8 Days A Week: Distant Clams, Tough Stories, and a Sprinkling of Wes Anderson

THURSDAY 20

 

ART BRINGETH TOGETHER | If you haven't driven by the cheerfully Lego-tastic sculpture adjacent the Portland Museum of Art along High Street, God bless you. It's the work of Ogunquit-based Jonathan Borofsky (who'd surely be annoyed I called his work Lego-tastic, but how do you describe art to the amorphous and indifferent masses?) The piece is a lovely meditation on the interconnectedness of society, and the Boston-raised Borofsky himself is a master of contemporary installation, his towering works permanently on public display in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Munich, and Los Angeles. Tonight, hear a talk about Borofsky's work and the piece he designed for Portland, said to connect the city to San Francisco, Vancouver, and Beijing, with independent curator Patterson Sims and the artist himself. | FREE | 6:30 pm | Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Sq. Portland | www.portlandmuseum.org

TELLING | Reliably entertaining is tonight's Sound Bites program, which collects hot personalities, amateur storytellers, and Moth StorySlam champions. Put on by the venerable Salt Institute for Documentary Studies and Lewiston's telling series The Corner, tonight's program consists of tales on the prompt of "Out of the Frying Pan, and Into the Fire," and features Portland writer Kari Wagner-Peck, Moth GrandSlam champion Erin Barker, Sound Bites returnee and Auburn resident Alia Abdulahi, Moth winner and counselor Kevin Gallagher, and Biddeford's Ryan Fecteau, the youngest openly gay representative in the state. | $9 | 7:30 pm | Frontier, 14 Maine St., Brunswick | www.explorefrontier.com

REPORTING IN | In December of 2016, the artistic director of upstart Portland theater troupe 60 Grit set out to collect stories of men and women in long-term recovery. Informed by personal experience and a faith in the healing power of storytelling and theater, the company set out to find actors to use the stories as source material to devise original theater on this difficult theme. Described as "part whimsy, part physical theater," the play, titled Unsinkable, runs for one weekend only at the Portland Ballet Studio on Forest Avenue. Tickets are $15, but tonight's preview is $10. | $10-15 | Thu-Sun 7:30 pm | Portland Ballet Studio, 517 Forest Ave., Portland | http://60grit.brownpapertickets.com/

FRIDAY 21

BODY OF WORK | The SPACE Gallery artist-in-residence, Keijaun Thomas, a femme-identifying artist who creates live performances and multimedia oscillations that, she says, function as social tools. In her own words, Thomas "makes work primarily about and for a black and brown audience," deploying symbols, histories and referents "that construct notions of Black identity within black personhood." Having shown work New York, L.A., Paris, Taipei, Saskatechewan, Miami, and many other places around the globe, Thomas performs her original work-in-progress work — a visceral piece involving nudity, spoken word, and music titled "My Last American Dollar" — tonight at 6. | FREE | 6 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | www.space538.org

COUNT YOUR VALVES | That's right, it's the Yarmouth Clam Festival. Now in its 52nd year (a shocking thing if you think about it), the annual summer fete doesn't seem to have suffered from the obvious elephant-in-the-room regarding the state's clam harvest. Launching tonight at 10 pm, you know what you're getting with this one. | FREE | 10 pm through the weekend | Yarmouth Clam Festival, 162 Main St. Yarmouth | www.clamfestival.com

PASSED OUT IN THE STORM | I'd be lying if I didn't say I spent my first few years as a teenager eagerly anticipating Portland appearances by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I'd also be lying if I didn't see many of Portland's now-upstanding citizens also waiting in line, wearing similarly ugly clothing. I'd even be lying if I said there wasn't a tattered cassette out there of a very youthful band I played in covering a song by Bosstones' singer Dicky Barrett's first band, the unfathomably crucial and utterly listenable '80s hardcore group Impact Unit. The jury may still be out if the Bosstones' brand of post-punk, frat-ready, ska-core aged well, but the times certainly did. For a band obsessed with drinking and devil-worship whose singer made do with a truly unlistenable voice, they were a remarkably positive band. (Dicky Barrett once snuck a 13-year-old me in to a sold out show — I've got nothing bad to say about him.) On what might very well be their last tour, see if those memories don't hold up. | FREE | 8 pm | Aura, 121 Center St., Portland | www.auramaine.com

