Saturday, November 21, 2020

Memorable moments


A friend posted on Facebook, “What is something you've done that you're pretty confident you're the only person on my friends list to have ever done?” The responses flooded in with many amazing things such as:

“I once told Steven Spielberg, to his face, that I didn’t like ET as a kid.”

“Tara Reid once threw a LIT cigarette at me.”

“I waited on Adam Arkin.”

“Shook hands with Pope John Paul II.”

“Attended a callback for Cirque du Soleil as a ventriloquist.”

And “Dressed up as an electric fence for Halloween. (Wrapped myself in silver ribbon and carried a stun gun).”

I posted that I once hugged Tipper Gore and ate dinner in the same restaurant and at the same time as the Chicago Bulls—at least a group of their players including Scotty Pippin and Luc Longley. I’ll elaborate on that and at least one other memorable moment.

When I was in junior high school, I was voted Homecoming King. It was clearly a sympathy vote because I had been injured playing football and was confined to a wheelchair. But at halftime of the game against our rival, Laurel, I was pushed out to the center of the field in a wheelchair—fifty yard line, pushed by my identical twin brother who was in uniform (he was on the team) and accompanied by my queen, Kay Beard, with whom almost every boy in the school had a mad crush. Including me. After we were crowned, Kay leaned over and kissed me. Oh boy!

Three years later, another homecoming game against the same rival, but this time in high school. I was not Homecoming King, nor was I on the team. My knee injury never healed sufficiently for me to play again. But my twin brother was on the team. He was the smallest boy on the team. Laughably small for football. Probably the smallest boy ever to play for the Hattiesburg High Tigers. Normally he was a backup running back, but in this game, for reasons I can’t recall, he was put in as a defensive back forced to cover, at five-foot-three, a six-foot-tall wide receiver. And late in the fourth quarter he made a miraculous leap to intercept a pass and run it back sixty yards for the winning touchdown. It was my moment of glory as well as his, because back then my twin and I thought and acted and felt as one person.

Fast forward to 1996. We were at a PFLAG gathering in Seattle on the same night that the World Champion Chicago Bulls were playing the Seattle Sonics. After our meeting and after the game we went to a hotel restaurant for a late dinner. The Bulls’ team bus pulled up as we were parking, and the players unloaded and went into the hotel. I remember seeing Luc Longley, center, seven-feet tall, duck to go through the door. A group of the players came into the restaurant while we were eating. The great Michael Jordan was not with them. The restaurant was full, and they had to wait for a table. I overheard Scotty Pippin say to one of his teammates, “If Michael was with us we wouldn’t have to wait.”

I’ll bet he was right.

Four years later we went to Washington D.C. for a PFLAG conference and the Millennium March on Washington, a march for LGBTQ rights. Naturally, we didn’t know anyone else on the airplane except for one other person from Olympia. When the airplane got to D.C. and the pilot announced we were preparing to land, he said, “If you’re going to the Millennium March, have a great time,” and the entire plane erupted in cheers. Everyone on the plane was going to the march, and suddenly it was as if we were all old friends. And in the city it was as if all the people in D.C. were old friends. I had never in my life seen so many rainbow flags.

I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but there was a dinner and a keynote speaker, and entertainment by our friend Steve Schalchlin, who sang for the first time in front of an audience “Gabi’s Song,” a song he wrote about our son Bill who committed suicide after a gay bashing. It was such a wonderfully sad moment, and Gabi and I were smothered with support.
I can’t remember if this came before or after the dinner and Steve’s performance. There was a keynote speech by Tipper Gore, Second Lady of the United States, and after her speech there was a receiving line. Tipper stood behind a rope guarded by Secret Servicemen. One of the Secret Servicemen said “Do not touch the Second Lady. Do not try to shake her hand.”
The line filed past her, and everyone in their turn said hello and thank you, and Gabi whispered to me, “When it’s our turn, I’m going to tell her about Bill.” And she did. And when she did Tipper Gore reached across the line and gave each of us a big hug. You know, I knew hardly anything about her except she was married to the vice president and had headed up some silly campaign against profanity in music. But that moment—Wow! I felt like I imagine that person who said they shook the pope’s hand must have felt.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Tacoma Musical Playhouse’s filmed production of Assisted Living; The Musical


Cast of Assisted Living from left: Lissa Valentine, Frank Kohel, Sharry O'Hare, Micheal O'Hara

Assisted Living: The Musical
is a comedic romp through an assisted living home where, as director Jon Douglas Rake puts it, “70-something is the new 20-something, only with looser skin.”

The cast includes Frank Kohel, Sharry O’Hare, Micheal O’Hara and Lissa Valentine. O'Hara and Kohel have appeared opposite one another in three shows in the past five years, including The Story of My Life at Olympia Little Theatre, Hairspray at Auburn Community Players and Man of La Mancha at 2nd Story Rep-Redmond. Valentine played Sherlock Holmes’ mother in Tacoma Little Theatre’s Holmes for the Holidays. O’Hare is practically a South Sound theater institution all on her own, having appeared often in many area theaters over the years, many times playing opposite her husband, O’Hara—don’t you just love the pairing of the names, and is the “chemistry” between these two any wonder? Recently she was seen in Forbidden Broadway at Lakewood Playhouse, The Full Monty at TMP and Calendar Girls at TLT. 

