Friday, October 31, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

This weekend Redwood Curtain opens Other Desert Cities, a 2011 family drama by Jon Robin Baitz, featuring Bernadette Cheyne, Cassandra Hesseltine, Lincoln Mitchell, Lynne Wells and Charlie Heinberg.  Scenography (scenic, lighting and costume design) by Lynnie Horrigan, sound design by Jon Tunney, technical direction by Liz Uhazy.  This play was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.  There's more information about it and the production at the new Redwood Curtain blog.

After previews on Thursday and Friday, October 30 and 31, opening night is Saturday November 1 at 8 p.m. with gala reception.  Performances continue Thurs-Saturdays through November 22.  To reserve tickets email or call 443-7688.  Or online here.

It's the home stretch for Dell'Arte's Kickstarter campaign to support Mary Jane: A Musical Potumentary, a home grow film based on Dell'Arte's twice-staged musical with local "potumentary" footage, in collaboration with Emmy-nominated and BBC veteran filmmaker John Howarth.  

To celebrate the project and maybe even reaching the Kickstarter goal (more than halfway there right now), Dell'Arte is throwing a potluck at the Logger Bar in Blue Lake on Sunday (Nov. 2) beginning at 6 p.m.  In addition to a raffle of Mary Jane memorabilia and  a special "Bloody Mary Jane" bar, there's classic pot songs and MJ hits on the jukebox.

You can contribute to the campaign by clicking here.  On the project itself, here's the dope:

"On stage, Mary Jane sought to examine at all aspects of the local pot culture here in our Humboldt County home, from its regional economic importance to the grim particulars of violence and environmental degradation. The film seeks to fuse the staged production with documentary footage of the marijuana-growing world, illustrating the reality behind the fiction and bring the perspectives of Humboldt artists to the forefront of one of the most talked-about industries in the United States.

The musical documentary will feature 15 original songs, composed and performed by the professional actors and musicians who live in the real-life community of Humboldt County's ‘Emerald Triangle’. It will be shot in Dell'Arte's own backyard in the summer 2015."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Where Wednesday's Drama Was

More than once this year, when I avoided the halftime (sorry, intermission) restroom line at Redwood Curtain by heading for the men's room in the bar down the street, I stopped to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV, tempted to stick around for the outcome.  No matter how excellent the production was on stage, the immediacy and drama of baseball was compelling.

Then came the playoffs and it was hard to sit still at the theatre and pay attention, when I had my ipod-type device in my pocket, tuned to the radio station where the best announcing team in baseball was describing and explaining the action.  (This was before the ESPN radio automatons took over for the World Series.)

So it's no surprise that the biggest drama in town on Wednesday was anywhere even casual baseball fans were gathered to watch the seventh game of the World Series, and to see the Giants win it by the score of 3-2.

What stage drama could even compete?  One of the oldest pitchers to start a World Series game--a former great--doesn't get out of the second inning.  A middle-to-late reliever comes in to prevent further damage, with the aid of an excellent play by the shortstop and a brilliant play by the rookie second baseman with such a perfect baseball name that it had to have come out of the comics, or those baseball books by John R. Tunis and Joe Archibald I read as a kid: Joe Panik.

All of this is the first act warmup to the star's dramatic entrance.  After the Giants go up by a run, in comes 25 year old Madison Bumgarner, who started and won two previous games in this World Series, the second of them a complete game shutout just two days before.  And he does it again--though not without drama at a fever pitch in the last of the ninth: one of those errors by a usually reliable fielder puts a runner on third for the Kansas City Royals--the kind of portentous mishap that has led to legendary meltdowns at the last minute.

But no--with a 2-2 count, Bumgarner runs a pitch in that handcuffs the batter--he pops it up--third baseman Pablo Sandoval, himself a hitting hero of the postseason--squeezes it and falls to his knees.  And the Giants are world champions again: 2010, 2012, 2014.  Spooky.  And given this season, improbably.

What possibly could match that drama?  England's National Theatre doing three great Shakespeare's in a week, David Tennant does Hamlet, then Macbeth, and now it is up to the great but aging Olivier in Lear.  He gets through the opening scene but falters--suddenly Patrick Stewart has to rush on for the rest of the first act.  But he doesn't know the rest of the play, so with only two days rest, Tennant takes over--and the crowd is cheering at the end!  Or, wait, the crowd is in tears at the end!