 

YOUTH SAY | The ever-ambitious youth crew Kesho Wazo and their voracious art appetites have generated their own festival this weekend, kicking off tonight with a "multi-faith blessing" in Fox Field in Bayside's Kennedy Park, that may or may not dissolve into a dance party. They encourage all attendees to wear white and bring flags of countries represented by Mainers from around the globe. The three-day weekend festival continues with a kickball game Saturday and a community clean-up Sunday. | $10-20 donation | 6 pm | Fox Field at Kennedy Park, Fox & Anderson Sts., Portland | https://www.eventbrite.com/e/wazo-fest-tickets-35902871455

 

SATURDAY 22

PRINT YOUR LIFE OUT | The wonderful Portland-based art collective Pickwick Independent Press hosts a festival of their original works and others' today in Congress Square Park. If your living room (or bathroom or foyer) needs some sprucing, head over. | FREE | 10 am to 2 pm | Congress Square Park, Portland | https://www.pickwickindependentpress.com/

COSMIC VIBES ARE A PLUS | What's that? Another homegrown festival? Giddy up. The first annual Cosmic Bridge Festival smushes bands like Nuclear Bootz, the Bumbling Woohas, Lacuna, Burr, Safe/Word, and many others together for a hopefully fun day in the sun. A lot of these groups are a year or two old, and many of them make up the vanguard of Portland's indie-, post-, or whatever-rock scene. Live a little, friends! | FREE | 8:30 pm | Thomas Knight Park, 18 Ocean St., South Portland

 

OUT GO THE LIGHTS | Of course, tonight's major order of business is the return of snazzy-ass rock band Spoon, debatably one of the most popular groups in the world the last five years (to folks equipped with a particular wiring of radar). They play with the resurgent New Pornographers, the power-pop project of Neko Case and A.C. Newman, whose new album, Whiteout Conditions, is too good to consider arriving to the State Theatre late. In fact, you're gonna need to pregame for this around 4 pm, as the psych-rock musician Jeff Beam opens this one, a cosmic reward for throwing a Spoon afterparty two years ago that caught the attention of frontman Britt Daniel and made national news. | $32-37 | 8 pm | State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland | www.statetheatreportland.com

 

SUNDAY 23

MANY PATHS | Oddly, the singer Chuck Mosely, a one-time member of Bad Brains and Faith No More, appears at Mathew's tonight, playing songs on an acoustic tour. If the shoe fits, wear it. | 7 pm | Mathew's Pub, 133 Free St., Portland

MAKESHIFT PICNIC | If the sun be roaring and your belly be dancing, head to Slab this afternoon as the Grateful Dead devotees of A Band Beyond Description, who've been summoning Jerry vibes since 2000, play an outdoor set. Doesn't hurt that the pizza's unfuckwithable, either. | 3 pm | Slab, 25 Preble St., Portland | www.slabportland.com

MONDAY 24

GATHER ROUND | Indie pop songwriter Chris Robley’s storytelling series, Verses Vs. Verses returns this week, with a showcase of the creative musings of three interesting locals. Fitting the new theme of “Fun House,” singer/songwriter Emilia Dahlin, songstress Hannah Daman, and poet Rachel Contreni Flynn will share what words and ideas they’ve linked together. | FREE | 5:30 pm | Blue, 650 Congress St., Portland | http://portcityblue.com/

FOR THE BEES | Some of the toughest words that Spelling Bee competitors have had to spell out over the years include unattractive words like xanthosis, logorrhea, pococurante, and chiaroscurist. Yes, those are real words but don’t ask us what they mean, because we already forgot. Hopefully the words at Arcadia's Intoxicated Spelling Bee are bit more palatable because if not, the 15 people signed up for the challenge won’t be able to spit them out — especially all boozed up. But hey, isn’t that the fun of it? | FREE | 8 pm | Arcadia National Bar, 24 Preble St., Portland | http://arcadiaportland.com/

