Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Support Your Local Bookwriter

Last night I went to a book launch party for William Turbyfill’s Field of Turby at B Sharp Coffee House in Tacoma. Graciously, Turbyfill honored friends and fellow writers Christian Carvajal, Jack Cameron and Melissa Thayer by inviting them to read from their own works, and then he read a few selections from his newly published book—his first, and hopefully the first of many. It was a wonderful event. It is good to see locals coming out to support local writers. There are many more outstanding local writers than I can begin to enumerate. Most of them are published by independent, small-budget publishers, or are self-published. There used to be a stigma to that, but not so much anymore. Despite not being well known beyond friends and relatives, many of these local, independently published authors are just as good as, and often better than, more famous authors whose books sell in the millions.
The difference is Random House and HarperCollins and Simon&Schuster can spend huge fortunes on advertising and promotion; they can provide every bookstore in America with return-guaranteed books; they can send their authors on worldwide book tours. (I’m not about to spend a thousand dollars to fly across country for a book reading where I might sell half a dozen books.) Marketing is impossible beyond readings in local bookstores (and only independent bookstores like Kings Books and Orca will even put these books on their shelves) and at events such as Creative Colloquy.
Steven King’s latest novel, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams has 767 customer reviews on amazon.com. Field of Turby has seven, which is phenomenal for an independently published book that’s been out such a short time. My latest book has four. The most I’ve ever gotten for any book so far has been 19.
Like your local food co-op and neighborhood schools, local writers need your support. Please buy their books and read them. But don’t just read them. Post customer reviews on amazon and Goodreads, and recommend them on Facebook. These reviews help more than you can imagine, and they’re not hard to write. They don’t have to be polished or even skillfully written. Just write what you think, and be honest. If there are things about the book you don’t like, say it. If you just gush about how great it is, readers will sense you’re being dishonest; they might even suspect you were paid to write a glowing review (that does happen, and amazon watches for it and will refuse to publish reviews they suspect are dishonest).
Here are some local authors in the Olympia-Tacoma area whose books I recommend, plus a couple from other parts of the country whose books are outstanding and who could use your support:
William Turbyfill
Melissa Thayer
Jack Cameron
Ned Hayes
Christian Carvajal
Ricker Winsor
S.R. Martin Jr.
Jack Butler
Larry Johnson
Joshua Swainston
Ruth Tiger
Dianne Kozdrey Bunnell

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ring of Fire at Centerstage

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 4, 2016
June Carter Cash (Cayman Ilika) and Johnny Cash (Jared Michael Brown) set the stage in Federal Way. Photo credit: Michelle Smith Lewis

Ring of Fire at Centerstage in Federal Way is wonderful entertainment, well worth the drive. Adapted from the Broadway Production by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Jason Edwards, it is a hybrid falling somewhere between a play and a musical revue. It tells the life story of Johnny Cash through his music. There is no dialogue, but there are a few necessary bits of narration addressed directly to the audience by Cash (Jared Michael Brown) and June Carter Cash (Cayman Ilika). Similarly, there are no traditional theatrical scenes, but there is choreographed movement arranged by director and choreographer Amy Johnson. And how wonderfully the choreography creates visions of train rides and working on the chain gang, of a youthful band auditioning before the great record producer Sam Phillips, and of the beginnings and ends of love.
I was given a hint as to how this musical experience was going to differ from other theatrical productions when before curtain time I asked Centerstage Artistic Director Alan Bryce why none of the actors’ character names were listed in the program. In trying to explain, he kept saying, “You’ll see. It’s different.”
The band from left Tom Stewart, Jack Dearth, Jared Michael Brown and Sean Tomerlin, Photo credit: Michelle Smith Lewis
For starters, Brown not only plays Cash, he also plays other male characters, including Phillips; Ilika plays June Carter Cash and Cash’s first wife, Vivian Liberto. There’s also a four-piece band: drums (Zack Summers), electric and acoustic guitar (Sean Tomerlin), bass (Jack Dearth) and acoustic guitar (Tom Stewart) — most of whom also take on the role of Johnny Cash at times. As Bryce said, you’ll see. By-the-way, typical country and western bands back in the ’50s and early ’60s described such combos as drums, bass, lead guitar and rhythm guitar. Cash played rhythm guitar but was never known as a great musician but as a great singer-songwriter and stylist. Brown does not play guitar in this productions.
Brown and Ilika are each members of Actors Equity. Ilika starred as Mary Poppins at Village Theatre and was a Gregory Award nominee, and she rocked the house at Centerstage as Patsy in Always Patsy Cline. Brown recently performed at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, ACT, and Seattle Children’s Theatre. They are both terrific singers and actors who pull the audience in, making even a fairly large house feel tiny and intimate. Brown made me feel like he was flirting with the audience, even improvising interaction with them on a couple of occasions when I was there for an opening weekend matinee. Neither tries to imitate Johnny or June, but interpret their songs in their own styles, and sing with power. Brown has a wider range to his voice than Cash but sounds a lot like him especially when he drops to a lower key.
Some of the band members also take the lead on Johnny Cash songs. Stewart and Dearth are particularly outstanding on the songs they solo on.
Ring of Fire is two hours of great Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash songs from standard country and gospel songs from their early years to such favorite hits as “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk The Line,” and “A Boy Named Sue.”

