A Theater Must – Spoon River Anthology

Sofie Kline and Chuck Bassett in 'Spoon River Anthology'.

Theater can be hit or miss, not just in a small town like Astoria, but in big cities like New York and Chicago too. Of course Astoria is theater-centric more than most small towns, hell I can’t think of one that comes close, and I am told by local thespians that this is not even the heyday of Astoria theater.  It seems some ten or fifteen years ago, it was even bigger, and I was regaled with stories of the incredible River Theater. Whether the current state of local theater is a boom or a bust, I recently caught the outstanding opening of ‘Spoon River Anthology’ at the historic Liberty Theater.

‘Spoon River Anthology’ dates from 1915, written by Edgar Lee Masters about many actual people that lived in or near the real town of Spoon River, Illinois.  The play consists of a series of brief monologues – actually poems – told by various residents of Spoon River from the grave, and as director Sen Incavo says, “The dead don’t lie”.

Chuck Bassett playing guitar during the Spoon River Anthology.

 

The epitaphs tell of lost love, unscrupulous businessmen, cheating spouses, gold digging women, miserable marriages, young soldiers killed in battle. There are dozens of these brief admissions and a handful of songs, all performed by only four actors – Ann Bronson, Bill Honl, Sofie Kline and Chuck Bassett, Chuck Bassett also plays the guitar throughout. All of the acting is surprisingly good with Bill Honl and Ann Bronson taking on the more dramatic of the characters, literally transforming from one person to another without so much as a costume change.

The play is divided into two acts, each starting with a series of images presented on a screen hung above the actors, the first with images of Spoon River and it’s cemetery, the second moves from stalks of corn and midwestern skies to that of the Columbia River and local forest trails.  This second series of images was perhaps the only element of this show that was less than perfect, as the images of Oregon seem inexplicable and drive us right back to reality, rather than keeping us within the rich tapestry of tales told by Spoon River’s deceased. The lack of a set, lit with only single and dramatic spotlighting, no costume changes, and the fact that four actors took on some three dozen roles, still kept me firmly planted in Spoon River, but the images of the Megler Bridge brought me right back to my seat in the theater.

This play is a must for fans of theater, and even those who are skeptical of community productions will likely enjoy the rich monologues, the excellent acting, and the stories themselves which transcend Spoon River to represent all small towns at any place or time in history. See it before the dead go back to the grave, there are only three performances left.

 

Remaining performances: Feb. 17 at 3 pm, Feb. 22 and 23 at 7:30

At: The Liberty Theater 1203 Commercial Street, Astoria OR

http://www.liberty-theater.org/

Tickets are on sale at the Liberty Theatre Box Office, 1203 Commercial, Astoria 503-325-5922 Ext. 55 or through Ticketswest.com 1-800-992-8499

A letter to Governor Kitzhaber – Why don’t the voters count?

An Open letter to Governor Kitzhaber,

You are making a grave mistake in your choice to deny access to gillnetters on the lower Columbia River. Have you forgotten so quickly that the people of the State of Oregon have spoken just a few short weeks ago when they voted NO! on Measure 81? How can you defy the choice of the people in this matter? The people of Oregon, the entire state from the most affected community of Astoria to the least affected of places like Bend and Grants Pass – the people understand the cultural significance of gillnetting on the lower Columbia River, why don’t you?

This ban has never been about saving salmon, as the same number of fish will be pulled from the river, the only difference now is it will be 100% the booty of sport fishermen who come to the area once a year versus the gillnetters who live in these communities year round, they shop in our stores and participate in our communities 365 days a year, not for a few weeks in August.

Do you not realize gillnetting on the lower Columbia river has been part of this community for 200 years? And even longer, by the native people who taught this trade to the European and pioneer settlers who founded this region. This is a cultural practice of these men and women and this community, and deserves to be protected and even cherished.  Does this mean the Native American people up river will soon be denied this same ability? It would seem they are your next logical target, get them off the river while you bring in privately owned casinos too – are we getting warm? After all it doesn’t seem to matter to you how the people vote.