TUESDAY 25


LA VIDA LOCA |
For better or for worse, hot '90s pop hits will likely stay branded in the memory of most millennials and Gen Xers. Will we ever forget the words to such timeless odes to youth like “Wonderwall,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and even “...Baby One More Time”? Probably not. Stride confidently down memory lane when singer/songwriter Caroline Cotter resurrects nostalgic songs from the '90s with a little help from Monique Barrett, Connor Garvey, Sorcha Cribben-Merrill, Jed Bresette, Ashley Storrow, Dave Richardson, Michael Howard, William Joseph Jiordan, and Joel Thetford.
| FREE | 5:30 pm | Blue, 650A Congress St., Portland | http://portcityblue.com/

STRANGER THINGS | Maybe your week needs a solid dose of weirdness. The Urban Farm’s got you covered with a cheap show featuring a solid lineup of big-thinkers adept at sounds waves in the fringe-genres. Guiding you through this night of kombucha-n-dance fueled introspection is the experimental psychedelic pop artist Count Vaseline, the three piece electronic brotherhood of Lyokha, and the oddly beguiling vocals of the Asthmatic, aka Sigrid Harmon. Come feel all the feels. | $10 | 7:30 pm | Urban Farm Fermentory, 200 Anderson St., Portland

WEDNESDAY 26

WITH YOUR BEST SHOT | Here’s a rare chance to see one of the '80s boldest and most distinctive rock 'n' roll lovebirds perform their greatest hits live and in the flesh. Transport yourself back to the golden age of MTV when the powerhouse duo of Pat Benatar and her guitar wizard husband Neil Giraldo take the stage at the Maine State Pier during their “We Ride For Love” tour. | $25-80 | 6-9 pm | Maine State Pier, Portland | http://mainestatepier.boxoffice-tickets.com/

IRANIAN ACTION | For some reason, many Westerners are surprised to learn that Iran has snowy capped mountains, let alone skiers and snowboarders. It’s almost like the country is reduced to a desert wasteland stereotype in the minds of some ignorant Americans, despite featuring beautiful and varied environments. In reality, Iran is a superb spot for action sports; plenty of people skate, ski, and surf there. Broaden your horizons just a tiny bit with the Maine Surfers Union, as they watch and discuss an adrenaline-pumping series of mini-docs titled, We Ride In Iran. | FREE | 6:30 pm | Oxbow Blending and Bottling, 49 Washington Ave., Portland | http://oxbowbeer.com/

UNITED ALLIES | Resisting oppression often comes with legal consequences. Explore the pros, costs, and risks associated with confrontation and protest, during this Tilted Guide to Being a Defendant book release and talk. The Portland CONFRONT Community Network and the Tilted Scales Collective will lay down the framework to “combat state repression and come out stronger as a result.” This learning experience couldn’t have come at a better time. | FREE | 7 pm | Urban Farm Fermentory, 200 Anderson St., Portland | https://www.fermentory.com/

COLORS GALORE | The next film in Bayside Bowl’s Summer Rooftop Series is a delightful one. Folks there are screening Wes Anderson’s latest movie (and instant classic) The Grand Budapest Hotel. Even if you don’t find the antics between legendary European hotel concierge Monsieur Gustave and his lobby boy Moustafa unpredictably amusing, you’ll be floored by the film’s colorful and meticulously thought out cinematography. Seriously, almost every frame of this film could double as a painting. | FREE | 8 pm | Bayside Bowl, 58 Alder St., Portland | https://www.baysidebowl.com/

THURSDAY 27

DOGGIE DAYS | This summer feels like it’s flying by; that’s not just us right? Take advantage of the warm air and plant yourself on Slab’s patio for an evening jam sesh with the Latin inspired band Primo Cubano. Next Thursday offers plenty of other cultural escapes from the daily grind including a Fleet Foxes concert on Thompson’s Point, and the continuation of the well received POV Summer movies series at the PMA. Hmmm, what else does Portland got going on? The Global Shapers Hub are hosting a conversation and SPACE Gallery, that we all should be having more often, to be honest: how do we empower young people to stay living and working in Maine? Apart from that, we’ll tell you where to get the best beer and oyster deals, and what’s up with the resurgence of Pecha Kucha shows lately. Catch the details between these pages in about 8 days.

A Show of Support — Able Baker's 'Selvedge' Sees Painting Through a Totally Different Grain

In a show that feels both formally radical and historically reverent, Selvedge — on view now at Able Baker Contemporary — grapples with the practice of painting through a new lens. The nine women’s works shown in this exhibition — including Portland painter and muralist Tessa Greene O’Brien, who began curating it last November — share in their effort to sublimate the process of painting through methods and practices associated with textile-making.