Ring of Fire, 8 p.m. Thurs.- Sat., 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun., through Feb/ 14., Centerstage at Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way, $30, Seniors (65+) and Military: $25; Youth (25 & Under): $10; VIP: $50, 253-661-1444, www.centerstagetheatre.comxt

Surprising 3-D Show at B2

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb. 4, 2016
“All Lines in the Water,” mixed media by Shannon Weber, courtesy B2 Fine Art Gallery
Winter Pop-Up at B2 Fine Art Gallery is a surprisingly rich collection of sculpture, basketry and pottery by (mostly) artists who are new to the Tacoma art scene — the one exception being longtime local favorite Ric Hall, who is showing here totally new work never before seen and a radical departure from what we’re used to seeing from him.
"Apple Pruning" by Ric Hall, courtesy B2 Gallery.
More on Hall’s painted apple prunings and mixed-media sculptures by Shannon Weber later, but first an overview of the show. Featured artists are Hall, Weber, Mary Hosick, Sharon Feeney, Steve Sauer, and Patty McPhee. There are some nicely executed and rather traditional ceramic and sculptural work by Hosick, Feeney, and McPhee. I was especially impressed with Hosick’s ceramics and also liked McPhee’s sensual and minimalist wood carvings of abstract forms based on the female figure and Feeney’s asymmetrical, half-moon shaped “Budding.” Sauer’s massive ceramic fertility vessels are rough, gritty and powerful. While modernistic in style and form, they evoke ancient and primitive art that grabs at the gut and won’t let go.
Hosick warrants a show all her own, and her work is relegated to a separate room in the gallery with a selection of 14 felted wool and silk and stoneware pots. The smaller pots with felted wool and silk patches adhered to the surface like organic accretions present wonderfully contrasting textures and glazes. Her pieces with sculpted tubes going through and out of ceramic forms are like Stone Age scientific instruments left on earth by an alien race. One piece that is different from all her others is “Flight Patterns,” a playful and decorative mixed-media sculpture with butterfly wings fluttering in front of a blue circle with another of her tubes piercing the whole. There is a shamanistic quality to her pottery.
Now back to Hall and the other surprising find in this show: Weber. Their pieces in this show have a decidedly outsider appearance like the works of untrained, often insane and artistically obsessed artists, and yet they are clearly educated and well versed in art history, theory and practice.
Hall is locally famous for cubist-surrealistic pastel paintings done in collaboration with his partner in crime, Ron Schmitt.  What he is showing here is a collection of about 15 painted prunings from an apple tree. In one cubbyhole section of the gallery 13 small pieces line the walls on shelves mounted about five feet off the floor. They are knotted, gnarled and sensual, and painted with bright colors with thick and often clotted paint that brings into view figures and faces suggested to the artist’s fertile imagination by the shapes of the limbs. Study them carefully and you’ll find an almost infinite number of surprises. In another nearby section of the gallery are a couple more of these, but they are larger and more expansive, with long limbs that reach as if soaring into space.
Weber is showing a number of fantastic sculptures both free-standing and wall hanging created out of a mixture of unusual materials including sticks, bones, kelp and many other found materials. They are enigmatic and strangely beautiful, and evoke Northwest Native American art. There is one piece that is a large ball of impossibly bent and twisted sticks. I can’t imagine how she managed to weave them together in such a manner. Another, “3 Moons,” is a burnt piece of wood, smooth as polished rock, with a smaller and differently burned hunk of wood that looks like charcoal mounted on top. It is as rough as the other is smooth, and dead center on it are three little button-like moons stitched to the burnt wood with kelp and waxed Lenin thread. It is beautiful and yet ominous. Next to “3 Moons” is “All Lines in the Water,” a small canoe shape with five little woven baskets stuffed inside like men crammed into a too-small boat. It is made of kelp pieces, fish bones, reclaimed washers and other exotic materials.
There is little time left to see this show. I strongly suggest you see it as soon as possible.
Winter Pop-Up, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 9 p.m. through Feb. 13, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065.

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