By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back and Forth: Reopening revives our local creative potential

Marcus Larson/News-Register ## At Gallery Theater, Catherine (Jayna Sweet), left, with Hal (Reese Madden) and Claire (Hannah Patterson) in a central scene in “Proof” on the Arena stage. Fulfillment of passions and talents is a theme of the play, and of the theater company itself.
Marcus Larson/News-Register ## At Gallery Theater, Catherine (Jayna Sweet), left, with Hal (Reese Madden) and Claire (Hannah Patterson) in a central scene in “Proof” on the Arena stage. Fulfillment of passions and talents is a theme of the play, and of the theater company itself.

Public events are rapidly emerging from the pandemic-induced fog of the past two years, and it’s good to see people enjoying community events in ways that have been all but impossible since March 2020.

Folks have reservations about much of this. That is to be appreciated and respected. But the opportunities are approaching back to normal again and it’s something to behold.

There is no better way to get back into enjoying the local cultural scene — be it live music, theater or sporting events — than to find something one likes and attend.

Be open to experiences being made available again. Proceed with your own form of caution, something most of us have honed in the past 24 months.

Take your mask, yes. And check in advance to see if proof of vaccination or negative test is a requirement.

Local arts organizations are once again widely holding concerts, exhibits, plays, meetings and more. Recent successful examples of the emergence from restrictions include Mac High’s entertaining “Addams Family Musical” and the McMinnville Wine & Food Festival.

We took in a Gallery Theater show and the Second Winds Community Band concert last weekend. Together, they were rewarding reminders of the talent in our midst, and the dedication to artistic expression that helps make McMinnville such a vibrant place.

Second Winds, under the shared direction of Brian Parker and Mark Williams, presented a lovely set of pieces paying tribute to color and sound and how they connect, revolving around Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures At An Exhibition.”

Pieces included “Blue and Green Music” by Samuel R. Hazo and “Blues of a Different Color” by Doug Beach and George Shutack, as performed by the 99 West Jazz Band. They imbued the palette of pigments you can hear in music.

I know many in attendance were glad just to be back again in the familiar performance space of the Community Center. McMinnville artist Joyce Messina’s paintings were projected behind the band, adding grace and more color.

The band dedicated its finale, “76 Trombones” by Meredith Wilson, to Messina’s husband — the beloved local band leader and musician Frank Messina, who died in 2021.

Williams noted that the piece by the Russian Mussorgsky (1839-1881) was originally selected two years ago for a concert that was canceled due to COVID-19. Segments performed from the “Exhibition” suite on Sunday included “Great Gate of Kiev,” in which art underscores current events for the world of 2022.

Williams told the audience that, in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, some members of the ensemble had bowed out rather than perform music written by a Russian, even though the piece was penned in the early 20th century.

Williams read this quote by composer Leonard Bernstein, who said during the Vietnam War:

“This will be our reply to violence, to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before. And that is what we want to do today, to have moments of beauty we can share together.”

The Gallery performance of “Proof,” a drama with many laugh-out-loud moments, by David Auburn, was a memorable and moving evening of theater. Attendance is strongly recommended, and you have two more weekends to find time.

Well-performed live music or theater can provide emotional experiences that stay with the listener or viewer long after. Such experiences are more and more lost to society as we shift to electronic, on-demand entertainment watched in living rooms on finite screens.

Quality live performances leave one with the sense of being part of the greater world. And that was the case on two stages in McMinnville last weekend.

On a semi-side note, when Gallery revived live performances last July, Lorre and I caught the first show and have regularly enjoyed indoor and outdoor performances since.

On those outdoor shows, I’ll be the first to say that the removal of a tree this winter in front of the Gallery plaza will improve the sightlines for future street shows there. It will also be interesting to see the what Gallery and the city do to transform that open area, now that the root-disrupted brick sidewalk is no longer a clunky trip-hazard.

Unaffected was the section of sidewalk with commemorative bricks placed a number of years ago. The brass nameplates in the bricks speak to Gallery’s growth and development over the years as an artistic presence with long and wide community support.

McMinnville is fortunate to have creative assets such as Second Winds and Gallery Theater.

That said, I admit to the following biases:

Several of my friends, including the redoubtable Lee Krähenbühl (Class of 1982) are visible in production photos on display. It’s a sweet touch in that it not only reminds us of plays of the past on the Gallery stages, but honors the people who dedicated so many hours to their craft.

The photos were selected from the archives a few years ago. They were framed for exhibit in the lobby and hallways.

In any theater, another nice touch would be photos of members of backstage crews, often called ninjas — the folks who move the scenery, cue the actors, see to the props and special effects. They get way too little credit for making theatrical magic happen.

The black-clad ninjas of “Proof” were amazing to watch as they worked, in near-full darkness, setting and re-setting critical props. They worked without flashlights or other visual guidance, relying on their familiarity with the surroundings.

We were not supposed to be “aware” of their movements, but those movements actually represented a performance in themselves — “proof,” if you will, that it is not only the performers who must practice, that those who work backstage are just as vital to a staged performance as those who move beneath the floodlights.

I saw a variety of Gallery shows in 1979-82, my years at Linfield, and in following years, when I lived either in Portland or just down the road in Dallas. The roster included “Dracula,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Hello, Dolly.” 

Another source of my bias is having once performed on the Gallery main stage. It was about 12 years ago, when my troupe in Hood River was invited to a theater conference hosted by Gallery to perform a one-act it had recently staged. The show was Judgment Call, about two umpires having a pre-game crisis.

I played a third ump. My role, mostly non-verbal, was providing some comic relief.

We were honored to be invited, and I remember our cast dinner at Thai Country, which we’ve come to love in the past year as a takeout.

That year, we took our show on the road. But local artists and musicians are bringing their show to you.

It’s just a matter of learning what’s offered and honoring the performers and crew with your attendance and response.

Contact Kirby Neumann-Rea at or 503-687-1291.


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