypnotically stares at the viewer.
Other artists included in this show are Kristen Etmund, Doyle Fanning, Jonathan Happ, Beki Killorin, Chris Maynard and Graham Schodda.

Crows & Ravens, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through Dec. 31, Childhood’s End Gallery, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Tacoma Arts Live does A Christmas Carol

Here it comes again: Scrooge, Tiny Tim and the Christmas ghosts, as Tacoma Arts Live presents two performances of a new stage adaptation of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol on December 21, 2019 at 3:00 and 7:30 p.m. at Tacoma’s historic Pantages Theater.

This brand new, original production of A Christmas Carol is adapted, directed, and performed by award-winning theater veteran Scott H. Severance who  is accredited with a long list of productions throughout his 40 year career, including Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple and a role in the 2005 20th Century Fox film Fever Pitch.

Severance wrote the adaptation, directs the show and stars as the miserly Scrooge in this annual production, now in its 6th year. "Our goal is always to tell this classic well-known story in a way that audiences have never seen before,” Severance says. “Ours is a traditional version to be sure, but it may be funnier, scarier, and more spiritual than folks would commonly expect. Lots of music, puppetry, and fully realized emotional arcs throughout. Scrooge is not the villian, he is, in fact, the hero."

Tickets for A Christmas Carol are $19, $40, $55, 69 and are  on sale now. To purchase advance tickets, call Tacoma Arts Live Box Office at 253.591.5894, toll-free at 1.800.291.7593, visit in person at 901 Broadway in Tacoma’s Theater District, or online at

Friday, December 13, 2019

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by Alec Clayton
Published in The News Tribune, Dec. 13, 2019
Jill Heinecke as Puck, photo by Pavlina Morris
There is much debate as to where “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” ranks among Shakespearean comedies, among the funniest or near the bottom (pun intended), but there is little doubt that it is the most popular and most often performed. And it’s easy to see why. It is among the frothiest of romantic comedies, and few can resist the magic that takes place in the enchanted woods. In other words, it is a most delicious guilty pleasure.
Changing Scene Theatre Northwest is now performing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Dukesbay Theater in Tacoma, directed by the company’s founder, Pavlina Morris, who is also responsible for the outstanding lighting, costuming and set design, and who appears on stage as Petra Quince, the director of a ridiculous play within a play.
The plot summary provided in the program is as succinct and clear as any I’ve seen, and since Shakespeare’s plots are often convoluted, it might serve patrons well to read it before the play begins.
Typical of Shakespearean plays, the plot is complicated by a large cast of characters, many of whom appear in various guises. Theseus (Nick Fitzgerald), the Duke of Athens, is preparing to marry Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Marsha Walner, who doubles as Titania, queen of the fairies). Hermia (Cori Deverse) arrives with her two young suitors, Demetrius (Ton Williams) and Lysandra (Emily Saletan). Hermia is in love with Lysandra and does not want to wed her father’s choice, Demetrius. But she’s been warned that if she refuses to marry Demetrius she can be put to death or sent to a nunnery for life.
Further complicating the plot and turning it into a farce are (a) the makeshift theater troupe featuring a highly comical Bottom (Laurice Roberts) and (b) a group of mischievous  fairies led by Oberon (Fitzgerald) and his henchman, Puck (Jill Heinecke), who cast spells on the Athenians making Lysandra fall in love with Helena, turning Bottom’s head into the head of a jackass, and making Titania fall in love with Bottom (jackass head and all).
In the play-within-a play, Francis Flute (Mason Quinn) is forced to play a woman’s part. Further gender bending is provided by Morris’s casting women, as Lysandra, Puck and Bottom.
Roberts is hilariously perky and energetic as Bottom. Among the funniest moments in the play are the scene in which Quince is casting the play and Bottom insists on playing every part; and when Bottom dies – usually a delightful bit of over acting but in this case made comical by a hyperbolic prop, which can’t be explained without spoiling a great moment.
Saletan is highly expressive as Lysandra. The scenes between her and Hermia are very sensual and includes an uproarious bit of grabby hands.
Heinecke’s Puck moves with the grace of an accomplished dancer. Williams is fierce and funny as Demetrius. Fitzgerald as Theseus and Oberon and Quinn as Flute could put a bit more oomph into their acting.
Morris’s set and lighting are gorgeous, especially the large flowers and hanging drapery on the backdrop and the glow-in-the-dark paint on costumes, sets and masks.
For holiday fare worth the price of admission, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” might be just the ticket. Advance tickets are recommended because seating is limited.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, through Dec. 21
Where: Dukesbay Theater, 508 6th Ave., Tacoma, above the Grand Cinema
Tickets: advance tickets $18, adult, $15 seniors, students, military, all tickets $20 at the door
Information:, (360) 710-5440.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Tyler Budge Installation at 950 Gallery

photos courtesy 950 Gallery

Whichever way the wind blows
By Alec Clayton
Liminal at 950 Gallery is a fully immersive art installation by Tyler Budge, who
teaches sculpture at University of Washington Tacoma. The term “liminal” is defined as the space between what is and what’s yet to come. Budge’s installation explores these spaces both literally (physically) and metaphorically.
“Our paths are filled with liminal moments — doorways/thresholds that transport us from a structured understanding of where and who we are to an undefined space,” Budge writes.

