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Frederick (Peter Curtis) and Mabel (Laura Tack) find a moment to talk. Well… more like a moment to sing.

I love theatre and for the past decade have only attended shows in Portland. However, I moved to a tiny rural town a few years ago, and recently discovered that across the river in Longview (somewhat bigger rural town), there is a theatre company.

My boyfriend Will is visiting from Rhode Island. Since he treated me to a show at Trinity Rep in Providence when I visited in January, I thought it would be fun to return the favour and take him to a show here.

Stageworks Northwest Theatre is now running The Pirates of Penzeance until April 7th. It’s a community production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s well-known comedy. For the blue-collar port town of Longview, Washington, they would have been forgiven for making some cuts to the show in order to pull it off. Instead we enjoyed the real deal: comedic talent, great singing, and a live orchestra.

Please forgive the relatively poor quality of my iPhone photos taken while seated in the audience, but they do give a sense of the fun, the great costumes, the splash of colour in every scene. This entertainment is inexpensive, every seat is a good seat, and we definitely felt part of the community there, while listening to patrons talk about holding season passes and other shows they saw. If you live around here, support your local arts and go check it out!

General Stanley’s daughters try to decide what to do about their sister Mabel. (Cassandra Charles, Rochelle Larsen, Rachel Welsh, and Claire Beck)

Major General Stanley (Patrick Hale) argues his case to the pirates.

Drama unfolds as twists in the story are revealed.

Frederic finds himself motivated by Ruth (Lorraine Little) and Richard, the Pirate King (Joey Le Bard), while the orchestra plays.

Vacation car! Most people over about 45 years pointed with delight at this display. The kids were all, "Uh, Dad, what's so great about that old car?"

Vacation car! Most people over about 45 years pointed with delight at this display. The kids were all, “Uh, Dad, what’s so great about that old car?”

We celebrated two things last week: Tara’s graduation from High School (with High Honors, I might add with pride), and – as it turned out serendipitously – Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary.

This amazing theme park was opened on July 17, 1955.  Our trip to Disneyland was planned sometime around September of 2014, and neither of us knew that in the meantime, the big 6-0 would pop up, resulting in massive park renovations, updates of old shows, and all-around spit-and-polish.

A 60th anniversary is the “diamond” anniversary, and thus the park heartily embraced the jeweled theme (glittering diamonds could be found on castle spires, on T-shirts, on signposts, on Mickey Ears), as well as lots of icy blues (in fabric banners, in cupcake frosting, in the flowers planted, in logos).

It's A Small World - familiar to anyone who has ever been here.

It’s A Small World – familiar to anyone who has ever been here.

Lamp post over Casey Jr. Circus Train ride, another 1955 original, named after the train in Dumbo.

Lamp post over Casey Jr. Circus Train ride, another 1955 original, named after the train in Dumbo.

The Mad Tea Party's tea cups have been spinning since opening day in 1955, bringing us six decades of motion sickness.

The Mad Tea Party’s tea cups have been spinning since opening day in 1955, bringing us six decades of motion sickness.

As longtime readers know, I visited for the first time in my life just last year, in March. At the time we felt as though half the park was closed for repairs, and we cursed our bad luck. On this visit, we not only realized why so many renovations happened last year, but we also were able to see and experience all the new stuff!

There are a remarkable number of rides and attractions from 1955 (and those installed in 1958) that are still running today, and those are my particular favourites. I’ll admit, however, that not much can beat the thrill of a modern rollercoaster, or the dazzle of movies shown onto a towering fountain spray of water. And I can honestly say I’d be happy to hanglide in Soarin’ Over California or board a spaceship on Star Tours once a week for a year, because the wonder of flight combined with a sense of realism in those two rides is indescribably exciting.

Goofy walks with a fan through Toon Town.

Goofy walks with a fan through Toon Town.

Blue banners and sparkly spires to celebrate the Diamond Anniversary.

Blue banners and sparkly spires commemorate the Diamond Anniversary.

Metal bonnet over a shop in the New Orleans district.

Metal bonnet over a shop in the New Orleans district.

A larger-than-life ringmaster holds up a tent in Disney California Adventure Park.

A larger-than-life ringmaster holds up a tent in Disney California Adventure Park.

Fabulous rollercoaster above the water in Disney California Adventure Park.

Tara looks out at the fabulous rollercoaster and Ferris wheel above the water in Disney California Adventure Park.

