Paint ’Em Up, Sing ’Em Out
Arts in the great outdoors
by Suzi Steffen
Grab your picnic hamper and the kids (someone else’s will do if you don’t have any of your own), hop on the bikes or the bus — and head out to the art!
|Free Shakespeare in the Park’s 2008 Merry Wives of Windsor . Photo Sharon Selove|
|Canada Geese, Steven Cooley’s award-winning painting from last year’s Great Outdoor Arts Event|
|Devienna Anggraini’s art will be at Art and the Vineyard|
Summer, so Willamette Valley lore says, begins on or around July 4. The long rainy season retreats into the mists of memory, and vitamin D-starved Oregonians pour into the parks and streets, skin a shade or four lighter than it will be come Labor Day. With summer camps and FOOD for Lane County lunches, Springfield’s SummerFest and the City of Eugene’s Summer in the City program, public spaces abound with activity — including many high-profile, high-attendance arts events. That’s right, Eugene’s much-mocked city motto, “The World’s Greatest City of the Arts and Outdoors,” could modify itself without shame this summer into “A great city for the arts outdoors.”
Springfield and Corvallis get in their licks as well. Gas-conscious staycationers don’t have to travel to Ashland for Shakespeare under the stars or head down to the Britt for the sweet nighttime strains of classical music. The Hult Center’s architecture, parking or price point might intimidate you during the season of inside events, so now’s your time for accessible, relaxed and fun fine arts in the sun.
Sun, Wine and Fireworks
Though the post-solstice celebrations began with Roving Park Players’ late June Peter Pan (featured on our cover this week), the first weekend in July opens the season each year at Alton Baker Park with the Maude Kerns Art Center’s Art and the Vineyard.
“It’s so magical,” says Maude Kerns Executive Director Karen Marie Pavelec. The festival, in its 26th year, features the artwork of approximately 160 artists, including the “garden art” portion. Pavelec says a combination of factors makes Art and the Vineyard a good bet. “It’s the great, wide variety of media that you can experience, and the beautiful setting of Alton Baker Park when it’s nice and sunny and there’s a cool breeze,” she says. Of course, there’s the Vineyard portion to go along with the Art: “You have the freedom of having a nice glass of wine from one of our Oregon wineries, meandering about, and you can hear the music in the distance.”
One person who wouldn’t dispute Pavelec’s words is metalsmith and jewelry-maker Devienna Anggraini. Though she lived in Eugene for years as she got her BFA in the Department of Architecture and Allied Arts, Anggraini left five years ago for Rhode Island and hasn’t been back since. This year, the draw of Art and the Vineyard was too strong: Anggraini, who will have a booth in the festival, is bringing her husband and her two small children along. She says artists have a different experience with clients at outdoor events like Art and the Vineyard. “I like working while I’m outside,” she says, and she also says that artists benefit from knowing their clients. A gallery might call her and ask for a necklace of a certain length and in a certain color, but at Art and the Vineyard, she’ll get to watch the customer compare rings or necklaces, feel the weight of different rings, talk about why certain pieces will work. The customer also gets a little something to talk about at dinner parties, she says. “You get to talk to the artist while enjoying the weather, enjoying time with family, and it becomes part of the story of the piece.”
Part of that story might be the gorgeous music and fireworks at Art and the Vineyard. The Sugar Beets, of course, perform at many outdoor Eugene events and provide an integral part of Friday’s portion of the festival. But an artistic collaboration between Maude Kerns and the powerhouse of the Oregon Bach Festival brings the festival up another level. After all of the art-strolling, wine-drinking, Laura Kemp-listening and sun-enjoying, patrons can hear the OBF’s Stangeland Family Youth Choral Academy, the OBF orchestra and OBF fan fave Jeffrey Kahane, a pianist and conductor, in a concert that combines gospel, jazz and Gershwin. OBF tix usually run $15-$58, but this one’s free with admission to the art fest ($6 per day or $15 for all three days). At the end of the concert, just as Kahane finishes the last note of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, an even bigger visual payoff begins: the annual Freedom Festival fireworks, sponsored by the Active 20-30 Club. “It’s a whole different kind of experience than you would have in a gallery,” Pavelec says.
Speaking of galleries, the First Friday Art Walk attracts hundreds of people to downtown, even in the rainy months. When it’s nice? Watch out, innocent bar patrons! The horde of art lovers might trample you. Douglas Beauchamp, executive director of the Lane Arts Council, says that June was a bit out of control as people reveled in the combination of good art and good weather. For July 3’s Art Walk, which occurs on the first day of Art and the Vineyard, Beauchamp says, “a person could literally start at dawn and go to dusk and later for art outside all weekend.” Though none of the galleries on the walk shows work outside, downtown Eugene often puts on its best face for the Art Walk. The loss of high-end stationery and gift store LetterHead and the June 30 closure of the Opus6ix gallery cast a bit of a pall over this month’s event, but art walkers can still enjoy many gallery visits. The Art Walk concludes this month with a celebration of theater, as new kid in town No Shame Theatre presents skits, poetry, monologues and more at the Atrium. No, it’s not outside, but there’s a lot of outside to enjoy on the journey.