Music, lyrics and book were written by Rick Compton and Betsy Bennet, set by Bruce Haasl, costumes by Julles Mills, and filming and editing by Dennis Kurtz.

Assisted Living is a vaudeville-style show of silly skits, bad jokes, and silly songs—many of which are parodies of pop music and showtunes, all set in the Pelican Roost retirement home, and all poking fun at senior citizens.

O’Hara falls to the floor from his motorized cart and sings “Help, I’ve fallen for you and I can’t get up.”

Valentine sings a song about her ageing body with the refrain “saggy, saggy, sagging.”

Pushing a food cart, Kohel sings “Sunday night is steak night and my teeth have gone away.”

O’Hare sings a sweet and sad lament about internet acronyms and online dating and a sweetheart who writes BYB (be right back) but never comes back.

In a wild and crazy windup to the evening’s entertainment, the duo of O’Hare and O’Hara perform a tribute to Viagra as a medley of pop songs such as “Up, up and away with his beautiful blue pills” and “Viagra, I just took a pill called Viagra” (you know the tunes).

O’Hare writes about the rehearsals, staging and filming process:

When Jon brought us all together via Zoom, he let us know that this was going to be a collaborative effort and that we would do some rehearsals (via) Zoom and then a few times in person for marking our staging. He sent the music we would be using over the computer and guided us through our characters, truly allowing us generous liberties in creating them. We had three Zoom rehearsals; each of us had individual rehearsals at the theatre, and then we all met to put the opening and closing on stage. In addition to the normal concerns when directing, Jon now had to ensure that we were all social distanced and masked until we actually sang. None of us faced each other in the foursome during the numbers. We all decided the final week that we wanted in-person rehearsals and kept to the protocols in place. That final week was such a treat—got to see all the other skits and songs in the show.

“The filming was a new experience for all of us. It took a little over six hours. Some of the numbers went quickly and in one take. The most difficult solo I had went so well to my surprise. But I attribute that I had my personal conductor, Jeffrey Strvrtecky down at the edge of the stage guiding me through with the tricky rhythms. Micheal and I had a very challenging duet that we performed to perfection the first time and we all cheered at how well it went only to discover that the sound wasn't on! It was a struggle to get back on track, but with the magic of film they can splice our best work and piece it all together. Dennis Kurtz, who is a phenomenal photographer, did the tapings. Again, so strange to be distanced and masked throughout, except when we were actually performing. When we were finished, we all cheered and gave ourselves and the crew, Jon and Jeff, jubilant applause. It had been a long day, but one that lifted us from the troubles outside and brought us back on stage with a set, lights, props, costumes, makeup, and each other. Because, after all, isn't that what theatre does for us—both the performer and the audience regardless of what is going on in reality?”


ASSISTED LIVING: THE MUSICAL plays virtually filmed from the Tacoma Musical Playhouse stage. 


Show Times 

Friday, November 20 | 7:00 PM 

Saturday, November 21 | 2:00 PM 

Sunday, November 22 | 2:00 PM 

Ticket Prices

General Ticket Price $27.00 


Run Time

1 hour 15 minutes




Tickets are on sale and can be purchased online at only. 


Sunday, November 8, 2020

Theatre Magic (And Other Things We Need)


Reviewed by Alec Clayton


LaNita Hudson Walters, Sharon Armstrong

Andrea Benson

Theatre Magic (And Other Things We Need)
at Centerstage is a group of eight one-acts written by eight different playwrights, with four different directors (Trista Duval, Angela Bayler, Alyson Soma and Tori Dewar) and performed over a period of about an hour and a half by a hard-working and talented ensemble cast comprised of Sharon Armstrong, Andrea Benson, Cassie Fastabend, Jacob Tice, Tom Livingston, Tim Takechi, and LaNita Hudson Walters.

Centerstage Artistic Director Trista Duval said, “The stories depicted in this evening of scenes cover a range of eras, life experiences, locations, and emotions. I think they say something a little different to everyone, depending on where you are mentally and emotionally in this moment. It is my sincere hope that you experience moments of joy and fun during these performances, and that you experience moments where you feel understood and seen in your darker and tougher times.”

Some of the scenes are funny, some touching, and most involve a big of magic realism. And, as is to be expected with different writers and directors, the quality varies.

The first scene, “Our Ten,” by Mark Harvey Levine, is one of the weaker of the eight—or maybe I was caught off balance because I wasn’t expecting the magic element. It seemed to start out as a radio broadcast with the cast performing as DJs, announcers, and a call-in listener. And then it switches to a live scene of events taking place on a freeway: a woman giving birth and a person threatening suicide by jumping off an overpass; and all the people who were in the radio station moments before are witnesses to what happens on the freeway. It is inventive and, to me, a sometimes hard-to-understand story.

“You Can Thank Me Later” by Ruben Carbajal features Takechi as a man flying over a city and into restricted air space over an airport in a lawn chair lifted into the air by 45 weather balloons, and Livingston as a man on a phone trying to talk him down. This one is hilarious and thought provoking.

