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Arts Dawg preview: The timeliness and timelessness of Fifth of July

The cast of "Fifth of July." (Photo credit: Mike Hipple)

The cast of “Fifth of July.” (Photo credit: Mike Hipple)

When Fifth of July premiered in 1978, it was very much a play of its time. The two-act production followed three generations of the Talley family as they tried to make their way through the muck and mire of an America slowly recovering from the Vietnam War. Fifth of July tackled head-on the continuing debate about the Vietnam War, gay rights, women’s rights, and the ascension of the Baby Boomer generation—all issues, in other words, that still resonate today.

And that’s what first drew the eye of director Valerie Curtis-Newton, ’96. “It’s really another ripple in the current of history of those great social movements,” she said. Fans can learn more on Nov. 14, when Fifth of July will be part of the second Arts Dawg event this season. Curtis-Newton will give a talk about the play at the pre-show reception, which will include complimentary wine and appetizers.

Curtis-Newton said she will discuss the timelessness of Lanford Wilson’s production and its relevance to modern times, despite debuting nearly 40 years ago. Take the gay rights movement: One of the play’s main characters is a homosexual veteran. At the time, the character lived and served in the closet, and “Don’t ask, don’t tell” prohibited openly gay service members until 2011. “All of those movements are still alive now,” Curtis-Newton said. “We’ll recognize these people, and we’ll recognize how they interact with each other.”

If You Go—Walk-ups welcome!

What: Arts Dawg event in conjunction with “Fifth of July.” The event includes remarks from director Valerie Curtis-Newton, ’96, wine and light appetizers.

Where: Meany Hall for the Performing Arts, UW Seattle. The reception will be in the Meany Theater backstage, and the production will be in the Meany Studio Theater.

When: Thursday, Nov. 14; lobby doors and the reception begins at 6:30 p.m., and the performance begins at 7:30 p.m.

Cost: $10 for UWAA members

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Student showcase at heart of final Arts Dawg event

Pioneer Square

Minutes before I shut my computer down and headed over to the Henry Art Gallery for the season’s final Arts Dawg event, my phone vibrated with bad news: My date for the evening was stuck at work and would be unable to join me to check out the Henry’s annual MFA + MDes 2013 Thesis Exhibition.

In an ironic twist, Jen – the same coworker who spearheaded this date series in the first place – volunteered to be my date for the evening. The only catch? We made a pact to leave work talk back at the office.

It proved to be an easy bargain to keep. We walked into the café for the pre-show reception, where a trio of students provided live music while the rest of the Arts Dawg patrons mingled and enjoyed appetizers. Jen and I each grabbed an amber ale from Ballard-based Hilliard’s Beer and stepped outside, where we talked about career aspirations, hobbies, and upcoming weekend plans.

In between the chatter, we found a few minutes to explore the exhibit. With such an incredible array of works on display, the exhibit itself demanded more time than we had. But one video piece in particular caught our eye; a short film about Pioneer Square played in one corner, examining the past, present and future of Seattle’s historic neighborhood. Architects and restaurateurs alike talked about the challenges facing Pioneer Square, its value to the city, and what the future might hold.

Throughout the evening, we talked to other patrons about the series. I asked other attendees about their favorite events over the previous six months, and remarkably, no consensus emerged. Some raved about the “Plastics Unwrapped” exhibit at the Burke Museum; others commented about the action-packed “Once Upon a Time 6x in the West;” and yet others praised Ana Moura’s achingly beautiful voice and stage presence.

A few singled out this evening’s MFA + MDes 2013 Thesis Exhibition. Some patrons enjoyed the wide variety of work on display, and others appreciated being able to talk with the student artists on hand for the event.

It underscored for me the true value of the series. Nearly everyone I chatted with said they wouldn’t have attended such a variety of events on their own. But, whether they fully understood – or even enjoyed – everything, they appreciated the exposure and diversity of events.  From the energetic performance of “The Rite of Spring” to the eclectic display of student work at the Henry, the Arts Dawg series truly showcased something for everyone. There was something for arts aficionados and curious newbies alike, and I’m excited to see what kind of arts buffet gets served next year.