No, not even that works.  Certainly there are plays and performances that are more rewarding and memorable than your average sporting event.  And as entertainment, sports offer a combination of immediacy and ritual than the theatre finds difficult to match.  On the other hand, I remember Joe Papp suggesting to me that when sports are providing the dramatic buzz, there's something wrong with theatre--it isn't making itself important enough to its times.

There are some things to be learned from sports that apply to making stage shows better, but probably not very many. Perhaps it's just different, but it also ought to be a bit humbling.

(And if you're interested in the Giants progress through this improbable postseason, I offer commentaries and links to professional reports at American Dash.)   So... congratulations to the World Champion San Francisco Giants!

Monday, October 27, 2014

So What Next?

That is the question.  Do I use this blog for example to establish an independent voice on North Coast theatre?  Maybe make it a .com, try to sell some ads, explore the possibilities?

It's tempting.  I've been to only one play since I was fired by the NC Journal-- it was reviewed in three newspapers, and my views on it are strongly different from all three.  Besides views and reviews, there's nowhere else that does what this blog does with This North Coast Weekend.

But apart from internal commitment, something like that will take external support. So far the Journal's gamble that they could snuff me without anyone noticing appears to be paying off. (That they've exactly copied the form for my Stage Matters print column that I painstakingly invented probably helps.)  I've received a number of private emails supporting my work, but as yet not a public word.

In any case, I've decided not to decide for the rest of this calendar year.  I'll see what weekends are like without those responsibilities.  I'll see if I ever want to go back to the pain involved in reviewing the work of others.

In the meantime, for the rest of this year I'll be retrospective, and maybe introspective as well.  I've read some old columns lately--an interesting experience.  By necessity my process was to concentrate on the play and production at hand very intensively, including the writing of the review.  Then after its publication I would read it twice, perhaps post a fuller version or additional notes here...and then forget it all.  So reading old reviews reminds me of productions I'd just about forgotten I'd experienced.

So I will probably post some of those old reviews, adding some new context perhaps.  Some because the productions stand out in my (recently refreshed) memory, some because of a person or persons involved, some because of the play or the playwright, partly because I know this blog is used a lot as a reference.  It gets far-flung readers looking for specific plays and playwrights.

Sometimes these posts will be excerpts, sometimes fuller pieces and reviews, drawn from my drafts rather than from published versions.

Anyway, that's the immediate plan.  As for This North Coast Weekend, as long as theatres keep sending me information, I'll keep posting it, at least until the end of the year.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Dell'Arte (along with KHUM, KSLUG and Lost Coast Outpost) hosts the second annual Blue Lake Harvest Days on Friday and Saturday Oct. 24 & 25.  The events include Elemental: An Outdoor Community Spectacle presented by Arcata Playhouse's Four on the Floor Theatre, beginning at 7 p.m. on Oct. 24.  "Performed by the banks of the Mad River and throughout the Blue Lake Business Park, Elemental lights up the night in a traveling pageant featuring stilt walkers, giant puppets, paper lanterns, live music and a giant shadow puppet play."

Afterwards on Friday evening Charlie Chaplin shorts will be shown in Dell Arte's Carlo Theatre (some with Charlie wearing them), and on Saturday night there's the big barn dance, also in the Carlo.  These two events and some others were previously scheduled to be in the Big Tent, but it looks like rain this weekend so all Big Tent events have been moved to the Carlo.  For a full schedule (and weather updates) check Blue Lake Harvest Days are supported by an award grant by Artplace America.

On Friday (noon to 6 p.m.) and Saturday (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) on the HSU Art Quad in front of the Van Duzer, HSU Theatre, Ferndale Rep and Humboldt Light Opera will host a gigantic costume sale. "Just in time for Halloween, shoppers will find costumes of all types and sizes at bargain prices.  Shoppers are encouraged to bring a bag."  More info at Ferndale Rep: 707-786-5483,

As for actual plays on actual stages, HSU's Coraline continues at HSU Thursday-Sunday, and The Addams Family Musical at Ferndale Rep, Friday-Sunday.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Informed Speculation

This expands on my first post using this photo, about being fired from writing Stage Matters for the North Coast Journal.

So: if the NC Journal "enjoyed and appreciated" my contribution, my "writing and viewpoint, as well as your reliability" (I didn't miss a deadline in nine years) as the letter said, why did they fire me?