No one cares more for the Columbia River and the fish that dwell within it than the gillnetters, they are the first defense against poaching and the first alert of problems in the water. They are conservationists by their very trade, as the health of the river and the fish in it are their livelihood.  Once a year sport fishermen are never going to have the same understanding if something is off in the rhythm of the river. Perhaps Governor, you are not aware that he gillnetters are the reason we have fish ladders on the dams up river. Gillnetters fought for the fish ladders without which there would be no salmon for anyone to catch, this was somehow overlooked in the design and building of the dams, but it was not overlooked by the fishermen who depended on the river to survive.

Do you not realize with the misguided stroke of your pen you have put some 200 small, family-owned businesses out of business? If by that same measure 200 businesses were eliminated from any other community it would be an outrage. Is that the goal? Has the plan all along been to remove entrepreneurship from the options of Columbia River area Oregonians? Is the goal to eliminate this form of independent business to make way for more minimum wage Walmart greeters? Gillnetting is one of the few industries the people of Clatsop County have that isn’t based on the mercy of tourism, which as wonderful as that is does little to create living wage jobs in a community.

Many of the gillnetters here on the Columbia River have done this for generations of their lineage, is it part of their identity, it is part of the fabric of the lower Columbia River community. These brave men and women gillnet on the lower Columbia River, also crab during that season, and typically do even more within this community to make ends meet. What happens to these families? Are you happy with the possibility that you are removing their ability to earn a living and will possibly put them on the mercy of already overloaded state social programs or that this new stress in their household will likely break up families and cause irreparable harm to the communities in which they live?

Is it your goal to create strife between the gillnetters and an entire community with sport fishermen? Let’s again look at the sport fishermen – they are already allocated 80% of the fishing on the lower Columbia River, why do they need it all? Sport fishermen are in it for the sport, for them it is as much about camaraderie, and vacationing as it is about fish, I would guess 50% of the fish caught by these sportsmen end up forgotten in their freezers for months until they finally go in the trash. The gillnetter on the other hand sells their fish to support their families, this in turn supports local restaurants who’s owners also have families (and much of the local restaurant business is about regional cuisine and that includes Columbia River salmon), it also affects the small canneries in the community and every business in the community, every school, and all of the people in the community.

Let me ask you Gov. Kitzhaber, how many gillnetters did you meet with before you made this life changing decision? How many gillnetting boats did you go out on to investigate the situation and the occupation? Finally, how many sport fishermen donated to your campaign?

The People of Oregon understand there is no logical reason to take the gillnetters off the river, that is why they voted against Measure 81. Perhaps there is some more sinister plan for the river – whether it be making room for pipelines, fracking, coal shipments or some other industrial endeavor that will render the lower Columbia River suitable ONLY for sport fishing, and not for actually eating the public resource of salmon from? Only you know the reason for the misguided decision, and the voters obviously do not count.  The voters will remember this when your reelection comes.

Sincerely,

Shane and Amy Bugbee

Astoria TV

Salmon For All, All For the Salmon

Salmon For All, All For the Salmon

On the Oregon ballot this year is a measure titled Measure 81, it was created by a Texas based conservation organization called the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) in an effort to end commercial gillnetting on the Columbia River. Gillnetting was invented by Native Americans hundreds if not thousands of years ago and taught to European settlers along the Columbia River nearly two hundred years ago. Commercial gillnetters started organizing back in the 1860s and founded the Columbia River Fishermen’s Protective Union in 1884 which survives to this day. They have been fishing the waters of the lower Columbia ever since, catching fish to earn money to feed their families, and share a public resource with the public.

What will happen if this ban is approved is hundreds of small business owners (fishermen) will be immediately put out of business, these are often small one or two man operations, sometimes passed down for generations of families, and the families of these fishermen depend on the income. That will in turn affect every single business in Astoria and beyond, these small businesses will no longer be purchasing gear for their operations, they will no longer have that income in which to survive, this will affect fish processors, canneries, and fish markets, as well as banks, clothing stores, auto dealers, grocers and most dramatically restaurants.

Oregon restaurants will be forced to pay exorbitant prices for fish or they will have to rely on far away suppliers, often foreign and worse yet, large fishing ships that instead of catching a few fish at a time literally sweep the ocean from the water’s surface to the sea floor, destroying reefs, and creating countless tons of waste, as the marine life they are not in the market for is ground up and spit back into the ocean by the ton. Many of the local restaurants and coastal restaurants in Oregon that specialize in local fish will end up closing, many will not be able to afford the much higher priced fish shipping from Alaska, and many will not be willing to sell fish caught by China and other nations in these giant wasteful fishing ships.