This allows an innovation into the form that these welltrained painters deploy affectingly, but the idea itself is hardly new. O’Brien makes studious mention of historical influences, most notably the Support/Surfaces art movement originating in the south of France in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Bound together by political disenfranchisement, Support/Surfaces artists sought to deconstruct the medium by isolating and modulating its core components of medium, support, and surface, sloughing off historical references, representation, or intentional expressions of sentiment.

MariaMolteni TennisPanties

Maria Molteni, Tennis Panties, 2016, sewn cotton, athletic mesh, fringe, tennis balls

 

Ranging in age from 21 to sixty something and each coming from a strong pedigree, it may nonetheless be a stretch to say this show’s artists share political sentiments as strong as their forebears. On the other hand, any consideration of textiles as a fine art form intersecting with the capital-e Establishment history of painting (clumped together as it is by innumerable male idols) is political in its own right. To employing the medium and process of textile- and fabric-making imbues the show with the historical weight of the labors of women the world over — from those working from factories in Iran during the Shah’s rule to the African-American slave women quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, to women working in textile mills in colonial New England.

Given that historical weight, viewing Selvedge is surprisingly an enjoyable, often playful affair. Maria Molteni’s Untitled (Painted Tennis Net), a 13-foot climbing rope with cargo/tennis knots and vibrantly neon-green acrylic paint, registers as a sort of aesthetic mashup of the works of Alex Da Corte and ‘70s French artist Daniel Dezeuze. Erica Licea-Kane’s series of acrylic pigment on acrylic fabric are busy and linear, their tight webbing striking a balance between earthy mosaics and De Stijl arithmetics. And the light, inventive works of Maine College of Art grad Isabelle O’Donnell nod toward, among others, Portland artist and educator Elizabeth Jabar’s work in this field.

MarthaTuttle Weather

Martha Tuttle, Weather (3), 2017, wool, silk, dye

 

The handwoven, tactile pieces of Martha Tuttle are some of the shows most inviting highlights. A series titled Like Water I Have No Skin merges wool, silk, and natural dyes in muted, serene color fields, as does the painterly and arrestingly calming Weather (3), a structure of light, free-hanging fabric bound together by weights and pins. Gauzy and ethereal, it’s one of the best representations of the show’s conceit, effortlessly conveying how simple layered textiles can change the way artists approach the medium of paint (and vice versa). Similarly, Beth Kleene’s 4 Eyes in the gallery window, a 50” x 44” tapestry of bright orange acrylic, ink, and hand-dyed cotton fabric, fuses the Portland artist’s typically splashy and jewel-like paintings with the quiet hypnotic finesse of 20th-century quilt work.

A collection of odder, smaller, and less serious-seeming works is peppered along a “salon wall” in the main floor, helping to further articulate the act of textile work through the lens of painting. Notable among them are Cassie Jones’s vibrantly distinct series of acrylic, felt, and staples on panel. To non-artists — and I mean this as a mark of distinction — Jones’s pieces might look as if they’re ripped right out of a Teletubbies episode, but that’s a testament to their playful execution, imaginative coloration, and brilliant deployment of shape and contour. I’m told Jones doesn’t make work like this anymore, but their inclusion here is another helpful illustration of the show’s ideas.

Susan Metrican WormThroughHere

 

Susan Metrican, Worm Through Here, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 50” X 40”

O’Brien perhaps too modestly includes only two of her own pieces here. A gifted painter and muralist whose use of color typically dazzles, her stuff in Selvedge first seemed to me to be uncharacteristically dowdy and dark. But both pieces — the rugged coveralls-as-color field trick of Bonanza and the dyed canvas cushion flecked with different blots of paint she’s titled Painting for Bella — are impossible to assess without imagining the sweat put into them, and smartly add a bit of grit to the overall palette. After all, having produced a dazzling show that honors art traditions having as much to do with labor as invention, she’s definitely done the work.

