Thursday, October 31, 2013

Excellent art exhibits at UPS

The Weekly Volcano, Oct. 31, 2013

"Hard Lessons," silk screen by Randy Bolton
The Kittredge Gallery at University of Puget Sound has two excellent art exhibits through Nov. 9. The front gallery features prints by Randy Bolton that provide delightful and thoughtful commentary on the world we live in. The title of his show, Have a Terrific Great Nice OK Day, offers a pretty good clue as to the nature of Bolton’s prints. The back gallery features paper sculptures of nests by Holly Senn. Whereas Bolton’s prints are funny, Senn’s sculptures are beautiful, delicate and as elegant as expensive china.

Bolton’s prints offer visual puns and life lessons in a style reminiscent of 1950s commercial art or early American decorative prints, some with surprises of the Rene Magritte variety. His silk screens employ bright but slightly muted colors — a lot of orange, which seems appropriate for the time of year. What I find most interesting about his prints is the surface quality. There is a kind of grittiness to them as if they were printed using silk screens with a much coarser weave than the usual. This grittiness is really quite attractive.

“Mountainous, Monotonous” is a group of six prints with figures in front of a background image of mountains and the words from the title printed in script with odd spacing across the images in such a way that this simple play on words becomes quite engaging.

“Stalactites & Stalagmites” presents an interesting twist on imaging these two opposite and invariably confused cave formations. Instead of rock formations in caves they are icicles on tree limbs dripping up and down.

“Yes We Can” is both a pun and a message about consumerism and litter. A clutter of no-littering signs and other junk destroy a peaceful scene with an idyllic white picket fence. The title reminds us of Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan, and the word “can” may be read as both a verb and a noun, each of which is appropriate to the images in this three-part print.

Bolton’s puns, concrete poetry and social commentary are all enjoyable, but it is the artistic strength of his imagery that makes this show worth seeing.

Senn’s show, Scavenged, features free-standing and wall-hanging sculptures of birds’ nests inspired by specimens from the collection of some 1,300 bird nests at Puget Sound’s Slater Museum of Natural History and made from strips of paper cut from discarded library books (some actual nests on loan from the museum are included). They are intelligent in concept and intricately constructed. Two of the hanging pieces, a trio of blackbird nests and a trio of cliff swallow nests suspended in front of dark brown walls, are minimalist sculpture as striking as any seen anywhere.
[Kittredge Gallery,  Landscape and Transformation,  through Sept. 28, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701]

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


A Study in Love and Suffering
Scott Douglas, Rick Bates and John Pratt

Best known for his fantasy novel series The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis was a theologian, a poet and a professor of English at Oxford University in England. Shadowlands, directed by Kendra Malm and now playing at Olympia Little Theatre, is the story of Lewis’s love for the American poet Joy Gresham who wrote under the pen name Joy Davidman.

The play opens with Lewis (played by Scott Douglas) standing at a lectern with his friends and fellow professors seated behind him — they are actually in place for the next scene when they all gather for drinks. A clever bit of stagecraft, that. Lewis lectures on why God allows suffering in this world. He is well reasoned, self-satisfied, brilliant, and witty, with an abundance of legendary British reserve. He says suffering is a wake-up call and that without suffering we cannot know joy, which turns out to be an unintentional pun since a woman named Joy is soon to come into his life and bring him love and suffering. Throughout the rest of the play we see evidence of clashes between his theology and the reality of his life. In many ways the whole play is a theological debate acted out through real life events, and it is a touching love story.

Scott Douglas and Stacey Hopkins

Scott Douglas and Tim Butterfield. All photos by Kendra Malm

Lewis is unwavering in his convictions until Joy comes into his life, but she cracks through to make him a better man.

This is Malm’s first attempt at directing a dramatic play. Her previous outings as both actor and director have all been in comedies. Kudos—it seems she made the switch easily.

The cast is excellent and features a number of actors who are new to OLT but who have earned their acting chops elsewhere. Most outstanding are the actors filling the primary roles: Douglas as C.S. Lewis, Stacey Hopkins as Joy, and Tim Butterfield as Lewis’s brother Warnie. There’s an old saying in theater: never let ’em catch you acting. I certainly didn’t catch Douglas, Hopkins and Butterfield acting on opening night. This trio inhabited their roles so comfortably that I expected them to go home together after the show. Also turning in fine performances were John Pratt as Professor Christopher Riley, the irascible professor who plays devil’s advocate throughout, and Nick Hayes who was the soul of sweetness as Joy’s son, Douglas.