“Poof,” written by Lynn Nottage, is one of the most brilliant and entertaining scenes of the evening, and also one that comments importantly on domestic violence. In this scene, Loureen (Armstrong) accidentally kills her abusive husband in a magical way which I will not give away here. (Or she thinks she has killed him.) And she calls her neighbor Florence (Walters) to help her figure out what to do next.

In “Ghost Story,” written by Rachel Luann Strayer, Natalie (Fastabend) obsessively reads a ghost story on Christmas Eve while her husband, Doug (Tice) tries to get her to help him trim the Christmas tree. It is realistic with a bit of nostalgia, and beautifully acted by Tice and Fastabend.

“Spam Symphony” by Alex Broun is a surrealistic modern dance or poem with the entire cast performing as spam emails sent to Takechi.

In “Ghost of a Character,” written by Mranalini Kamath, Tice as Sir Conan Doyle talks to Sherlock Holmes (Livingston) about an actual case involving a racist murder. In the process of solving the murder, Doyle and his most famous character reveal much about the minds of writers—of this writer in particular. At one point in the story Holmes says to his creator, “Why do you not leave me alone?” which might be the central question about the relationship of any writer to his or her characters.

Finally, one of the deepest stories of the bunch, is “Real Art,” written by Louise Wigglesworth. In it, a woman named Loretta (Andrea Benson) wants to buy a piece of “real art” by Abby (Fastabend), but Abby doesn’t want to sell it because it’s her first and only “Best in Show.” Somewhat like the writer-character exchange in “Ghost of a Character,” this one becomes a philosophical discussion on art between the artist and her patron. Stellar acting by Fastabend and Benson.

Theatre Magic (And Other Things We Need) was filmed at Dukesbay Theatre and can be watched online. Virtual tickets give access to the show for 24 hours, anytime from now to Nov. 15.

Go to to buy your tickets for the date and time you want to “go to” a performance. After purchasing your ticket, you will receive a separate email 24 hours later with a link to your scheduled stream.


For more information, call (253) 661-1444 or email



Thursday, October 29, 2020



Tacoma, WA- Tacoma Little Theatre is holding auditions for two Page to Screen virtual readings, Buenas Noches Mamá, by Emily Cohen, and Skin, by Anamaria Guerzon.  TLT’s Page to Screen welcomes local playwrights an opportunity to have their scripts performed in a virtual staged reading.  Pieces will range in length from scenes, one acts, or full length plays and musicals


Auditions for Skin will be held on Sunday, November 8th virtually via Zoom.  Audition appointments will be set starting at 7:00pm in five-minute increments.  Skin braids together two stories: one true story as a retelling from the past; and one fictionalized story in the present. Skin investigates and explores the colonization of tattoo as an art form.  Specific roles for actors who are Filipino, Filipinx, Black, Filipina, and White and represent all gender identities.  For a full breakdown please visit (



Auditions for Buenas Noches Mamá will be held Monday, November 9th virtually via Zoom.  Audition appointments will be set starting at 7:00pm in five-minute increments. Buenas Noches Mamá focuses on the impacts of the Dirty War in Argentina and centers on Pablo, a person who discovers that he was illegally adopted by his military family. Throughout the play we learn about his real mother, Sofía, the circumstances that lead to her disappearance, and the history that followed afterwards.   Specific roles for actors who are Latinx and represent all gender identities.  For a full breakdown please visit (


Auditioners are asked to prepare a short, one-minute contemporary monologue.  There will also be cold reads that will be emailed out the day prior to auditions.   


To reserve an audition time, follow this link (, or call our Box Office for assistance at (253) 272-2281.


Once cast, both shows will hold up to two virtual rehearsals for a virtual reading in the latter part of November or beginning of December (based upon actor schedule conflicts). 



Tacoma Little Theatre’s Page to Screen welcomes local playwrights an opportunity to have their scripts performed in a virtual staged reading.  Pieces will range in length from scenes, one acts, or full length plays and musicals.  To submit your script for consideration, please visit


Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Driftwood Bridge streaming free online

Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma and David Mielke

Courtesy Photo

Not even a worldwide pandemic can stop theater people from doing their thing, as demonstrated by such events as Harlequin Productions’ ongoing radio web series of theatrical shows and Pug Bujeaud’s Zoom performance of her drama The Culling. And now comes The Driftwood Bridge - An Offering of Story and Song by David Mielke and his husband Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma.

This cabaret-style musical can now be seen free of charge online.

The show started as something the couple wrote and performed for their wedding guests in 2018 at Open Space for Arts and Community on Vashon Island. It quickly evolved into a full professional theatrical production that was staged in November of 2019 in the Kay White Hall at the Vashon Center for the Arts. At the time it was called Gaybaret.

It was scheduled for a five week-run in Seattle at the 12th Avenue Arts Studio Theater but had to be rescheduled because of the pandemic.

“Due to heartfelt requests from previous audience members who want to share the show with their friends, we've decided to make The Driftwood Bridge available to theatre audiences free on-demand online by streaming the production we filmed in November,” Mielke says. “Since it touches on themes that have become even more relevant in these challenging times, we wanted to make it available in people’s homes.”