 


Selvedge, mixed media group exhibition | Through August 5 | At Able Baker Contemporary, 29 Forest Ave., Portland | Thu-Sat 1-5:30pm |  www.ablebakercontemporary.com

Nick Schroeder can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Getting Off the Map — The Magical Properties of Jared Fairfield's 'The Protecting Cloak'

Island life is fuckin’ tight. There are no goddamn computers, feral children run naked through the woods, and everyone eats unidentifiable foodstuff from a giant clawfoot tub in an abandoned plot.

‘kay, that’s not totally true, but the difference between life on Portland and its peripheral islands is stark. And as anyone smart enough to know knows, once the shittiness and banality of city life piles up (it does), that once-innocent escape feels like a world you never want to leave.

And the thing about The Protecting Cloak, the new full-length by Peaks Island-dwelling experimental musician Jared Fairfield, is that once you begin to listen, you never cease to want to listen. It’s like the other night in that hot tub when a dude showed me his tattoo of an Ouroboros running up and down his thigh. Fairfield’s gorgeous album swallows its tail and breathes again, and over the course of its 14 songs and 33 minutes, you forget where it begins or ends. Or if it ever began or ended at all.

Those who’ve kept their ears real low to the ground surely remember Fairfield as the recording artist he was many years back, when his bright-sounding, falsetto-laden psych-folk would surface on the L’Animaux Tryst label among other astral planes. What differs at this point — even from 2015’s Worldless, a more straightforward (by his standards) pop record — is Fairfield’s commitment to pure woozy ambience, a decommissioning of the folkisms of his own musical past. Released on Portland label Pretty Purgatory, Worldless was similarly drenched in hazy synths and twinkling effects, but the album still seemed firmly rooted in the vocabulary and atmosphere of folk psychedelia. Put another way, it still seemed like it belonged to the world. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but the way The Protecting Cloak strips away the tired appurtenances of the form, embracing a pure ethereal formlessness in their wake, it feels so liberating — sexy, even — to get away from it. It’s as if the transcendence Fairfield was seeking finally occurred.

As a result, the world he creates here is wistful and vulnerable, yet nothing is unpleasant. Fragmented slide guitar patterns construct the arc of “Drifted Night,” as Fairfield’s autotuned vocals gleam in the fore. Those enthused by the more recent murky post-folk deconstructions of Justin Vernon could enjoy what’s happening here, but so would noiseniks who get off on the nostalgic aural playgrounds of Grouper, Philip Jeck, Dedekind Cut or The Caretaker. He folds vaguely rainforesty timbres into a supremely chill palette for “The Gift Giver”’s patient interstitial dub. The stereo synth waves of album-best “Voice in the Water” blurs toy sounds and nocturnal textures with a yearningyet-indecipherable autotune refrain. Only the title track, with its muted slide-guitar-ish synth and twinkling carousel melodies, contains wisps of the folk world he’s left behind.

I’m cheating a bit here, because I saw Fairfield perform recently, and even though I was sober(ish), it transported me. What the dude played (dudes, actually — he’s taken to collaborating live with fellow keyboard player James Marcel) was a heady set of vocal-heavy, post-ironic (that is, unironic) R&B-inspired tracks that were drippingly lovely to witness. This album isn’t that, but the spirit and vibes are all there, and it seems like a necessary stepping stone to that world. And a reminder that the one we’re presently in isn’t always as worth writing about.


The Protecting Cloak | By Jared Fairfield | cassette & digital | Released by Wilt.Press | www.wilt.press

Nick Schroeder can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Công Tử Bột Elevates Without Sacrificing Authenticity

For better or worse, inner Washington Ave. and the neighborhoods it connects have experienced a great deal of change in recent years. While rising rents and the inevitable displacement of lower-income families represent the darker side of change, a shining light can be seen in the drive and passion shared by those who are actively working to revitalize the Nissen building and its neighboring storefronts. In just a few short years, the landscape has morphed from a strip of vacancies into a thriving community of food and drink establishments that includes Oxbow Blending & Bottling, Drifters Wife, Terlingua and the excellent Izakaya Minato.

The latest to join the list is Công Tử Bột, which — even with its limited opening night menu — proved to offer an entirely unique dining experience not found elsewhere in the city.