As far as I can tell, because they don't want to pay me.

I heard independently from two very well placed sources (neither of whom knows the other spoke to me about this) that the Journal, and specifically the publisher, is trying to pay writers less.  One of the sources also said she wants to pay editors less as well.  She isn't paying the editor in chief anything, because for the first time in many years there isn't one.

I got my first indication of this approach more than a year ago, when the then editor of the paper talked to me about a plan to "expand" theatre coverage, and add more writers to it.  There's some history to this which I'll get into in a moment, but here's the point: I mentioned I knew of a good writer who might be interested but I'd talk to her first.  I was immediately cautioned not to tell her what I was being paid for a column because they would be offering less.  Not as a temporary or trial rate for a new writer, but as a matter of permanent policy.

Later I heard from another source that publisher Judy Hodgson  was "upset that she's not making as much money from the paper as she used to" and that she specifically complained about the amount she was spending to pay writers.

Still later I heard that she refused to re-hire arts editor Bob Doran because she had a new arts editor she was paying less than she had paid him.  He had recovered from the stroke he suffered while on the job, which (I heard still another source speculate) may have been prompted by the stress he'd been under to re-create the Journal's web page.

On October 6 I got the email from the current arts editor firing me.  It was Monday, which is the day that copy for that week's paper is due and is edited.  So the theatre review that appeared in that week's issue was in her hands, and the new name for the column was already set.  Obviously this had been planned for some time.  It was calculated and it was cold.  Several weeks earlier she'd proposed "meeting up" for coffee.  She is relatively new to the job, and I had not met her at all.  So what would that "meeting up" have been like?  Essentially this: hi, how are you, good to meet you, you're fired.

Let me explain what my job was.  I was not on staff or on salary.  In fact I have never set foot in the Journal offices since they moved to Eureka.  Working from my home office, I gathered information on North Coast productions, scheduled and arranged to attend shows when they opened, got myself to the theatre, attended the show, perhaps talked before or after to participants, researched the play and playwright, wrote (and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote, on deadline and to the 850 word limit) the review, along with other elements of the column.

For many of the years I wrote Stage Matters I also conducted interviews with directors, producers and so on, to give them a direct voice. These were previews, published before the show opened. That entailed arranging for and conducting the interview, transcribing the recording, writing it up and so on.

 I did this frequently when there was at least one review published in a North Coast newspaper the week after a production opened, which is as fast as reviews ever appear here.  So shows got a timely review whether or not I wrote one.  But several years ago it happened that only the Journal was able to publish a timely review, and that's when I began to review more regularly.  (The situation is better now--there are three print possibilities for timely reviews.)

So that's what I did, and here's the huge sum I was paid: $100 per column.  A column in fact might entail attending two or even three plays, or reviewing one play and previewing another or others.  I got no benefits, not even gas money or mileage.  My column appeared an average of twice a month.  But there was also unpaid work to do between columns, to keep up with the local theatre world.  Pretty much my entire weekend revolved around this, as did private travel plans and schedule.

I realize that most people who create theatre here on the North Coast get less.  But a newspaper is a profit-making entity, and writing is my profession.  Besides, I have some perspective on that rate of pay.

I was Managing Arts Editor of an alternative weekly, the Boston Phoenix in the early 1970s.  I authorized payment to writers, so I happen to know that we paid our theatre reviewer $100. The minimum wage then was $2 an hour.  A gallon of gas cost 55 cents.  Ten grand would buy you a house.

Sure, that was Boston, this is our little North Coast.  But that's 40 years ago. Needless to say the cost of living has gone up considerably since then, and so has the pay that pays for everything.  Just the cost of gasoline has gone up considerably in the years since I started the column.  But for the last eight years or so, I've been paid $100.  Before that, it was less.

So how much money is the Arianna Huffington of Humboldt County going to save by firing me?  Despite the rhetoric of "expanding" the "scope" of theatre coverage, the operative phrase in the arts editors email is "new voices in a collaborative rotation."  I take "collaborative" to mean that the editor will be doing a lot more of the writing, though she may choose to call it editing.