Mielke explains: “The Driftwood Bridge is a two-person theatrical and musical memoir about taking experiences that wash up on the existential beaches of our lives and using them to build a bridge to carry us forward. The show explores life after loss, intergenerational forgiveness, and the ways mentors and friends help us feel ready to say yes to love—gay, straight, or otherwise.”

With Pruiksma on piano, each performer alternately tells their own story and sings songs—about letting go of old shame, learning to trust, and acknowledging the mystery of life. As with many rituals honoring what is known but unseen, the show bows to the joyful play of what seems to be serendipity.

“There’s a thread running through the show about openness to wonder, to the poetry of lived life,” Pruiksma says. “Our experiences may appear to be chaotic and random, but often there is some more mysterious pattern we can see or help to create that leads to unexpected gifts.”

The show continues until December 31, on, where Mielke and Pruiksma are also showcasing another Covid-coping endeavor, a video series they've produced called Broadway in the Yurt, recently featured in the "Modern Love" column of the New York Times.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Tacoma Little Theatre’s ‘Page to Screen’ Presents the Final Assignment

Tacoma Little Theatre's Page to Screen program presents an exciting virtual drama: James A. Gilletti’s, The Final Assignment, directed by pug Bujeaud, stage managed by Nena Curley and featuring some of the Pacific Northwest’s finer actors. It is a one-night-only staged reading, and it is free and online.

This is Gilletti's first off-the-shelf production with TLT. When he isn't busy writing, Gilletti can be found baking, infusing booze, or selling real estate. “But not simultaneously, thank goodness,” he quips. He lives with his wife, two dogs, and tortoise in Lakewood.

The Final Assignment follows a young college graduate on the last day of his internship with a radio station. On a fateful day, Nov. 22, 1963, when a fellow reporter no-shows at the last minute, the intern gets tapped for a mobile news unit post at the corner of Elm and Houston Street just as President Kennedy's motorcade passes the Texas Schoolbook Depository. What follows is a sequence of events that will push this young man's capabilities to their limits, force him to confront his greatest fear, and change his life irreversibly. 

Gilletti describes The Final Assignment as an historical drama that tells the story of Sam Patterson, a young man who dreams of working in radio and finally gets his big break just as . . . well, you read the previous paragraph.

The Final Assignment features the talents of: Joel Thomas, Mason Quinn, W. Scott Pinkston, Randy Clark, Steve Tarry, Ronnie Allen, Gretchen Boyt, Frank Roberts, Paul Richter, Jess Allan,

Tacoma Little Theatre’s Page to Screen welcomes local playwrights an opportunity to have their scripts performed in a virtual staged reading.  Pieces range in length from scenes, one acts, or full length plays and musicals. To submit your script for consideration, please visit

The Final Assignment is free, Oct. 3, 2020 at 7 p.m. with donations gladly accepted.  To watch the performance you may join by visiting, or by following the link to YouTube (  For questions or more information, call (253) 272-2281.



Monday, September 7, 2020

Harlequin Announces Free Radio Series


Along with other live events across the nation, Harlequin Productions’ 2020 Season was halted in March 2020. To complete this year’s season, the theater announces a six-week online radio series, to run September 20 – October 31, 2020. Productions will run for one week each, premiering Sundays at 7:30 pm PST, with a run proceeding Tuesday – Saturday of that week at 7:30 pm PST. Local and regionally known directors will helm each work. All performances are free to the public; space is limited for each performance. To reserve a free ticket or for more information, visit or

 Sept 20 – Sept 26: The Highest Tide directed by Aaron Lamb

A sensory experience emanates from the pages of local author Jim Lynch’s bestselling novel, which instantly transports us beneath the waters of a marine world teeming with infinite life and exquisite possibility.

 Sept 27 – Oct 3: For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday directed by Kathryn Dorgan

The refusal to grow up confronts the inevitability of growing old in Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Sarah Ruhl’s lyric comedy.

 Oct 4 – Oct 10: A Bright Room Called Day directed by Aaron Lamb

From the Pulitzer-winning playwright behind Angels in America comes a dramatic parable for our time. This early Tony Kushner work follows a group of artists and political activists struggling to preserve themselves in 1930s Berlin as the Weimar Republic surrenders to the seduction of fascism. 

 Oct 11 – Oct 17: This Flat Earth directed by Lauren Love

Stuck at home in a state of shocked limbo after a horrific school tragedy, Julie and Zander, two twelve-year-olds, try to make sense of what they witnessed, their awkward crushes, and an infinitely more complicated future — but the grown-ups are no help at all. An urgent response to our times by playwright Lindsey Ferrentino.

 Oct 18 – Oct 24: Snow in Midsummer directed by Desdemona Chiang

In a contemporary re-imagining of one of China’s most famous classical dramas, a young widow curses those who executed her for a crime she did not commit. Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s new interpretation of the Guan Hanqing original was first produced as part of the “Chinese Translations Project” at the Royal Shakespeare Company. A second production was received in 2018 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

 Oct 25 – Oct 31: Halloween Surprise directed by Corey McDaniel

For our last offering in the series, join us for a gripping radio drama in the best Harlequin tradition of chills and thrills, just in time for All Hallow's Eve. 