I found a lot of joy this week in observing people find their bliss. Kids went out of their minds with happiness to see their favourite characters, and parents were gleeful when watching their kids interact with the characters. Adults would start to get testy (the crowds, the heat, the lines, the noise), and then suddenly smile and relax as though a voice in their head had just said, “Cool it. You’re at Disneyland.” Teenagers wore completely ridiculous outfits and were proud to be a part of it all. Elderly people walked very slowly and looked for shady spots, and I never saw someone acting impatient with them. Staff went out of their way to get people using wheelchairs into rides. We saw a Disney employee in a wheelchair, and Tara was helped at one store by a Disney employee with Down’s Syndrome.

We are now home, a little sunburned, still recovering our sleep, and still happy.

magical moment

It’s a magical moment for two little girls (the older one got hold of the princess’s hand a few moments later). And then, look at Mom in the back ground.

The Queen

The Queen says to the little girl, “Of course you want me to sign it, because then it will have some value.”
When it was Tara’s turn, their Mickey Mouse pen ran out of ink. “That’s what you get for trying to use a rat to write with,” sneered The Queen. She walked over to a nearby tourist woman, snatched a pen out of her hand, and said, “I’ll be using this.” It was brilliant.

We caught some really great shows. Some on the streets, and some on stage, like this one, featuring King Louie from one of my most beloved Disney movies: The Jungle Book.

We caught some really great shows. Some on the streets, and some on stage, like this one, featuring King Louie from one of my most beloved Disney movies: The Jungle Book.

Tiana, from The Princess and the Frog

Tiana, from The Princess and the Frog

These dancers leapt through the air, launched from stylized surfboards in a piece from Lilo and Stitch, another of my top 5 Disney movie faves.

These dancers leapt through the air, launched from stylized surfboards in a piece from Lilo and Stitch, another of my top 5 Disney movie faves.

Just like last year, I was impressed with the attention to detail in creating realistic scenes to entertain and educate. At the Redwook Creek Challenge, we explored a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout tower.

Just like last year, I was impressed with the attention to detail in creating realistic scenes to entertain and educate. At the Redwook Creek Challenge, we explored a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout tower.

A real U.S. Forest Service jeep was parked outside Eureka Mine No. 2 entrance, at Grizzly River Run (an innertube ride on river rapids).

A real U.S. Forest Service jeep was parked outside Eureka Mine No. 2 entrance, at Grizzly River Run (an inner tube ride on river rapids).

Multiple artist workspaces are installed throughout the parks, and frequently have real Disney artists at work.

Multiple artist work spaces are installed throughout the parks, and frequently have real Disney artists at work.

Captain Hook and Tara were both in good spirits, flashing their hooks.

Captain Hook (despite his rather nasty reputation) and Tara were both in good spirits, flashing their hooks.

Peter Pan has adoring fans. Just catch a load of the face on this girl as she realizes who is walking toward her.

Peter Pan has adoring fans. Just catch a load of the face on this girl as she realizes who is walking toward her.

Oswald (who inspired Mickey) greets his fans.

Oswald (who inspired Mickey) greets his fans.

There's a big Goofy. And a Disney character too!

There’s a big Goofy. And a Disney character too!

Forgive the terrible phone camera image from inside the theatre.

Forgive the terrible phone camera image from inside the theatre.

Arno and I spent an evening at The Moth. He purchased two sets of tickets for me for my birthday. I had asked for The Book of Mormon, but it sold out and instead I got The Moth, and Sherman Alexie.

Why The Moth?
Ask George Dawes Green, the poet and best-selling novelist who is the Founder of The Moth. George wanted to recreate, in New York, the feeling of sultry summer evenings in his native Georgia, where he and his friends would gather on his friend Wanda’s porch to share spellbinding tales. There was a hole in the screen which let in moths that were attracted to the light, and the group started calling themselves The Moths. The first New York Moth event was held in George’s living room, but word spread fast, and the events soon moved to cafes and clubs throughout the city. Audiences are drawn to the stories, like moths to a flame. (excerpt taken from themoth.org)

My anticipation was high before the show, because I am well acquainted with The Moth podcast, where one story per week is selected for my free download. It’s a New York live storytelling show. The audience shows up to hear people tell their own true life stories. Listening for over a year now, I had pieced together how I believed it worked.

When the announcer remarked once how surprised they were that Albert Maysles (whose name caught my attention because Tara and I had just watched the new, and then the old, Grey Gardens) put his name in to tell a story, I assumed people put their name in a hat and were drawn.