This will devastate Astoria and Clatsop County, it will harm tourism, and it will destroy families, is this what we want in Oregon? You might be saying, “But the Salmon will be saved!”  Actually no, the same number of salmon will still be pulled from the river, but instead of being pulled by commercial fisherman and sportsmen, only sport fishermen will be allowed to catch salmon on the Columbia River, this may improve tourism in the short term, but when these sport fisherman pull into a ghost town with hungry unemployed people milling about and few businesses to enjoy, they will not want to return. In fact they may become a target of hostility to many affected by this change of life on the river.

Gillnetters and commercial fisherman in general have a deep love and respect for the ocean the Columbia River and the fish that sustain them, they are often the greatest conservationists when it comes to protecting fisheries, and a good portion of the costs involved in gillnetting goes into protection and conservation of these fish. If we lose commercial gillnetting or have it severely cut as Governor Kitzhaber suggests, the expenses of protecting and sustaining the fisheries will fall on the shoulders of tax payers who may or may not enjoy salmon at all, it will become a burden on the public, and if the public refuses to support such a cost, then no one will be protecting the salmon, and where will that leave these marvelous creatures?

Ending commercial gillnetting on the Columbia River serves no one, not even the fish, it destroys a culture that has survived for hundreds of years, it jeopardizes the rights of Native Americans, as eventually they too will be targeted, and it will act as a disaster to the community on which salmon is so heavily based. Astoria’s delicate economy is just gaining a footing after losing all but a few small canneries over the decades, it is building new industries and is becoming a destination for people to visit and enjoy, to eliminate gillnetting as a commercial venture will put an end to all of the progress this city has made, and it will affect all of Clatsop County and much of the coast of Oregon, as people wanting to enjoy local delicacies such as Spring Chinook will now turn to Washington and California instead.

Astoria TV stands behind gillnetters, and urges you to vote NO on Measure 81, stop the unnecessary destruction of this indigenous way of life. And, stop the Governor from making a grave mistake that will impact an entire community in devastating ways.

By Amy Bugbee

13th Fisher Poets Gathering

Three days ago I had no clue what a Fisher Poet Gathering was.

I knew what a poet was, I had a good idea what a fisher was, and I have been to my fair share of so-called gatherings, but I had no clue what these three words meant when strung together, nor what they would mean to me after a weekend at The Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria, Oregon. In retrospect, I can only compare it to what it must have been like when The Beats of the 50s began to get notice – Ginsburg, Burroughs, Kerouac, or the early days of Johnny Cash and Sun Records, or maybe a little closer to home, the creation of “Grunge Music”.

Now, in its thirteenth year, the gathering welcomed more than 1000 patrons, many of which appeared to be well worn professional seamen. The Fisher Poets Gathering offered some 70 different performers. Men and women, all fishing industry professionals – Real skippers and deck hands, real cannery workers. Many represented generations of fishermen, the once common experience of children working with their parents, perhaps only in fishing does this still exist. The performances were varied, brilliant and done with gut wrenching sincerity. I can say in all of the scheduled poets there was not one that was mediocre, not one. Sure, some I liked more than others, but that is only personal preference, it was all quality, it was all profound in it’s own way.

There were four participating venues – the main event was held at the Astoria Event Center, which was broadcast on KMUN, the local community radio station, The Voodoo Room, The Wet Dog Cafe, and Baked Alaska. Plus, several related short films showed at the Columbian Theater – right next to The Voodoo Room, and there were two art shows and a variety of Saturday workshops. Every single event was packed. Each hour offered three performers and then 5 or 10 minutes to get to the next program – downtown Astoria is so especially suited to an event such as this because everything in downtown is within about a three block radius.

What I witnessed is what I imagine would be Jack London or John Steinbeck’s dream for the men and women depicted in their stories. These are hard working, hard living men and women, who are smart, thoughtful and sometimes brilliant. “There is no ego here”, Dave Densmore, Astoria’s most famous “Fisher Poet” says of the event. “We flex our ego out there”, motioning toward the sea.