WHAT: Harlequin Productions presents a free six-week online radio series, completing the 2020 season.

 WHEN: September 20 – October 31, 2020, at 7:30 pm (Mondays are dark)


 TICKETS: Space is limited for each performance; audiences should reserve their free tickets online at

 All casts to be announced

Saturday, July 11, 2020

How I faked my way into becoming a theater nerd

It all started when I was in high school—Hattiesburg High School, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, 1960. Everyone was encouraged to join some kind of school club or activity, 4-H, Junior Kiwanis, Young Republicans, debate team or something. I chose Sock and Buskin, the drama club. We never did any drama. I can’t remember if we ever even talked about it. The reason I picked that club was the faculty advisor was a former Miss Mississippi. Every boy in my class and possibly quite a few of the girls had a gigantic crush on her.
The only thing the club ever did was to cover a convertible with toilet paper flowers and ride in the homecoming parade.
Fast forward ten years. I’m applying for a job teaching art at a school in Clarkton, Missouri, population 1,207 in 2017. Lord knows what it was back then. I got the job. When I met with the principal for the first time, he said, “I see here on your application that you were in the drama club.”
“Yes sir, I was.”
“Well, how would you like to direct the school play? We’ll pay you an extra $200.” (equal to $1,321 today according to what I could find on Google)
Oh yeah, I was all in for that. Never mind that I had never directed a play or even been in a play. Except . . . oh, wait, I played one of the dwarfs in Snow White in the first grade. I almost forgot about that. I not only had no theater experience at the time, I hadn’t even seen more than four or five plays in my life. Naturally, I said, “Yes sir, I’d love to do that.”
The play was some stupid teenage comedy about a bunch of boys dressing up as girls and crashing a girls-only spend-the-night party. Whoever chooses the plays—most likely a committee of parents and teachers—had already ordered scripts.
I held auditions in the gymnasium and cast everybody who showed up. Everyone who didn’t get cast as a named character was put in the ensemble. I told them to hang around on stage and pretend they were talking to other cast members.
The cast was as skeptical as I was, and from the first day of rehearsal they started improvising. Most of the improvised lines were better than what was in the scripts, so I’d say, “Yeah. Let’s keep that.” Other than letting the students rewrite the play, I can’t remember what I did by way of rehearsal. But the play was a hit. The audience laughed hysterically. Afterwards, one of the parents who helped picked the play told me it was the best play ever done at Clarkton High School and said, “I hope you can direct our play every year.”
Well, I didn’t do that because they didn’t hire me back, not as a director and not as an art teacher. That’s a whole different story.
Let’s fast forward another decade. By then, I had seen a little more than four or five plays. Maybe as many as ten total, mostly Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway when I was in New York. And then we moved back home to Mississippi where my nine-year-old son got cast as one of the Lost Boys in a local production of Peter Pan, and he fell in love with theater. From then on, he was a theater kid all the way through high school and college, and I went to see as many of his plays as I could.
In about 2003, I got a part-time temporary job as an assistant features editor at The News Tribune. The job lasted nine months. And at the end of that time my editor asked if I would be willing to write theater reviews. She had no idea how little I knew about theater but trusted I could do it. I managed to fake it while I learned. Since that beginning, I have written something more than a thousand theater reviews, and I feel like I’m beginning to get the hang of it. It’s been a great learning experience, and I’ve made many wonderful friends in the theater community. I so look forward to when live theater can start back.

Monday, June 8, 2020

American Way: A virtual theatrical experience at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

Not to be defeated by the coronavirus pandemic, Tacoma Musical Playhouse is doing a virtual performance of American Way by Jeremy Gable, one night only, Friday, June 12 at 7:30 p.m.
Faced with disappointing comic book sales, benefit packages and retirement, four superheroes take a break in their secret cafe to reminisce about the good old days. But when an unexpected tragedy hits the town, they are forced to deal with being powerless for the first time in their lives.

“Gable’s distinctive voice offers great promise… His lacerating piece evokes a tragicomic
Kubrick-esque brilliance.” – BACKSTAGE WEST

“Wickedly funny stuff.” – L.A. TIMES

“A superhero parody with a lot more brewing beneath the surface.” – L.A. WEEKLY

The Cast

CARL OLSON (Crescent Wonder)
Carl is a retired teacher from South Kitsap High School in Port Orchard. His last full-time assignment included teaching Stagecraft, Beginning Acting, and serving as the Win Granlund Performing Arts Center's technical director and directing thirteen productions during his tenure. Carl has been active in area community theater since 1985, both as an actor and director…many wonderful shows and memories. Carl is excited to be once again working with his former student, Erik Furuheim.

Rafe is a teacher and musician from Tacoma, Washington. When he is not directing choirs or playing rock and roll, he can be found on stage mugging for a laugh (and a few tears) in local musicals. Rafe is a father to two teens, Ava and Dean, and his wife Dawn is a midwife. He is thrilled to be a part of this unique production surrounded by talented artists.