Everything is underplayed in Shadowlands, to the point that I found myself wishing at times they would not be so damned formal. I wanted to see more fireworks, but I think the lack of histrionics is true to the characters they portray. There were moments opening night when the actors did not project well enough. This was true of most of them, and that is a problem at OLT  because some seats are a great distance from parts of the stage area and they don’t use microphones.

Matt Moeller designed the set, which features a very nice backdrop with a series of pictures that look like old wood block prints. I imagined these might be copies of illustrations from early editions of The Chronicles of Narnia but an online search did not turn up any evidence of that. At any rate, they lend a feeling of authenticity. I enjoyed the selection of 1950s pop tunes played during scene changes, even if they did cut them off abruptly instead of fading them as they should have. I was also impressed with the lighting (designed by Malm).

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 10
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $12-$15, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or
INFORMATION: 360-786-9484,

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What actors do

 A few of my theater friends have expressed the opinion that standing ovations are far too common. I agree. If every play gets a standing O it doesn’t mean a thing. It should be reserved for shows that move you out of your seat through their sheer power—the power for laugher, of tears, of awe.
On the other hand, you can’t applaud enough for the people who put on shows—especially in community theater where they get paid little or nothing.

What it is that actors do is truly astounding. They become a people other than who they are for two hours every night. Try convincing hundreds of people that you are King Henry V or Cleopatra or Atticus Finch, and try doing it while projecting your voice to the back row and moving with gestures so big and broad that people on that far back row can clearly read your body language, and then try to do all of that in such a natural and comfortable manner that it seems you’re not acting at all.  And let’s not forget that you have to memorize all those lines.

And let’s also not forget that actors don’t get to go home to have dinner with their families and then zone out watching mind-numbing crap on TV like the rest of us, and that they have to get up the next morning and go to their day job. Shit. These people are heroes. And the same can be said for all the people behind the stage who make it happen.

I thought about all of this while writing a review of a show that was good but not great and wishing I could give it a more glowing review. So I encourage everyone to get out and support your community theater. Give them a hand; that’s usually the only pay they get for all their hard work. But I’m still not going to be generous with standing ovations; so actors, if you see me standing in the audience and applauding you’ll know that by god I really mean it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Five artists to visit during Tacoma's Studio Tour

The Weekly Volcano, Oct. 24, 20013
"Blackbird" paper sculpture by Holly Senn
Get ready, Tacoma. The 12th annual Tacoma Studio Tour is happening Nov.2 and 3 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. — that’s two full days to visit some of Tacoma’s better artists where they create their work, talk to them, view their art and enjoy demonstrations. You might even get to use some of their stuff to make your own art.

This year’s lineup of artists is as good as it gets. Even the cover to the Studio Tour guide is outstanding — a deceptively simple drawing by Sean Alexander.

With 39 participating artists or art groups, you will not be able to visit them all, so study the guide to decide which studios you want to visit. If you’re looking for recommendations, here are five artists whose studios I’d like to visit:

1. Holly Senn, one of the most intelligent and successful sculptor/installation artists in the South Sound. A librarian in her day job, Senn’s work is all about books, paper, the trees the paper comes from and related themes, and her pieces are all made from discarded library books. Few artists meld concept and form so seamlessly as Senn. Lately she’s been making nests (birds’ nests, hornets’ nests, bee hives) out of woven strips of paper (if you look closely you can read the words). Senn’s art is beautiful and thought-provoking, and I can promise she will be a gracious host.

2. Tacoma’s all-around favorite art gadabout, Lynn DiNino. DiNino is a sculptor who works with everything from concrete to sewing machines to Hostess cupcakes. Her work is funny, insightful and often socially relevant. Plus she is one of the best promoters of art events in T-town. You never know what she’s going to do next, but I can guarantee you’ll enjoy a visit to her studio.

3. Gabrielle Brown is a performance artist and sculptor. He is listed in the guide as artist, activist and shoe cobbler, and he calls himself a “garbologist.” As with DiNino, there’s not telling what you might run into when you visit his studio, but it’s sure to be entertaining.

4. Pat Haase is a sculptor who is new to me. I’ve never seen her work “in the flesh,” but pieces I’ve viewed online are fascinating. She is a realistic sculptor of figures, and I use the term “realistic” in its proper meaning as being natural and gritty as opposed to being idealized.