It should be noted that opening night is rarely an indication of a restaurant’s true prowess — a scathing review highlighting missteps and a laundry list of perceived problems would be irresponsible to publish. Kinks take time to unravel and should be expected up-front to an extent. When a restaurant and its staff are able to fire on all cylinders from day one like Công Tử Bột did last Thursday, however, opening night can be an excellent indication and intriguing tease of things to come.

EXT

PHO WALK WITH ME Công Tử Bột's vaguely Lynchian signage

Owned and operated by Tandem Coffee Roasters co-founders Jessica Sheahan and Vien Dobui, it’s no surprise the space that houses Công Tử Bột is well-designed. Warm neon lighting bounces off of a beautiful matte wood bar that snakes around the open kitchen, calling to mind a Nintendo-era realization of Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” R&B and lively conversation fill the room — Usher’s “Nice and Slow” comes on, the lights dim. A lowered garage door wall randomly filters in shadows and street noise. The vibe is decidedly youthful.

Though a 30 to 45-minute wait remains a constant throughout the evening, service never flounders. Jessica runs front-of-house operations, Vien manages a kitchen of three. Three or four servers float effortlessly around the room, replacing water and removing spent dishes without a break in the action.

The meal begins with Cà Phê Sữa Dá; Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk. Though the drink is a favorite of mine, it’s often imbalanced and sickeningly sweet — not so at Công Tử Bột. Once mixed via spoon and poured over ice, the coffee is just sweet enough without showing any bitterness, with mocha notes present throughout. Even if you don’t have time to sit down, it’s worth stopping in for a cup to go when the sun is blaring down.

Công Tử Bột bills itself as a “phở cafe,” and the Phở Gà (house-style chicken phở) is a prerequisite to experiencing the rest of the menu. A heady, extremely light broth bubbles away and is perfectly seasoned for balance, avoiding the temptation of becoming a clove or anise bomb. Crispy shallots meld perfectly with mild, impossibly tender poached chicken. Garnished with the typical amalgamation of sprouts, greens and fiery sliced chilies, the soup is carried by a heaping portion of thick, hearty noodles, making it the ultimate comfort food and a must-order during the winter season.

Hủ Tiếu Xào was especially impressive, a dish of stir-fried rice noodles with scallions, “many chilis,” peanuts, daily vegetable and brown sauce. The dish is numbingly hot up-front, while sparing the back of the tongue to some extent and calling to mind the “Ma La” dichotomy characteristic of Sichuan cuisine. The caramelized noodles are unlike any I’ve had in Portland, with a depth of flavor highlighted by the aggressive usage of spicy chilis. Fresh raw cucumbers and cilantro add a cooling foil to the heat, which is tamed only by taking generous swigs of Tiger lager.

Gỏi Cải Bắp — a salad of cabbage, ginger, chilies, fish sauce and herbs — also helps to cleanse the palate between dishes. Extremely refreshing, the textural crunch of the cabbage plays nicely off of a sweet and salty dressing of fish sauce and lime, augmented by a strong mint presence. Cơm Chiên (fried rice with egg, XO and herbs), though a bit dry, helped bridge the gap between the healing phở and incendiary Hủ Tiếu Xào.

Dessert was Kem Flan, listed on the menu as “Saigon-style Flan w/ Coffee Ice,” and an excellent end to the meal. The silky, satin-like vanilla flan was beautifully formed and topped with a crumble of coffee ice that added a pleasantly bitter contrast to the sweet custard. Even more interesting was the temperature contrast between the flan and the ice, which reminded me of a sweet application of the same concept as the mustard greens with ice served at Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok restaurants.

Though Huong’s, Thanh Thanh 2 and Saigon all offer up great food and a pleasant dining experience, Công Tử Bột is in a category all its own. The space is lively, the menu is playfully self-aware — Chè Khúc Bạch is described as “sweet soup w/ rambutan, ice, and various jellies. Very trendy in 2013.” Gratuity is included in what are already lower-than-expected price points, too, which should serve as an interesting experiment and benchmark for other restaurants looking to follow suit.

Công Tử Bột got it right on opening night and is a welcomed addition to the neighborhood. If the Lynchian-blue “Phở” sign in the window is lit, you know what to do.