ARIEL VAN DYKE (Mandible Maiden_
Ariel is a native Washingtonian, having taken classes at Pacific Lutheran University and been a Tacoma School of the Arts graduate. She is inspired not only by music but visual and digital art in her spare time. She can be seen at the Tacoma Musical Playhouse every so often, and dedicated each performance to her husband, son, and daughter.

BENJAMIN USHER (Pungent Huboldt)
Benjamin grew up in Kitsap county. He headed east to graduate from Central Washington University with a BFA in Musical Theatre, apart from pursuing a career in performing, he also enjoys building sets and solving problems in creating magic off-stage.

Producer, Director & Sound Design ERIK FURUHEIM ()
Erik resides in Newport, Oregon, with his beautiful and talented 10-year daughter. In the past two years, he has been in numerous productions all over the US, portraying “The Big Bopper” in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. In his daily life, he is a Network Security Engineer for Checkpoint Software and loves the job and flexibility it gives him to perform anywhere in the world and spend quality time with his kiddo. Erik was last seen on TMP’s stage in TheFull Monty, and Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (Big Bopper). He hopes you enjoy the presentation and hopes that everyone is safe and sane.

Donation – Pay What You Can ($5.00 minimum) - All proceeds go to Tacoma Musical Playhouse
Order the link Online:  | Season + Tickets (Tab) | Virtual Events

The strange wonder of the juxtaposition of disparate objects or the Surreal legacy of modern day collage

Sharon Styer and Gail Ramsey Wharton

By Alec Clayton

I recently wrote about collage artists Sharon Styer and Gail Ramsey Wharton for Oly Arts (see CreativeMinds: The Collage Art of Sharon Styer and Gail Ramsey Wharton). Since writing that article, I have had additional thoughts about their work that I’d like to share.

Collage from Food for Thought series by Gail Ramsey Wharton


“What she really wanted was to just stop worrying” collage by Sharon Styer

Poet Isidore-Lucien Ducasse, writing under the nom de plume Comte de Lautréamont, penned the line "as beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table," and André Breton adopted that line as a guiding principle of Surrealism. The beauty of chance, and the strange wonder of juxtapositions of disparate objects. That is in essence a description of both Dada and Surrealism and of collage as medium and as a method of design. It has been paramount in the works of artists from Picasso and Braque to Duchamp, to Jasper Johns to David Salle. Collage, in fact, has been the design method of just about every art since Picasso and Braque first glued imitation wood grains into their paintings—whether or not the actual gluing of paper or other materials is involved.
Collage as a method of design is not hierarchical. There is no main character centerstage with smaller supporting cast off to the sides such as in the typical Renaissance triangular composition. Rather, all characters, images, shapes tend to be of equal value. Rules of perspective are often ignored. There are realistic images because the images tend to be taken from photographs ripped from the pages or newspapers and magazines, but the relationships of the various images are often unrealistic. Parts of bodies don’t match. Background images may be larger than foreground images. Collages are narrative by nature, but the narratives are more implicit than explicit. If there are stories, they are stories with no logical beginning, middle and end.
A collage from Gail Ramsey Wharton’s “Food for Thought” series pictures an androgynous figure in an interior setting seated on an antique chair. There’s something strange and comical about the figure, and about the entire scene. For starters, the figure’s head is way too large for the body. And for quite some time I thought of the figure as a woman, but eventually noticed that her (or his) chest is bare and does not look like a woman’s breast, and he’s wearing long stockings and men’s pointy-toed saddle oxford shoes. And there are things in that room that do not belong (as out of place as the sewing machine and umbrella on a dissecting table). He or she is eating an apple, there’s a snake coiled around the chair leg, and there’s a peeping Tom at the window who looks like popular images of Jesus. And then it dawns on me: it’s Adam (or Eve) in the Garden of Eden, but the garden is a Victorian era bedroom, and if that’s God watching over him or her, he’s a very creepy god. Quite often art is both upsetting and funny.
A friend of mine owns another Ramsey Wharton collage. It pictures a woman riding an ironing board as if it is a surfboard. I’ve often enjoyed looking at it, but it only recently dawned on me that the artist’s turn of mind in noticing that an ironing board is shaped like a surfboard and coming up with the quirky idea of putting a surfing woman on it is akin to the kind of thinking Picasso must have done when he combined a bicycle seat and handlebar to make a sculpture of a bull.
Collage artist Sharon Styer’s “What she really wanted was to just stop worrying” is a languid, pastoral scene with a pair of lovers reclining on a bridge. The scene is a surrealistic mix of photographs and images cut from paintings. The landscape is a photograph—all but the blue tree in the foreground, which is painted in a single, flat color, as are the clothes and the bodies of the man and woman. Pop Art images with a hint of Asian art. The man is clothed in a blue suit, and the woman is naked. Her flesh is purple. Even though her head and shoulders rest on his body, they seem unattached and uninterested in one another. The bridge they rest upon is an arch of something like a Japanese paper lantern. The bridge and the man and woman are gigantic in relation to the landscape. By comparison to the size of the bodies, the creek is a mere trickle only a few inches wide. No bridge should be needed to cross it.
Much of the beauty of “What she really wanted was to just stop worrying” is in the movement of lines, the bend of the tree that mimics the shape of the bridge and the sensual lines of the people’s bodies, particularly the position of their arms. Every edge, every line, directs the viewers’ eyes in lyrical movement across the surface. And there are butterflies. There is clearly a story behind this picture. We want to know what they are doing and why, how they got there and what is going to happen next.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Becky Knold’s Veiled Distance and other works