When the news before the show included how The Moth was “popping up” in cities around the country, I assumed that it meant local people were using the format and with support from the originators, were doing their own local Moths. At the Portland show, I was expecting all Portland/Oregon natives telling their stories.

Each podcast is accompanied by the Theme of the night, like Beginnings and Endings, or The Good Old Days. An announcer once drew my attention to the fact that a storyteller on the podcast had cleverly worked the exact wording of the theme into her conclusion, and I concocted a theory that not only do people put their name in a hat, but they also get presented with a topic, and must shape their story to match it.

It didn’t work like that. The producers of the New York show follow the same steps to collect story tellers, but bring them onstage in different cities.  Turns out, I am not as well acquainted with The Moth as I wanted to be. But the important thing is that it was a wonderful evening in a stunning venue with the perfect companion. I cried and laughed with every single storyteller.

The first character of the evening was the grand and elegant Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, built in 1928. Outside, one can’t help but feel a thrill at the 65-foot high PORTLAND sign all lit up in actual bulbs, and the broad marquee announcing the show, just like the old days. Inside the decor involves every decorative surface, and is set off with chandeliers casting a candle-like glow. The multiple steep banks of balconies in the theatre itself hold quaintly small seats, as old theatres are wont to do. The effect brought to mind rather modern images though, such as an IMAX theatre or the Grand Convocation Chamber in Star Wars, with audience members stacked above each other at an angle to provide a great view of the blue-lit stage below.

Our first performer was Gideon Freudmann, who played an electric cello in a fantastic design of wooden horns arcing the outlines of where a traditional cello might be, but leaving only air where one would expect a large instrument. Gideon deftly dropped a rock beat onto a loop, and then celloed a melody on top. The music was unexpected and even more beautiful for it. The audience roared appreciation. Gideon’s job was timekeeper, and he’d pull a soft strain across the bow when storytellers hit their 10-minute limit.

Our host from New York was Ophira Eisenburg, a storyteller herself. She said, “People introduce me as Oprah Something-Jewish”, and warmly hugged and introduced each entertainer.  Most had flown in from somewhere else, so I didn’t get a local show really. But one scheduled speaker couldn’t make it and we had a Portlander Kerry Cohen step in and entertain us. So my secret desires were soothed a bit. The stories had been selected ahead of time, so it’s probably likely that the Theme of the night (Heart of Darkness) was selected to pull all the stories together.

Adam Wade displayed his unquestionable storytelling talents when he told us about being an awkward boy taking his Ya Ya and Auntie out for a ride that included the airport, a local make-out spot, and being humiliated by being caught there by the most popular guy in high school. His was the best display of the art of storytelling; where half the joy is in the telling.

Kerry Cohen took us along a path of bad choices culminating in being taken into custody for traveling with a boyfriend trying to smuggle marijuana onto an airplane, and realizing that was probably a sign that she needed to date someone else.

Dori Samadzai Bonner simply put her hands in her pockets and told us about coming to the United States from Pakistan. Her parents could only afford to send her and her brother when they were kids. The smuggler dropped them in Thailand and disappeared. But against the odds they finally made it to the U.S. on Christmas Day (because the second smuggler reasoned that the authorities at the airport would be too happy to scrutinize their fake passports).  She concluded by saying she had always wanted a public forum to say how proud she was to become a citizen years later, and to thank us for giving her a home.

Satoori Shakoor told us how she lost her mother and then her son and thought she died then. But she pulled herself back to life in a new career of corneal donations. She can now take her acute familiarity with grief and recovery, and use it to talk to the bereaved. Corneas only survive a matter of hours after a person has died, before it’s too late to transplant them to bring sight to a living person. Satoori’s unique life experience is put to the high-pressure test of finding a delicate and respectful way to compel the grief-stricken to assist in gaining access to donated eyes.

Jillian Lauren spun a tale almost too fantastical to believe, of an American girl who boarded a plane looking for adventure and entered a desert world of Aladdin myths, with foreign princes and princesses, and the richest man in the world, and parties and palaces. What made it believable was that it was a tale darkened with misery and self-loathing until she finally had the strength to get out of there and come home. Arno said he was reminded of the song I’ve Never Been To Me by Charlene.

We walked from the theatre back to the car in the mild February air (this is the only place I’ve lived where February brings hints of spring). Stay tuned for Birthday show part II, when I plan to sneak a decent camera in and get some great photos of the place.

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