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The Long-lasting History of Disposability: Recapping ‘Plastics Unwrapped’

"Plastics Unwrapped"

“Plastics Unwrapped”

Early in our tour of “Plastics Unwrapped,” the latest exhibit at the Burke Museum, my date and I turned a corner and found ourselves face-to-face with a wall adorned with 1,500 clear water bottles. The empty bottles took up every square inch of the surface, save for where a small sign explained their significance: The massive display represented the number of water bottles used every second in the United States.

That was just one of the many unbelievable visuals we encountered as part of the latest event in the Arts Dawg series. The Arts Dawg event may be over, but “Plastics Unwrapped” presents stunning statistics and memorable visuals through May 27 at the Burke Museum.

I met Jenna, my date for the evening, about the time the museum opened its doors to Arts Dawg patrons; we got to know each other while exploring the Burke’s numerous exhibits. The conversation came easily – so much so, we missed the first few minutes of the tour offered by “Plastics Unwrapped” exhibit developer Ruth Pelz – an Arts Dawg exclusive opportunity.

Early on, the half-hour tour shed light on the history of plastic and the unlikely genesis of the exhibit; Pelz said she and other exhibit planners were inspired by a Burke Museum exhibit on coffee. That discussion led the group to think about other seemingly ordinary items that deserved a brighter spotlight. Elsewhere in the tour, Pelz discussed the chemistry behind various forms of plastic, examined the material’s rise in modern culture, and talked about its use in all walks of life today.

Pelz didn’t hold back in describing the negative impacts plastic have on our society. We learned that it can take up to 400 years for plastics to decompose, and we stood next to a 170-pound tower of electronics waste – representing the volume of electronics discarded every second in the United States.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Pelz talked about how plastic has revolutionized modern medicine and showed off a pair of prosthetic legs made possible by plastic. And tips on reducing plastic use were sprinkled throughout the exhibit.

Pelz stuck around after the tour to answer any lingering questions as most of us scattered to explore the exhibit on our own. Jenna and I marveled at a 12-year-old iPod on display, scoped out a collection of environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastics (including a set of bamboo eating utensils), marveled at a rain coat made from sea mammal innards, and gleefully played with some of the plastic toys on display. With the unusual items and eye-popping statistics, we lost ourselves in learning about a material that had seemed so unremarkable just two hours earlier. Before we knew it, the Arts Dawg staff started cleaning the museum and folding up the tables, ending our exploration. Jenna’s only complaint of the evening? She hadn’t known about the exhibit earlier.

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Arts Dawg Preview: Unwrapping ‘Plastics’

(Photo courtesy of the Burke Museum)

(Photo courtesy of the Burke Museum)

Plastic is an inescapable part of everyday life. It’s in the phone, tablet or computer you’re reading this on. The water bottle you lug to the gym is probably plastic. Even the toothbrush you used this morning is made from the ubiquitous material.

It’s a wonderful invention that made many of our modern marvels possible, but it comes at a cost: Plastic is difficult to recycle, doesn’t biodegrade, and contains chemicals that can poison marine life when not properly disposed.

Both sides of that discussion are represented at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture’s latest exhibit, Plastics Unwrapped. The exhibit, which examines the past, present, and future of plastics, runs through May 27; Arts Dawg patrons will get an up-close look at the exhibit, along with remarks from exhibit developer Ruth Pelz, on May 16.

The exhibit starts with the history of plastics and brings to life a piece of pre-World War II Americana by showcasing objects made before plastics took hold in manufacturing. Some of the more puzzling objects on display include a jar coated with pitch to hold water, a hat made from cedar bark, and a rain coat made from sea mammal innards. (Yes, really. “It’s beautiful,” Pelz said.)

From there, “Plastics Unwrapped” uses video, sculpture, text, and more to examine how plastics have taken hold over the past 70 years, how various types of plastics are made, and what happens after we throw them away.