A coronavirus sampler
By Alec Clayton
Veiled Distance
Art galleries and theaters being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, I am forced by boredom to review works in my own collection.
Becky Knold’s painting “Veiled Distance” has been hanging on my living room wall for years. Recently, I moved it to the bathroom where, to my surprise, I look at it much more often and more thoroughly. I stare at it and find myself being drawn into its veiled depths. (The title does not refer to social distancing and the wearing of masks; it was painted and given that title long before the present horror.)
I have never asked the artist about the media, but I assume from the appearance that it is acrylic on paper, a heavy paper with a simulated canvas surface.
“Veiled Distance” is a contemplative and mysterious painting. There are three flat black opaque shapes floating on the surface, with a background of loosely brushed, transparent, washes of watery paint in white, orange and pink. I italicize the word background to indicate it is not really background but rather the lively, atmospheric surface upon which and over and under which the black shapes are painted. We’re seeing here mysterious organic shapes in space—outer space or perhaps under water or wrapped in layers of transparent muslin, the veil of the title. The spatial ambiguities are fascinating. At top there is a circular shape that is only partially overlapped by the muslin veil, which opens up to a deep hole in space through which a fiery sunset sky can be seen. Below that is a heavy black shape that looks like something prehistoric. It brings to mind the slung bone in the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odessey. (Here’s a reminder: The third black shape is also bone-like. It stands upright on the shores of an orange lake. This interpretation of abstract forms evoking water, sky and bone are perhaps but one of many possible interpretations. I wish you could see it in person, because a reproduction on a computer screen can’t possibly do it justice.
"Riches Over Rags" mixed media on cardboard
"Cave Dweller" mixed media on cardboard

This is an early Becky Knold painting, typical of many works she did in the early 2000s when she first began painting fulltime after retiring from teaching. More recently she has started experimenting with little collage paintings on cardboard and other found materials. She has been posting photos of these on Facebook but has not yet shown them in a gallery. I hope she will be able to post pandem.
The paintings on cardboard are not atmospheric as the earlier works are, but have a kind of solidity, or more specifically the appearance of solidity one might associate with heavier materials. Many of these latest works appear heraldic like medieval armaments, shields or coats of arms. And they are not constricted by the traditional rectangular format of most paintings. Typically, there is a standing vertical rectangular shape topped by a horizontal shape. The colors are bolder than in her earlier paintings, and the paint tends to be heavier and more opaque. There are strong contrasts between expressive marks and flat shapes reminiscent of Adolph Gotlieb and Robert Motherwell.
I have written an in-depth profile of Knold that was recently published by Oly Arts. See it at

Monday, March 30, 2020

Forgotten Stories: Northwest Public Art of the 1930s

Forgotten Stories: Northwest Public Art of the 1930s
Reviewed by Alec Clayton

Note: Publication of this review did not happen as planned because of the corona virus pandemic.

Morris Graves, The Church at Index

Forgotten Stories: Northwest Public Art of the 1930s is an exhibition of mostly unknown but historically important art created under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington during the Great Depression. Curator Margaret Bullock spent decades pulling together this exhibition which fills two of the largest galleries in Tacoma Art Museum with paintings, prints, sculptures, and murals pulled from the walls of schools, libraries and post offices. Also included are little-known early works by more well-known artists such as Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves and photographer Minor White.
During the Roosevelt presidency hundreds of artists were employed by the WPA. They created thousands of works of art even in the sparsely populated and remote Northwest, many of which have since been lost or are located in small, out-of-the way towns where few people see them, and those who do don’t know their significance. TAM’s exhibition uncovers and re-introduces to the public hundreds of these forgotten works.
“TAM is fortunate to be able to exhibit a number of works that have not been seen since their creation and also to borrow several large-scale murals that normally never leave their permanent locations in schools and post offices,” Bullock said.
The large murals were painted on canvas and glued to walls in public buildings and have been carefully removed and installed in the museum for this exhibition. Most of these works are from what is generally thought of as American scene paintings, which glorify working people and small town-life. Typical is Jacob Elshin’s “Miners at Work,” a 5-by-12-foot mural in the Renton, Washington Post Office. It depicts miners hard at work mining coal in a dark and dirty mine shaft. Like so many figures in American scene paintings, the figures appear anonymous, seen from the back or in profile. They appear rounded as in bas relief. The painting is somber and dark and quietly salutes cooperative work.
Also somber is Kenneth Callahan’s, “Dock Scene from the mural cycle Men Who Work the Ships,” depicting men at work on what looks more like girders of buildings than ship building. Like Elshin’s miners, these workers are rounded figures with some bulbous areas of clothing that bear little relation to reality. This painting is a far cry from the energetic and spiritual abstract paintings Callahan became famous for later, other than the angular structure of the beams, which lends dynamism to the composition.
Another artist in the show who later became famous is Morris Graves with his 1934 oil on canvas, “Church at Index.” It is a strong painting of a small-town church with a bridge in the foreground and odd gridwork in the sky. With hints at abstraction, this painting is a harbinger of Graves’s later work.
Aimee Gorham, Solomon, wood marquetry
Aimee Gorham made many large-scale decorative panels in wood marquetry for seven schools in Portland, Oregon. The one in this show on loan from Portland Art Museum is called “Solomon.” It is a flattened, icon-like figure of the wise man rendered in an Egyptian style with a strong ray of light angling in from top right and many subtle variations of wood tone and grain.
Dora Erickson, Dakota Hotel
The most eerily haunting painting in the exhibition is Dora Erickson’s oil on canvas “Dakota Hotel,” picturing a strange isolated hotel on an empty prairie with five lonely figures sitting on a makeshift wooden porch. The sickly green building against a star-filled night sky gives the image an otherworldly appearance.
The many works of art in this exhibition epitomize an historic era and an approach to art making that played an important role in American art in the first half of the 20th century.
Forgotten Stories: Northwest Public Art of the 1930s continues through Aug. 16.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Review: “A Chorus Line”

