Angus Bowmer, Chinook schoolteacher and Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) founder, brought workingman sensibilities to live theatrical performances. Theyre supposed to be fun, not fancy.
Shakespeare himself was aiming for popular entertainment, not high art. Thinking of going to one of his plays makes some modern people hyperventilate in a panic, but in their time plays like A Midsummer Nights Dream were regarded in much the same way we see Monsters University not a chore but a diverting, welcome way to spend an afternoon or evening plays instead of works.
Everyday pragmatism is at the heart of Pacific Northwest theatre. Arnee Hansen, whose dad was one of Bowmers students here in the 1920s, recently recalled for me that Angus started putting on community plays to buy uniforms for the basketball team. Bowmer coached them to the Pacific County championship in 1929.
Its wonderful to see Bowmers traditions continue in various ways in Chinook:
The Peninsula Association of Performing Artists (PAPA) is presenting The Wizard of Oz at the Fort Columbia State Park theatre in Chinook on weekends through Aug. 4. PAPA is a bit like encountering a shipwrecked crew of Broadway actors who spilled out of a tall ship onto our storm-tossed shore and decided to start putting on musicals. A small-town miracle, it wouldnt be much exaggeration to say PAPA can hold its own with OSF. Tickets and details are available at www.papatheatre.org.
The new Chinook School that replaced the one Bowmer taught in will soon be revamped thanks to Washington state funding. In the meantime, the separate fully restored gymnasium building housing a stage Angus inspired has become a brilliant community-gathering place.
One of the most exciting of these events will occur in mid-November, when OSF Executive Director Emeritus Paul Nicholson and festival actors come to Chinook to present selections from this seasons plays and conduct acting workshops for Ilwaco and Naselle High School students. (OSF actors will also be at Seaside High School in November.)
I wasnt born with the gene to politely fake enjoyment and become harder to impress with each passing season, like a cynical old trout thats spat out every type of artful fishing fly. Standing ovations should be rare rewards, not passed out like a politicians lies or a hussys kisses.
In an epic bout of theatre that may require a couple years of recuperation, my family and I attended seven plays in seven days in Ashland earlier this month, including two Shakespeare comedies. The real standout performance of the summer, however, isnt 400 years old but brand new the sublime The Unfortunates.
Mostly taking place in the traumatized imagination of a soldier awaiting execution, ultimately The Unfortunates is a joyous story with roots that twine deep into the American subconscious, framed by the folksong St. James Infirmary Blues. I know it sounds ridiculous. We might not have taken a chance on it except that it has the same corps of a cappella hip-hop performers known as 3 Blind Mice who blew us away in OSFs soul-awakening Hamlet in 2010.
Im 100 percent with director Shana Cooper when she says of The Unfortunates, Perhaps the greatest gift is how it has revitalized my belief in the capacity of music and theatre not only to inspire but to heal and to redeem. A sincere standing ovation for this tour de force of originality that pays homage to everything from Rocky Horror to Albert Camus. In its weird and rough-edged way, this is a play that I can envision enduring for 100 years.
OSFs re-imagined My Fair Lady and the lighthearted female-empowerment adventure The Heart of Robin Hood also brought me to my feet this year. All the casts are outstanding. However, two individuals Ill remember forever are Anthony Heald as Alfred P. Doolittle and Tanya Thai McBride as Plug the Dog. Completely overturning his infamous role as Hannibal Lecters slimy psychiatric nemesis in The Silence of the Lambs, Heald is the ultimate charming rapscallion in Lady. And the young McBride, who also has a big speaking part in Midsummer Nights Dream, cracked me up as the best dog ever. I wanted to go backstage afterward and reward her with a scratch behind the ears. Mans best friend has never been so hilarious.
Chinook Observer editor Matt Winters lives in Ilwaco with his wife and daughter.