The uglier side of plastics is certainly given its due: One sculpture made from water bottles shows how many are used every second at the University of Washington, and another sculpture shows how many plastic bags are used every quarter-second in the United States. It also explores the challenge of recycling plastics. “You can’t just dump all these plastics together and come out with a water bottle,” Pelz said.

It’s easy to demonize the seedier aspects of plastic; after all, Seattle banned grocery stores from offering plastic bags in July 2012. But the exhibit looks at how plastics helped our culture, especially modern medicine. “You just can’t imagine a glass tube IV,” Pelz said.

The exhibit ends on a hopeful note, offering examples of how companies are altering their practices to use less plastic and sharing with visitors the various ways they can reduce their plastic use. “I hope people will understand that we do have choices to make about how we use plastic, and that they’ll be inspired to use them more responsibly,” Pelz said. “We have to rethink our relationship with plastics.”

If You Go

What: Arts Dawg event in conjunction with “Plastics Unwrapped.” The event includes remarks from exhibit developer Ruth Pelz, a tour of the exhibit, wine, and light appetizers.

Where: Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, 17th Ave NE and NE 45th St., Seattle

When: Thursday, May 16, 2013, 6-8 p.m.

Cost: $8.

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Where ‘Western’ is merely a state of mind: Recapping “Once Upon a Time 6x in the West”

Once Upon a Time 6x in the West

“Indian” (Ben Phillips) offers Lil (Sylvia Kowalski) medicine in the first act of UW Drama’s production of “Once Upon A Time 6X In The West” at the Jones Playhouse Theatre. (UW Daily–Photo by Andrew Tat)

What do a down-on-his-luck American Indian impersonator, beer pong, and “The Wizard of Oz” have in common?

They’re all a part of the theatrical menagerie that is the School of Drama’s “Once Upon a Time 6x in the West,” the latest entry in the Arts Dawg series. Though difficult to follow at times, “Once Upon a Time” provided a memorable experience for both myself and Tara, my date for the evening.

Tara and I met 45 minutes before the pre-show reception, getting to know each other over iced teas at Cafe Solstice. The conversation flowed freely as we discussed our respective careers and the uniqueness of this dating series before heading to the evening’s pre-show reception in Parrington Hall.

Settled in with wine, fruit, cheese and crackers, we listened as “Once Upon a Time” director Jeffrey Fracé explained the genesis of the production and decoded the wildly disparate styles we would encounter. Tara would later say that this discussion helped her understand what to expect and prepared her for the variety of styles throughout the two-and-a-half-hour play.

Fracé and crew adapted an original script, “The Story of Little Horse,” for the production. The resulting story follows Lil, an orphan who’s kidnapped and eventually raised in an Old West brothel; the story culminates on Lil’s 13th birthday, when she’s faced with the choice of embracing the bordello life or escaping for something better.

Then again, that’s like saying “Pulp Fiction” is about a boxer or “The Dark Knight” is about a guy in a bat costume. Throughout the production, “Once Upon a Time” reflected its story through the styles of six iconic stage directors, with each act adopting a look and feel unlike any of the others. The first act, for instance, started with a minimalist stage design inspired by English director Peter Brook, who strove to emphasize the actor’s performance over design elements surrounding the action; the set consisted of roughly a dozen bamboo sticks and little else. The fifth act, meanwhile, paid homage to The Wooster Group, a New York City-based experimental theater company, with video projections, disaffected speech, bright lights, and frenetic choreography.

I had little time to make sense of the action as “Once Upon a Time” hopscotched from one style to the next. The sheer spectacle, extreme variation, and occasional musical numbers sometimes distracted from the story; in fact, the actress portraying Lil (Sylvia Kowalski) broke the fourth wall completely at one point, inviting audience members to play the roles of crucial characters — including herself — before talking about a bike ride she had taken earlier that day.

No matter. The unpredictability made for a memorable performance.