By Alec Clayton
Note: This review was supposed to be published in The News Tribune, but since all area theaters have been shut down due to the coronavirus it will not be. 

You might remember the 1985 movie of A Chorus Line” with Michael Douglas as Zach the director. You might have seen it on Broadway in the 1970s. Chances are you’ve forgotten just how good it was. Tacoma Little Theatre is now giving local audiences a chance to remember.
A Chorus Line” is rarely performed by community theaters for the simple reason that it is too hard to do. It requires a large cast of beautiful young people (and one middle aged man) who can sing, dance and act with knock-’em-dead skill and an incredibly talented director and choreographer. TLT’s Eric Clausell is more than up to the challenge as both director and choreographer. Add to that a fabulous set by Blake R. York and lighting by Niclas Olson, and you’ve got a show worthy of another Broadway revival.
The set is an empty stage with a back wall of mirrors that rotate to become a black wall and another set of mirrors that are brought onstage to create five stunning reflections of Whitney Shafer in the most marvelous dance performance of the night.
It’s a chorus cattle call with a stage crowded with dancers – some veterans and others starry-eyed wannabees – filling every inch of the stage while auditioning for a part in the chorus. But the director, Zach (Michael O’Hara) demands more. He wants them to open up about their personal lives, which they reluctantly do in sometimes tortured speeches and in song and dance.
Sheila (Heather Malroy), a jaded Broadway veteran who acts like she’s bored with the whole thing, reveals a sad childhood in which ballet was her only escape. She sings the haunting “At the Ballet” and is joined by Bebe (Lisa Kelly) and Maggie (Cynthia Ryan) who also used dance as an escape from a sad childhood.
A couple of the men come out as gay at a time when coming out was much riskier than it is today and when internalized homophobia was common.
Val (Melanie Gladstone) talks about how despite being a great dancer she could never get cast because she was flat chested and, in her estimation, ugly. So she had reconstructive surgery and became successful. Her tale leads to the hilarious and sassy song-and-dance number “Dance:Ten; Looks: Three” about her beautifully augmented body parts.
Cassie (Shafer), whose star shone briefly on Broadway and then in Hollywood can no longer get cast in anything and is reduced to begging for a job in the chorus, and in one of the more poignant and dramatic scenes in the play it is revealed that she and Zach have a troubled past together, which sheds light on why he is more demanding of her than of any of the others in the audition. The scene with Zach and Cassie arguing about their relationship while incongruously everyone else sings and dances behind them is a bit sappy and unrealistic, but it leads to Shafer’s wonderful solo dance.
Finally, Zach asks of all the hopefuls why they want to be in the chorus and speaking for them all, Diana (Keola Holt) sings the spellbinding “What I Did for Love” with a voice that is wonderfully clear and bell-like.
The entire cast is outstanding, each standing out as an individual while fitting in with the chorus, and their interaction in movement, song and speech is like pieces of an intricate moving jigsaw puzzle. This is a production that should not be missed. It is recommended for ages 12 and older and has flashing light effects, adult language and sexual suggestiveness.

Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 North I St., Tacoma,


It is with a heavy heart that Tacoma Little Theatre is cancelling our shows through April 23, 2020.  Based upon recommendations from the government, regional sources, and our board of directors, it is in the best interest for the health and safety of patrons, artists, staff, volunteers, students, and all who come through our doors, that all public performances and classes will be cancelled.
If you had purchased a ticket to A Chorus Line you will be contacted by the box office staff within the next few days.  We will offer you the following ticketing options:
  • A voucher to be used for any mainstage production through June of 2021
  • You may generously choose to offer your ticket expense as a tax-deductible donation to TLT
  • One bright light in our day is that we are actively working with our production team to see if we can remount A Chorus Line after this crisis has passed.