  The first non-Stage Matters column to appear (which in form was identical to Stage Matters) was written by someone I know of only as a North Coast actor.  She may have some background in journalism I don't know about, and it's not necessary that she must in order to write reviews.  But it makes a change, and it is much easier to get a non-journalist to write for cheap or for free.  And that's without even considering the question of journalistic objectivity.  Members of the acting community reviewing each other is a novel approach for a newspaper.

So in order not to pay me what often amounted to minimum wage at best, they are probably paying less.  That, as they say, is the bottom line.

Now about that history.  I was all for the Journal using another reviewer, specifically to review HSU productions.  In fact, that was my understanding when I started.  I was hired to write Stage Matters (a name I invented) the same week I was hired to write publicity for HSU stage productions (this is also a part time position, paid on an hourly basis).  Both employers agreed to the same terms: I would not review HSU shows for the Journal, but the Journal would see to it that HSU shows were reviewed on the same basis as the shows of other North Coast theatres.  I lived up to my part of the bargain.  The Journal did not.

 So when the idea of "expanding" coverage was first proposed to me, I was all for it if it meant that HSU shows would be reviewed.  It happened only once in my nine years.  Perhaps it will happen more often now.  But I didn't really believe in an "expansion" then, or now.  The Journal ignored theatre and Stage Matters specifically in its promotions, and lately has ignored local theatre openings on its calendar pages, which seldom happened when Bob Doran was arts editor.

Another element of my history pertains to my response to being told not to mention what I was being paid because a new writer would be paid less.  As Managing Arts Editor for the Boston Phoenix and then as Editor of Washington Newsworks (a DC alternative weekly), I butted heads with the publishers on the matter of money for writers.

 At the Phoenix, I noted the various "deals" that had been made with freelancers, some being paid less than others for comparable work.  I made the payments more uniform by increasing the fees of those at the bottom.

 When I became Editor of Newsworks (voted in by acclamation), the paper was in dire financial straits and wasn't paying writers at all.  But the publisher's policy was not to tell writers this, just keep not paying them, and essentially lying to them when they made ever more frantic inquiries.  Beginning my first day, I not only told prospective writers that we weren't paying, I called up writers who'd written for us before and told them.  When we began paying writers again I made sure they actually got paid.

It's always astonished me that everybody else who works for periodicals--even "alternative" ones-- expects to get paid, as do those who supply the infrastructure, but it's scandalous when those who supply the most essential service--writing the words that are the paper's product--expect to be paid fairly.

So I don't go in for this sort of subterfuge. And when told to go ahead and talk to someone about reviewing for the Journal, but to withhold the information that they were going to be offered less, I decided not to talk to her about it at all.  I wasn't going to solicit a contributor under that condition.

The other element of history is my background in journalism, in writing and in theatre.  In response to the first negative review I wrote in the Journal, my qualifications for reviewing were questioned in a letter to the editor by someone who had been in the show.

 I was able to respond that I had been a theatre practitioner (mostly in college and right after) and even recently a playwright, that I had written on theatre for three newspapers and several national magazines, and seen many plays "in at least 15 different cities and towns, from the back of New York restaurants to Broadway, and from the Guthrie in Minneapolis to summer barn theater in central Pennsylvania, and at the Changing Scene in Denver, which was down an alley past a dumpster and an old washing machine."

 I had seen actors who later became movie stars, as well as Kevin Kline's Hamlet, Glenda Jackson's Lady Macbeth, and John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson in Pinter's No Man's Land.  I'd interviewed Jason Robards, Joe Papp, Christopher Durang.  I spent two weeks with playwrights, New York actors, directors, dramaturgs and critics at the O'Neill.  I knew Frank Rich, former New York Times critic.  I knew August Wilson.  They knew me.

In writing Stage Matters, I had and used the resources of the Internet, the HSU library and my personal library of over 400 books on theatre (including plays) and my recordings of plays and interviews, as well as the scripts of plays they were doing that that local theatres kindly supplied me when I requested them.

 I brought with me the experience and skills of a professional career that began in Boston, Washington and New York, and involved researching and writing a book that is still considered the classic on its subject, as well as many magazine stories for the New York Times Magazine, Smithsonian etc. etc., including periodicals in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.  I'd also published numerous features, reviews and essays in newspapers all over North America.  That includes pieces in the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, in the years I've resided here on the North Coast.

 Maybe that isn't what's wanted now. But that background, plus an absurd dedication to the craft and art of writing, is what they got, for $100 a pop.  And apparently what they decided they could no longer afford.  Not even for another week.