There were some stars, but all of the stories, songs and poems were beautiful and informative. Each day seemed like the next day could not be better but inevitably it was. On Friday there were certainly a few more nerves than the next few days, and by Sunday the poets were calm and cool.

The weekend began with a musical performance by event founders Jon Broderick and Jay Speakman. I still have the chorus “The girl with dark eyes at the cannery” going through my head, and it has been a few days now. Then we headed to the Voodoo Room for the token cowboy poet Ron McDaniel from Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, (seemed strange but fit perfectly into the program, after all who is as lonely on the job as fishermen but cowboys). He was followed by tales of a haunted tug boat from Fred Bailey of British Columbia and then from Robert Powell of Florida, a story of a 29 foot boat hauling a 95 foot long mast for some 300 miles — and he had the photos to prove it. Also wonderful were Mary Garvey’s beautiful old songs, sung a cappella. She appears to be the musical historian for fishing songs of the region, and there are many. My favorite was ‘Seaview Bells’, as much for the story behind the song, as the fact I live in Seaview.

From there it was over to the Wet Dog for two of the event’s favorites – Dave Densmore and Geno Leech. It was a very warm and tender moment when Dave introduced Geno as his best friend, and read a poem he had written for him. With Dave it is amazing to see such sensitivity pour out of such a dangerous looking fellow, Geno on the other hand goes into a Jim Morrison style trance reciting his words completely from memory with a strange sort of solitary slow dance.

A great surprise was Steve Schoonmaker who especially stood out for the strength and pain of his beautiful words, and I was lucky enough to see him perform again on Saturday. Another interesting performance came from Lara Lee Messersmith Glavin who grew up in a fishing family and told the story of her father’s – a screamer of a skipper – tale of near death on the open seas.

Friday rounded up with the finale at the Astoria Event Center with Clem Stark, a fisher/carpenter poet who won the Oregon State Book Award for his work, and Jon Campbell of Rhode Island performing poetry and songs with a guitar he made. He offered a great poem called “We never looked so bad until Discovery came on board” about the cable channel’s recent love of the fisherman and his experience being under their lens.

Saturday began with the “Story Circle” at the Astoria Convention Center, a half dozen men and women calmly told harrowing tales of loss and near loss. One man recalled nearly dying tangled in nets and ropes, another spoke of loosing a fellow deck hand, reaching out and just touching fingertips as he went over the side. This is a lifestyle for the very few, and those that do it, deserve our honor and respect. I must say here that every single fisherman had a story about death on the seas, which was a real eye opener – all this death and suffering to bring salmon to the world, to put crab on your plate. I will never look at my seafood the same again, I will eat it with thanks and pride. And, I will never ever eat farm raised fish again!

Moe Bowstern, female fisherman and zinester started out our evening program with some songs and some great stories from the seldom heard female perspective, then the encore of Steve Schoonmaker, who with the leathered face of a real tough guy delivered sensitive prose with the mastery of a victorian lord. Next, Rob Seitz from Chinook offered several humorous poems. Aftewards we headed over to The Voodoo Room for another Chinooker, Geno Leech, it was packed, and a wall of poetry fans were forced to watch from the doorway, straining to hear over the street sounds behind us. Giving up on that, I headed to The Wet Dog where the stage was bare, so it was back to the Astoria events center for the finale of the evening with none other than Dave Densmore.

After two unsuccessful days of making it to an open mike event, Sunday was our day, with a morning gospel and then several hours of open mike performances, many of which were extraordinary, and several that put a tear in my eye. Three performances stand out as favorites, Dave Densmore offered a moving story about saving a baby seal that got caught up in a friends net, and a gentleman whose name I did not catch offered a near rap about his boat breaking down, called ‘Pushing A Rope’. Finally, a wheel chair bound Smitty received a standing ovation for his poem and for being the god-father of the Fisher Poets Gathering.

The Gathering disbanded about 1pm on Sunday, most of the speakers milled about afterwards, taking photos, exchanging information, handshakes and hugs. To me this was a mind blowing event, life changing, seriously. I asked a number of people about Fisher Poets in other places, but here in Astoria is the place, and these brave men and women are changing the world with their poetry. I just witnessed what I believe may become the biggest Northwest export since Grunge Music.

-Amy Stocky