5. Betty Sapp Ragan is a photographer and printmaker. I’ve been impressed with some of her works in group shows. Most of what I’ve seen has been photo-collages of contemporary women in nooks and crannies and on pedestals of ancient buildings. They are interesting conceptually and impressive in their craftsmanship. Her latest work, according to the blurb in the guide, consists of hand-colored photo-collages of landscapes with the outlines of architectural features.

Now you can enjoy the tour and pick your own five favorites.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Steel Magnolias at Tacoma Little Theatr

Pictured l to r: Dana Galagan as Clairee, Stephanie Leeper as Truvy, Kathi Aleman as M'Lynn, Jessica Robins as Annelle, Carol Richmond as Ouiser (pronounced Weezy). Photo by DK Photography
Michael Dredsner wrote:

Steel Magnolias is an amazing property, beautifully written with endless wit, darting one-liners, richly crafted characters, and ultimately, deep, wrenching emotion. Tacoma Little Theatre graced it with an outstanding ensemble cast and a sterling director who added sparkle, humanity, and flawless timing to create a perfect storm of a theatre experience.

Read Michael Dresdsner's complete review

Friday, October 18, 2013

Arbutus Folk School opening in Olympia

The Weekly Volcano, Oct. 17, 2013

To the best of my knowledge, Arbutus Folk School opening in Olympia Oct. 19 will be the first school of its type in the Pacific Northwest. The school at 600 4th Ave E will offer classes in such arcane (and common) crafts as Scandinavian knife making, blacksmithing, woodworking, top-bar beehive building, fiber arts, ceramics, and growing and preserving foods.

The core subject areas offered in the first phase of the school’s development will focus on wood crafts, music and storytelling. The second phase will include a pottery studio, fiber arts studio and commercial kitchen. Just a few of the many other classes they plan to offer includes gardening, food preservation and storage, beekeeping, wine/beer making, wooden boat building, folk dance, canoe carving, foraging, food preparation and preservation. 

The public is invited to the grand opening celebration Saturday, Oct 19, from 3-9 p.m. There will be craft demonstrations, kid's activities, live music by Back Porch Swing and a presentation about the folk school. Classes will start the following Monday. 

The school is a work in progress, and not all classes will be available in the beginning. Some of the classrooms are still being built. Most of the woodworking shop is complete and they have a kiln, but some of the ceramics equipment is yet to come and there are walls to knock down and rearrange, stuff still to be built.

The school is the brainchild of Stacey Waterman-Hoey who has worked for Washington State University more than 20 years but quit her job last year in order to pursue her dream of opening this school. She says she is grateful to a “phenomenal team of co-visionaries and co-founders” for helping her bring her vision to fruition.

In addition to classes in a wide variety of crafts taught by some of the best crafts persons in the Puget Sound region, Arbutus will have a small gallery where artworks and hand tools will be displayed and sold, there will be performances and workshops in the spacious front room, and classrooms will be available for rent.

“I have been thinking about it for at least five years,” Waterman-Hoey said. She wanted to get out of working in a cubical and “do something heartfelt.” She kicked around many ideas, but “When I got this idea I knew it was a go.”

Most of the board and volunteers who have been helping to get it started are working for free right now, and a lot of the equipment has been donated. Windfall Lumber donated 2-inch-thick maple woodworking bench tops. 

Arbutus will be using and selling sustainably harvest lumber from small farms in Lewis, Mason and Thurston Counties. They have partnered with the Department of Natural Resources to utilize urban waste lumber. 

The blacksmithing classes will be taught by Kelly Rigg, who has taught at South Puget Sound Community College and The Evergreen State College. The Scandinavian knife making with leather, wood and metal will be taught by Tim Nagel, who taught on the East Coast for 15 years. Furniture making will be taught by local craftsperson Jay T. Scott. Kirk Hanson and Matt Newton will teach top-bar beehive building

Most classes will be held evenings and weekends. Waterman-Hoey says “It’s not all Little House on the Prairie.” She says they want to have a lot of activities for families.
For now, Arbutus Folk School looks like a fabulous idea off to a great start, but they have almost exhausted their start-up funds and will need to raise more money to keep it going. For this they will need investors, donors and paying students. Waterman-Hoey is confident they will succeed.