One more thing.  Part of my deal from the beginning was that the Journal was paying to publish my column in their print weekly and on their web page, but I reserved all other rights.  These days the Journal, like many other publications, is demanding a much broader range of rights from freelance writers as well as employees.  This may also have been a factor in my firing.  All of this is speculation.  But as we say in the newspaper game, informed speculation.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Opening Thursday (October 16) at Van Duzer Theatre, HSU presents Coraline, an unconventional musical, from the famous children’s book by Neil Gaiman, with music and lyrics by Stephin Merritt, script by David Greenspan. Directed by Rae Robison, produced by HSU Theatre, Film & Dance.  The run continues Oct. 16-18, 23-25 at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 26 at 2 p.m.

Erin Harris plays Coraline, with Anna Duchi as her evil Other Mother and Patrice Elise-Byrd as Cat. Other cast members include Erin Henry, Mickey Thompson, Jesse Chavez, Hanna Jo Clark, Kyle Rispoli, Bryce Luna, Justine Bivans and Valerie Castillo. Dakota Dieter, Mary May and Hanah Toyoda handle the puppets, while Brian Post and Charles Thompson accompany the singing cast.

Tina Toomata is the Music Director. Scenic design is by Jared Sorenson, costumes by Marissa Menezes, makeup and mask design by Hanah Toyoda, lighting by Santiago Menjivar and sound by Charles Thompson.

Director Robison cautions that parts of the musical may be too scary for children under age 9. But children who do attend the 80- minute show (no intermission) can meet the characters in the JVD lobby afterwards.  Ticket: 826-3928 or at the door.  More information: HSU Stage and Screen.

At the Arcata Playhouse, Playhouse Arts in association with Humboldt Breast and Gyn Health Project presents Jonna's Body, Please Hold starring Jonna Tamases, directed by Randy Schulman, on Friday October 17 at 8 p.m.  This one-woman comedy about real-life bouts with cancer has been praised by Daily Variety and the Los Angeles Times.  Showmag. com: "Jonna stole my heart..Heartfelt, funny and poignant." Tickets: Wildberries Marketplace, online at or by calling 822-1575.

North Coast Rep and Blue Ox Millworks present The Haunted Mill Tour 2014, on Oct. 17, 18, 24, 25, 30, 31 and November 1, 7 p.m. to midnight.  This event is a fundraiser benefiting NCRT and Blue Ox Youth and Community Radio, a program of the Ink People Center for the Arts. Tickets and information:

The Addams Family Musical continues at Ferndale Rep.

And speaking of coming attractions, there will be more soon on this blog concerning the recent unpleasantness with the North Coast Journal.  Stay tuned.

Audition Notice NCRT

 "The North Coast Repertory Theatre announces open auditions for Death By Design, a drawing room comedy/murder-mystery set in the thirties in a country house in England. (Think Noel Coward meets Agatha Christie).

 For auditions, we will be working with scenes from the play, but individual prepared monologues or scenes with another actor reflective of the style are welcome and even encouraged. Resumes and headshots are welcome. A copy of the script is available for review at the Eureka Public Library.

 All those interested are urged to try to read the play or some work by Noel Coward (i.e. Blithe Spirit) to familiarize themselves with the particular style of that era. Please bring your best British accent, (Cockney in the case of Jack), with the exception of Victoria, who could be of any nationality. And Bridget who is Irish.

 There are roles for four women and four men:
 Bridget – The maid, Irish, Crabby, Warm-hearted, Fifties
 Jack – The chauffer, Cockney, Charming, Clever, Twenties
 Edward Bennett - The Playwright, British, Urbane, Vain, Thirties/Forties
 Sorel Bennett – The Actress, British, Glamorous, Daffy, Thirties/Forties
 Walter Pearce – The Politician, British, Stiff, Conservative, Late Thirties/Forties Eric – The Radical, British, Emphatic, Fiery, Twenties
 Victoria Van Roth – The Bohemian, Intense, Artistic, Any Size, Any Age
 Alice – The Visitor, Sweet, Shy, Twenties/Thirties.