That said, I don’t know that it was an ideal first date; an early rape scene, in particular, would have been cringe-worthy even if I wasn’t inches away from someone I’d met only two hours earlier. To her credit, Tara was a good sport, laughing along with the absurdity of the production and making an excellent point after the cast took its final bow: “Once Upon a Time” gave us plenty to talk about afterward.

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Soulful singing transcends language barriers: Arts Dawg date night recap

Ana Moura dazzled the audience on Saturday. (Photo courtesy Isabel Pinto)

Ana Moura dazzled the audience on Saturday. (Photo courtesy Isabel Pinto)

One of my tasks as part of this series was to write honestly about the Arts Dawg experience as a date night idea. We in the UWAA naturally felt it would make a great date – Appetizers! Wine! The arts! – but my first two dates admitted that they wouldn’t have thought to attend dance productions or symphony performances on their own.

Thankfully, Ella Mae, my date on Saturday, couldn’t have been more excited to see Ana Moura.

We talked briefly about the Portuguese fado singer over coffee while escaping the Seattle rain and waiting for the pre-show reception. Ella Mae, also an occasional singer, had brushed up on Moura’s work beforehand and found herself entranced by Moura’s voice. “Smooth” became the descriptor of the night.

We shifted topics after a few minutes and spent much of the hour-long coffee date talking about travel. We shared our travel philosophies– “get lost” and “get off the beaten path” – talked about places we’d been – like the Philippines, New York, and New Orleans – and destinations we’d like to visit – basically “everywhere on Earth.”

We couldn’t go to Portugal on this night, so Moura brought a taste of the country to Seattle.

Moura is a young star in the storied fado scene, which started nearly 200 years ago as a genre similar to American blues music; it sprung out of poor and disenfranchised communities, and most song topics touched on loss, yearning, and heartbreak.

Those themes were evident on Saturday, as Moura performed one tear-jerking tune after another. She sung all but two songs in Portuguese, leaning heavily on her latest release “Desfado,” for the set’s material. Maybe Ella Mae and I were actually better off for not understanding Moura’s devastating lyrics; how awkward is it, after all, to spend a blind date listening to songs of failed romance, sorrow, and sadness?

Whether performing a folk-inspired number or traditional fado tune, Moura enchanted throughout her two-hour set. The Portuguese might have been lost on Ella Mae and I, but Moura’s voice – which could soar just as easily as it could crawl from note to melancholy note – kept us engaged throughout the night. Some feelings and emotions transcend language.

Two hours and one encore later, no one in the crowd was ready to call it a night. Nearly everyone stood and clapped along when Moura ditched the sorrowful tunes for more upbeat, fast-paced numbers. As Moura and her band took a bow and waved to the crowd, Ella Mae turned to me and shouted over the applause. “I loved that,” she said. “So smooth.”

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A night at the symphony: Arts Dawg date night recap

Ludovic Morlot will guest conduct the UW Symphony on Feb. 28 at Meany Hall.

Ludovic Morlot guest conducted the UW Symphony on Feb. 28 at Meany Hall.

I’m a relative newcomer to Seattle, having moved here seven months ago from a suburban outpost of Portland, Oregon. My earlier memories of the city consisted of little more than Seattle Mariners games, the fish throwers at Pike Place Market, and beignets at Toulouse Petit, so the city still feels like the world’s largest playground as I explore its diverse neighborhoods.

Luckily, Stacey, a lifelong Seattle resident and my date for the most recent Arts Dawg event, was a good sport about my infatuation. Our date started over coffee at Café Solstice on the Ave. I spent much of the hour peppering her with questions and observations about Seattle – so much so, I later asked if I was boring her with my nonstop chatter about the low-key nature of Eastlake and the fun bars in Ballard. “Not at all,” she said. “It’s fun to hear a fresh perspective from an outsider.”

After an hour of Seattle observations and get-to-know you conversation, we walked to Meany Hall for the University Symphony’s recital.