Juggling, Mosquitoes and Grackles
For more traditional outdoor theater experiences, several area groups will delight kids and adults alike. Not that outdoor theater’s so easy. Considerations of sound — should the group have amplification? — weather — what if, against all that’s normal in July and August, there’s rain in Oregon? — insects and more face the directors and producers of plays for which audience members bring their own seating.
Theater fans have probably noticed over the years that Shakespeare’s plays, especially the comedies, provide hours of outdoor entertainment, often with free performances in parks. Sharon Selove, founder, producer and usually director of Eugene’s Free Shakespeare in the Park, says that’s because outdoor theater “honors Shakespeare’s original vision.” Her company starts rehearsing in the late spring and puts on two shows most weekends in August at Amazon Park. Last year, The Merry Wives of Windsor captured audience attention as the light waned with revelry that wove throughout those seated on blankets and camp chairs. Though the city provides a lot of in-kind support and though Selove says Selove says she uses a variety of techniques, especially moving the actors into the audience and providing instruction in vocal projection, to help them compensate for not having any place to bounce their voices.
Funny things happen in the well-used park. Interaction with the natural world can be challenging, especially during the rehearsal months when grackles nesting in bushes and trees “swoop down on us if we get too close,” Selove says. Then there’s the heat; the plays start at 6 pm to take advantage of natural light, but natural light also means natural heat for actors moving quickly in heavy costumes. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland takes care of its actors (who perform under intensely warm lighting) by sewing pockets into costumes’ interiors and sticking in ice packs just before the actors go onstage.
Generally, Selove says, the weather cooperates (she recalls one instance of a few sprinkles of rain in the past decade), even if people don’t. There’s wind, traffic from Amazon Parkway and sounds of joy from Amazon Pool, and then there are the moments when kids on skateboards or adults on bicycles roll cluelessly through the center of the action or when a child in the audience snatches a juggler’s ball and holds onto it. Or there was the time when someone left the sprinklers on all day and night, and the group “showed up to a bog.” Because of the more relaxed nature of outdoor community theater, perhaps, Selove and the actors take it all in stride. “That hearkens back to Shakespeare’s day, when the audience members were very involved,” Selove says.
Selove knows the audience appreciates the group’s efforts. “I’ve had families come up to me and say ‘Thank you! I have five children; I could never afford to take them to a play inside a theater.’”
Another community theater group that’s been performing for about a year and a half is Roving Park Players. Just as its name suggests, the group moves from venue to venue, and founders Lisa Shea-Blanchard and Vicki Harkovitch get to prep their casts for just about anything. In Island Park, practicing June’s Peter Pan, they dealt with a lot of mosquitoes this year (though they’re hoping for an end to that problem by the August Island Park performance of Twelfth Night). At Campbell Center, they use orange cones to mark off where the “stage” exists, and Shea-Blanchard trains the cast, both kids and adults, to be “in neutral” and stand quietly near the stage when they’re not part of the action. The Roving Park Players also perform in Maurie Jacobs Park and at Petersen Barn, and Shea-Blanchard says they’re looking into Bethel Park as well.
“There’s something about being an itinerant group and taking theater to the community, where people have not had experiences like this before,” Harkovitch says. “There’s a satisfaction in being able to present a gift to the people of Eugene and Springfield, and saying you can see it — for free!”
Shea-Blanchard also likes that the audience can have some flexibility. Bringing the kids and a picnic, some pillows and a blanket means that as the play unwinds, little ones can relax into sleep as their parents and older siblings enjoy what’s happening onstage. Both women say that having to haul set pieces and props to a variety of places presents its own challenges. They dream of having a caravan, just like the traveling players of Shakespeare’s day, to carry what they need. They also dream of getting through to everyone that rehearsals aren’t optional, that performance dates are fixed, that learning the lines is an essential. But for the most part, they’re thrilled with all of the volunteer work that goes into taking plays like Twelfth Night, for free, all over town.
If you’re a Corvallis resident reading this article, or if you like to travel to the cute town up the road on a summer night, do not despair: OSU’s “Bard in the Quad” series continues this August with, yes, Twelfth Night. Director Elizabeth Helman — who has experience with the UO’s Mad Duckling summer theater for kids — says, “I love doing outdoor summer theater! Everything about it is energetic.” That means the audience, the director, the crew members and definitely the actors. The space, surrounded by lovely buildings and trees, isn’t quite as open as Amazon or Campbell Center, but outdoor theater inherently requires a larger concept. “This is not an introspective kind of play,” Helman says. “You have to do something so all of those people way way back can see you! We’re going with a pretty presentational style of performance and trying to incorporate a lot of music and physical comedy.”