  Auditions will take place on Saturday, October 18 and Sunday, October 19 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at NCRT, 300 Fifth Street in Eureka. (Please come as early as possible—if it appears we are done early, we will close up shop). If you would like to audition but have a conflict on those dates or have any questions, please call the Director, Scott Malcolm, at 707-672-6021, and he will schedule an audition with you. Rehearsals will begin in late January or early February. Production dates are March 26 through April 18, 2015."

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Salmon Is Everything: Event and Book

I attended the reading at Northtown Books by members of the Klamath Theatre Project on Friday evening.  Marlon Sherman, Suzanne Burcell and Theresa May talked about how the project came about, and Mary Campbell (member of the original cast) and co-director Jean O'Hara read excerpts from the play.

From Marlon Sherman and Suzanne Burcell (Karuk), I was impressed by how open they were to the idea in the beginning, which was suggested by Theresa May, a new member of the HSU theatre faculty at the time, in response to the massive fish kill on the Klamath in 2002.  They were instrumental in recruiting Native students, conspicuously absent (then and much of the time since) from HSU theatre.  These students went back to their Karuk, Yurok and Hupa families and gathered relevant stories.

In reading excerpts from her chapter in the book, Suzanne Burcell described the rebellious shock of Native students to the idea that the point of view of competitors for Klamath water, the farmers and ranchers upriver, had to be represented.  She also noted with humor how Teresa May reacted to her suggestion that they also had to include the point of view of the fish.

The first part of the book describes the process of developing the script.  I also attended the first reading of the script in progress, and confess I didn't see how a theatre piece was going to emerge from it.  But according to the book, this reading inspired more people to come forward with personal and family stories, and these provided the human and cultural dimensions to the political and scientific that made the moment so alive on stage.

I reproduced my immediate response to that first production in the post below.  Since I've had cause recently to reflect on my nine years of writing about North Coast theatre, I would still place the 2006 HSU production of Salmon Is Everything near the top of my theatre experiences here.  For one thing, it was the most alive, especially in the emotional connection between those on stage and those in the audience.  And it meant something.  Certainly it spoke at the time to several areas of my experience here--working for Seventh Generation Fund, writing the script for the environmental video Voices of Humboldt County: Cumulative Impact which was cited in at least one forest court case, and writing the grant for the Native Performance Fund, still going now as the Native Art Fund. Even beyond the textures represented by these and other experiences, as a live theatre event it was singular in my experience here.

The heart of the book is the script itself.  Jean O'Hara describes touring it to Hupa, Yurok and Karuk communities.  In 2011 it got a full production at the University of Oregon, where Theresa May now teaches.  Her own chapter details what worked and what didn't in the process of creating the play, for she means this book to be a kind of guide to community-developed theatre.  A foreword by Gordon Bettles provides some historical context, and here and elsewhere in the book there are updates on what has happened since.

The book is Salmon Is Everything: Community-Based Theatre in the Klamath Watershed by Theresa May with Suzanne Burcell, Kathleen McCovey and Jean O'Hara, published by Oregon State University Press in their First Peoples series.  It's at Northtown Books and presumably other booksellers.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

This North Coast Weekend: A Special Event

Back in 2006, a community-based play was presented at HSU and elsewhere called Salmon Is Everything. At 7 p.m. on Friday October 10, several participants in that process and production will be at Northtown Books, with their book about it all: Salmon Is Everything: Community-Based Theatre in the Klamath Watershed.

Scheduled to be present are Theresa May, Jean O’Hara, Suzanne Burcell (Karuk), & Kathy McCovey (Karuk) and special guest Marlon Sherman.

The invitation reads: "After a devastating fish kill on the Klamath River, tribal members and theatre artists developed a play to give voice to the central spiritual and cultural role of salmon in tribal life. Join the authors for readings from the play and hear their own stories about the creative collaboration and the significance of salmon among the people of the Klamath River."

Here's my Stage Matters commentary from 2006:

Going to theatre is an act of faith in its potential, and an act of hope that this will be one of the times it is realized. Of all that theatre is capable of, the expression and even creation of community around public issues is one of the most complex, and possibly, the most rare. But on a Friday evening early in May in the Studio Theatre at HSU, I saw it happen.

 It was the opening night of three performances by the Klamath Theatre Project, an ad hoc group of Native and non-Native faculty and community members, and some 30 students, most of them from local tribes, who worked for two years to collect interviews, studies and stories, and to create presentations arising from the 2002 Klamath River fish kill, a watershed event in all senses. But I doubt anyone involved could have predicted what would happen on that stage.