Going into the performance, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Stacey and I agreed that we respect the arts but admitted that we wouldn’t think to attend a symphony performance. My exposure to classical music has been mostly limited to old Looney Tunes cartoons, and Stacey had enough of symphonies after spending much of her childhood as a flautist. “It wouldn’t be at the top of my list,” she said.

The University Symphony led off with Un Sourire by Olivier Messiaen. The piece alternated between soft, string-driven sections that sounded like they could soundtrack a sunset and skittish sections keyed by fast-paced xylophones. It was a shrewd decision to open the set with such a gripping number; it grabbed our attention and kept us on edge throughout the piece. I liked the uneasy feeling that I didn’t know where it was going, but Stacey was more measured in her enthusiasm. “That was so jarring,” she said almost as soon as the final note finished.

The first piece following intermission – and my personal highlight of the evening – was Maurice Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand Alone, starring soloist Ching-Yueh Chen. The soloist dazzled as he played the piano with – you guessed it – only his left hand. I couldn’t stop staring as I wondered how he made such beautiful, intoxicating music … one-handed, no less. Going into the performance, I don’t know what I expected, but seeing a soloist earn a scattered standing ovation with only his left hand certainly wasn’t on the list.

A lesser writer would say that we, ahem, changed our tune afterward or that the performance struck a chord. But the truth is that I was transfixed. It’s one thing to hear classical music in the background of a big-budget action movie or an NFL highlight reel. But it’s another experience entirely to see more than 70 musicians working together, telling stories with the notes, and creating something positively grand. Even Stacey couldn’t help but agree once the performance concluded. “This was a lot of fun,” she said as we walked out of Meany Hall and into the rainy Seattle night.

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Ana Moura brings soulful sound to UW Seattle campus

Ana Moura will bring her soulful brand of fado to the University of Washington on March 2, 2013. (Photo (c) Paulo Segadaes)

Ana Moura will bring her soulful brand of fado to the University of Washington on March 2, 2013. (Photo (c) Paulo Segadaes)

Valentine’s Day candy might be relegated to the clearance rack at Safeway, but feelings of love, loss, and yearning endure. Those themes will take center stage when Portuguese fado singer Ana Moura performs as part of the UW World Series’ World Music & Theatre Series early next month.

The concert is the latest in the Arts Dawg series, which introduces UWAA members to the University’s fine and performing arts offerings. Arts Dawg ticketholders receive discounted admission, a pre-show reception with free wine and appetizers, and a talk with Michelle Witt, executive director of Meany Hall and artistic director of the UW World Series.

Witt, during her discussion, will give an overview of Portuguese fado, a mournful style of music that began in the early 1800s. The genre was born when poor and disenfranchised communities in Portugal gathered to express their despair – not unlike the blues in America. “It’s an incredibly soulful form of vocal expression,” Witt said.

Two hundred years later, Ana Moura is one of the biggest, most compelling names in the genre. Since releasing her debut album in 2004, Moura has gained acclaim for blending the deep-rooted fado traditions with modern influences such as Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.

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In addition to performing around the world, Moura has shared stages with the Rolling Stones and Prince. That pop music influence, along with a broad vocal range, makes Moura a compelling figure in the international music scene, Witt said. “She bridges a very traditional, important art form, but is very connected to the contemporary popular music world.”

Moura’s tales of longing, pain, and regret will still resonate with audiences who don’t speak Portuguese, Witt said. “It’s an incredibly powerful experience.”

If You Go

What: Ana Moura, in concert. UWAA members can sign up as part of the Arts Dawg promotion, which includes a pre-show reception with free wine and appetizers, as well as a talk with UW World Series Artistic Director Michelle Witt.

Where: Meany Hall for the Performing Arts, UW Seattle campus.

When: 8 p.m. March 2; the pre-show reception will start at 7 p.m. in the Meany Hall theater lobby.

Cost: $34-$38; $33 for UWAA members; $32-$36 for UW faculty, staff, and alumni; $20 for students.

Information: Arts Dawg at ArtsUW.

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