Throughout the summer, Springfield’s Island Park features the Roving Park Players and a variety of other entertainment, including the July 25 Great Outdoor Arts Event. There, artists will practice “plein air” painting or sketching and enjoy a full day of focus on the visual arts. The Oregon Brass Society, which performs during part of the daytime festival, might get into the paintings, says organizer Charlene Eckman. Free workshops by the Emerald Art Center make the morning parts fun for kids and adults alike, and Eckman says working outdoors as many Impressionists did means that “colors are truer … and you can experience depth.”
She says that everyone should come, whether with crayons, chalk, pastels or any other materials (some will be available on site). “The weather this time of year is phenomenal. How can you not want to?”
Pop Goes the Symphony
Even with great weather, keeping an audience engaged means mixing up the entertainment. The long-standing Washburne Park concert series, organized by Pacific Winds, showcases a variety of notational and classical music all summer long, and now it’s joined by a big event: the 43-year-old Eugene Symphony’s first outdoor concert, where the light, popular program ends with a cannon blast. Symphony Music Director Danail Rachev has conducted outside before, and he says the advantages of a concert outside outweigh some of the challenges.
UO School of Music bassoon professor Steve Vacchi says that outdoor concerts often terrify performers because their instruments just don’t work as well. One violinist from New York performing with the Bach Festival says that musicians usually don’t bring their best instruments to outdoor performances — though the dry conditions of Eugene’s summer make tuning strings a whole lot easier than in most of the rest of the country.
Rachev, who conducted outdoor concerts in his position as the assistant conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, says the July 18 concert presents a few concerns about instruments and sound engineering. But, he says, the benefits are great. For one thing, just as with Free Shakespeare in the Park, “you reach more people with this format, people who might not come to the concert hall.” And of course there’s the outdoor part of the equation. Symphony Executive Director Paul Winberg says that the revamped Cuthbert makes the concert a lot more attractive than it might otherwise have been.
“You can’t expect the same sound as you would have in a concert hall, but these concerts have their own charm,” Rachev says. “Enjoying music in the nature is a different thing, and people can go earlier, make a whole day out of it.”
For the conductor, working with his wife, soprano Elizabeth Racheva, is a sweetener. They have very different work schedules, so this is a treat. She’s singing a blend of American musical tunes like “I Could Have Danced All Night” and bits of Viennese operetta, and Rachev says that this music “is pretty much one of her favorite things to do.”
And of course, the end of the first Eugene Symphony outdoor free summer music event brings the kind of celebration that Americans love: Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. With its cannon blasts (Rachev says that the Symphony is looking for a cannon) and tremendous orchestration, it’s sure to attract attention from everyone at or anywhere near the Cuthbert.
Art and the Vineyard runs July 3-5 at Alton Baker Park. $6/day or $15/3-day pass. www.artandthevineyard.org
The Great Outdoors Art Event is 8 am-3 pm Saturday, July 25, in Springfield’s Island Park. FREE. www.willamalane.org
Washburne Park concert series runs 6:30 pm Sundays at Agate and 20th. through the end of August, with Saturday, July 4, and Monday, Sept. 7, concerts as well. FREE.
The Oregon Bach Festival’s Rhapsody in Red, White and Blue starts around 9 pm, with a rehearsal around 6:45 pm, Saturday, July 4, at Art and the Vineyard in Alton Baker Park. The concert is free with a ticket to the art festival. www.oregonbachfestival.com
The Eugene Symphony plays a free concert at 8 pm Saturday, July 25, in the Cuthbert Amphitheatre. www.eugenesymphony.org
Mad Duckling’s Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type runs 11 am July 7-11 & 14-18, and The Old Man Who Loved Cheese runs 11 am July 28-Aug. 1 & Aug. 4-8, at Amazon Park. $5 for anyone over 2 years old. 346-4192.
Free Shakespeare in the Park’s Much Ado About Nothing runs at 6 pm Aug. 8-9, 15-16, 22-23 and 29-30 in Amazon Park. FREE. 682-5373
Roving Park Players’ Twelfth Night runs at 6pm July 30-31 at Campbell Center; Aug. 1-2 at Island Park, Spfd; Aug. 6-7 at Petersen Barn and Aug 8-9 at Maurie Jacobs Park. FREE. www.rovingparkplayers.org
OSU’s Twelfth Night runs 7:30 pm Aug. 5-16 in Corvallis. $5-$14 (cheaper “early Bard” tix on sale now) www.oregonstate.edu/bardinthequad