This multi-media installation explores these transient moments. The gallery is a house under construction with two-by-four studs for walls and openings for windows and doors. Open windows — both within the construction and the actual windows of the gallery — invite visitors to look out, in or through. Visually, it is abstract art, like a three-dimensional Mondrian painting. Metaphorically, it represents the uncomfortableness of not knowing exactly where you are or which way to go. There are tiny red-orange windsocks everywhere being blown in one direction or another by fans controlled my motion sensors. Standing in the interior space looking at the windsocks, I was reminded of the line from Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “It don’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
There are many birds: porcelain birds perched on shelves, a video of birds on a wire, delicate line drawings of birds in complementary colors drawn directly on the wall. Some of the studs are both geometric and organic, straight along one edge and curving sensuously on the opposite edge, and many of the stud edges are lined with simulated moss.
There is a very large moose head mounted on one wall with its shadow painted in a beautiful cobalt blue — the same blue repeated across the gallery where flocks of birds perch on shelves. And finally, mounted to a window are 27 photographs of houses with attached windsocks.
“The space is found under construction, divided into smaller rooms by classic wood house framing construction. One is confronted with familiar structures, while maneuvering thru framed doorways and glancing thru framed windows,” Bulge writes. “Expectations are curbed by contradiction — the outside is structured, predetermined, confined and orderly, but the interiors are vast, open vistas — serene yet placeless. The interior spaces speak of possibility yet provide no destination… One is left directionless.”
Visitors to the gallery are invited to feel the unsettling lack of direction, and perhaps relate it to the hubbub of modern life and their own place in it.

Liminal, 1-5 p.m. Thursdays (until 9 p.m. Third Thursday), or by appointment, through Dec. 19, 950 Gallery, 950 Pacific Ave. Suite 205, Tacoma, 253.627.2175,

Friday, December 6, 2019

Paintings by China Star at All Sorts

By Alec Clayton
I See the Mask, painting by China Star
“layers of paint hide and synchronize in an agglomeration of evocative landscape / mind-scape / dreamscape that welcomes the observer to reference their own imagination. i see many things framed in the details and overall image, what do you see?” Thus, China Star describes her paintings (all in lower-case).
A large selection of her densely packed and colorful paintings graces the walls of Batdorf & Bronson Coffeehouse. By the time you read this, the show will be gone, but most if not all will be shown at All Sorts Gallery this weekend and next weekend. I visited the show at Batdorf in order to preview the show at All Sorts, and I’m glad I did. I plan on going to the reception at All Sorts on the 8th because I want to see these paintings again, and because I want to hear China’s talk.
I See the Music Seeping Out, painting by Chin Star
Star’s paintings are eye-popping, decorative abstract paintings filled with stripes and dots and splatters and puddles of black, white, orange, yellow and green paint in black and white frames upon which she has painted dots and dashes to match the patches of color on the canvas. In some of the paintings, parts of the paintings overlap onto the frames.
One of her larger paintings is an abstract painting titled “I See the Synapses Taking Form.” It brings to mind street celebrations such as Mardi Gras or Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, with floats and balloons and celebrating crowds. The colors are slightly more muted in this one than some of the others. There are floating ghost-like images with bold zebra stripes and yellow and green blobs that crawl out onto the frame. Another of her paintings has long, lacy skeins of paint such as in a Jackson Pollock painting and large lozenge-shaped white balloons with black stripes and more black stripes on the white frame.
Much of the paint, primarily acrylic, looks like enamel that has been poured and allowed to puddle. Contrasting with this, there are areas where the paint is thin and transparent and soaked into the canvas.
There is so much going on in her paintings that they would seem chaotic but for the definite patterns and groupings of forms and colors that keep it all unified.
Star says, “my technique is the process of mark making, pouring, brushing, scraping, repetition, trance, releasing a desire towards the referential, allowing things to happen in a collaboration with the unknown to manifest the purest abstraction of form . . .”
She was born in Los Angeles and now makes Olympia her home. Her visual art, animation, word-smithing and musical performances have been exhibited in 25 cities nationally and internationally, and her work has been added to public and private collections.

Evocation and Transformation: The Art of China Star
5-7 p.m. Dec. 6-7 and Dec. 12-13, reception 4-7 p.m. Dec. 8 with artist talk at 5 p.m.
All Sorts Gallery, 2306 Capital Way S., Olympia