 Salmon Is Everything dramatized a series of interweaving encounters of fictional characters---a young Yurok-Karuk fisherman and his wife, a non-Native rancher and his mother, a graduate student in biology and a Hupa fish biologist, several Karuk, Yurok and Klamath elders, plus family members, a farmer, tourists, a reporter and a priest, among others. Their interaction illuminated some of the ways the Klamath water crisis affected them all, though the emphasis was on the Native communities where salmon has been the center of life and culture for untold generations.

 The cast was composed of Natives and non-Natives (as was the audience): elders, youth and children. Not many had acting experience, but there was not an abashed breath of amateurism anywhere--from the first moment everyone was poised, clear, warm and authentic. It was an illuminating ninety minutes, and a powerful night of theatre.

 There were heartfelt declarations presented with such conviction and authority that several actors (Native and non-Native) were moved nearly to tears by their own words. Yet the cast also moved in and out of dramatic scenes with the skill of theatrical veterans.

 There was power also in a simple scene of women beginning to weave baskets as they talked: this clearly is from their lives. And when two Brush Dance skirts were brought out, you could feel the intake of breath in the audience. As Native and non-Native characters talked of their lives and those of their forbearers, such historical terms as “Termination” and “allotments” attached themselves to real consequences and fates.

 The Project’s attempt to bring a community together without any culture losing its integrity, to find common interest and common ground, turned out to be mirrored in the form of this presentation. It brought together key elements of European-based theatre with elements of Native cultures derived in part from storytelling and ceremony.

 Though they are sometimes reluctant to express their concerns to outsiders, I have heard Native people speak their thoughts and from their hearts in primarily Native gatherings. I have also seen several well-meant, polished but inadequate theatre pieces concerning Native history and culture presented by non-Natives. But even as a work-in-progress, I have never seen anything like this. I wish I had space to name everyone who had a hand in creating it. I felt my faith restored, and my hope rewarded.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


I've been fired as Stage Matters columnist for the North Coast Journal.  The Stage Matters column will be totally gone.

I received the news by email from arts editor Jennifer Fumiko Cahill.  It reads in part: "Stage Matters has long been identified with your voice, and we have enjoyed and appreciated your contribution — your writing and viewpoint, as well as your reliability."

"The theater column is one of the sections of the Journal we are revamping by expanding its scope and introducing some new voices in a collaborative rotation. In order for those writers to develop and gain traction, the Journal will not be including your reviews in that rotation, and we are changing the name."

This evidently has been in the works for some time, but I'm guessing I got this Monday because something about it will appear in this week's Journal.  But I'm not going to be scooped on this story!  You read it here first.

After nine years, something like 225 columns for a total of 200,000 words or more,  one might think I'd earned a more dignified exit in its pages.  One apparently would be wrong.

I'll probably have more to say about this at some point.  If so,  I'm sure I'll say it here.

Update: Sure enough, the Journal this week has the first of the new "theater" columns, and my name has vanished from the Contributing Writers in the masthead.  But nothing else.  It's as if I never existed.  It's--wait!  I can see through my hand!  My arm is disappearing!  I'm---

Thursday, October 2, 2014

This North Coast Weekend

Humboldt State University presents a radio-style drama version of Her Own Way by Broadway playwright Clyde Fitch, the first play performed by Humboldt State students 100 years ago, on Friday evening Oct. 3 and Saturday afternoon Oct 4 in the Van Duzer Theatre.

  It's a celebration of stage at HSU, featuring Theatre, Film & Dance department faculty, staff, alums and special guests including Greta and Danny Stockwell, Calder Johnson, Bernadette Cheyne, Michael Thomas and 10 others.  There are three children's parts so it's also a family affair (Greta and Danny's daughter Glenys Stockwell, Rae Robison and JM Wilkerson and their son Dylan Wilkerson, etc.)  The event is coordinated by Derek Lane and Susan Abbey.  Much more information and many photos at HSU Stage & Screen. Tickets: 826-3928 or at the door.

The 2010 musical comedy The Addams Family is scheduled to open at Ferndale Repertory Theatre on October 3. With music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, it is based on the ghoulish characters created by cartoonist Charles Addams. 786-5483,

I Hate Hamlet continues at North Coast Rep.