 

Công Tử Bột | 61 Washington Ave., Portland | Thurs-Mon 5–10 pm | http://congtubot.com/

Erik Neilson can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Homecoming: What Keeps Bebe Buell Rockin'

In a time where rock 'n’ roll has lost a lot of its shine, its sparkle, its bark and its bite, we need some artists to stay true to form. We need someone who never caves into the projections and the trends. Rock 'n’ roll used to be a real thing. An honest thing. It wasn’t so planned out and stripped of its rawness. It was there in the bloodline of the streets, swerving through the malls, popping out of magazines and hot on your radio. It was exploding on stage.

 

Luckily, one of Portland’s favorite former inhabitants comes home this weekend to bring that honest rock 'n’ roll spirit back to us with her show, “Baring It All." She's a mother, musician, model, manager, muse, mover and shaker. I'm talking about Bebe Buell.

 

People who’ve watched the Cameron Crowe classic Almost Famous think they know all about Buell. That’s a super small portion of the story. Bebe’s life would be hard to capture in a single motion picture. Her involvement and influence on not only rock music, but the culture and lifestyle that surrounded it is worthy of a mini-series.

 

Born and raised in Virginia makes Bebe a Southern gal, technically. The South is deep in her heart and soul, but the years to follow would prove she belonged everywhere she landed. The Sunset Strip and New York City were the pulse of rock 'n’ roll in the late 60s and 70s and BeBe was right in the center of it all. A popular model, fashionista and a rocker deep down, Bebe was Madonna meets Jerry Lee Lewis at a Warhol party.     

 

It was during her time in Portland in the '80s when Bebe put her own stamp on the scene. Through two bands she initiated in town, Bebe made her own noise. The tall, slim blonde crowding the microphone stand swaying back n’ forth, did it all herself, inspired from being around the greatest names in music.

 

Since the '80s, Bebe's been rockin’.

 

She moved from Portland about eight years ago. Her and husband musician Jimmy Walls/Wallerstein (Vacationland, Das Damen) moved back to New York City. They’d eventually head to Nashville — "Music City" — where they still live to this day.

 

This Saturday, Bebe makes her way to Portland House of Music & Events for a special “storyteller” type show with her band, The Rebel Souls. It’s also a continuation of Bebe’s birthday week so expect a party! Bebe is beyond excited as are her friends here waiting for mama to bring some rock n’ roll home. I had a chance to chat with Bebe prior to her Portland return.  

 

Talk a bit about what you've been doing lately down in music city, Bebe. 

 

Nashville has been an awakening and craft-honing experience. Like finishing school. The only thing Music City is missing is the ocean, because it's got everything else. It's a healthy music scene and people really love to go out and see music live. What I've been doing is just working as hard as I can and making what's to come next on my journey.

 

I know you can appreciate music of all kinds, but there seems to be a major lack of rock music lately. It's vanishing from the mainstream, radio, award shows and sales charts. In your opinion, what gives and what will it take to bring it back to the good stuff?

 

In Nashville, "rock" music is exploding again. I play often with Thee Rock 'N' Roll Residency, who are as true to rock music as anyone can get. I think what will bring "rock" music back to the mainstream are the fans. People want to see entertainers who move from their hearts and soul ... not their sample tracks.

 

What makes a good rock star to you?

 

A great entertainer cares about his/her audience. I know when I'm onstage I can feel the energy from my crowds and they map out how the evening goes by what they send me energy wise. That's why I still do this — I actually love what happens when I'm onstage. I love the adrenaline and the rush.

 

What keeps the fires burning for you to continue and stay with it, Bebe? 

 

I'm not sure that's definable. It's just who I am. I wake up wanting to rock. Wanting to create music and play live. The feeling I get from playing live is right up there with all the most precious things in life. Some of us are just born to do this, and it's my happy place. I'll show you up close and personal on Saturday... 

 

Any current favorite bands right now?

 

I like Royal Blood, The Struts, Cage The Elephant, The National, Blackfoot Gypsies, Margo Price and all Jack White (projects). Of course, classic rock which is a mainstay in my palette; Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, The Flamin' Groovies ... I'm a sucker for a great song — I don't care what genre it is. A good song is a good song.

 

I’m sure you miss Portland…  

 

I have a connection to Portland that stays with me wherever I go. My musical connection is especially important because I formed my first two bands in this city, The B-Sides (1980-1985) and then The Gargoyles (1985-1991). There will be lots of stories in my show this Saturday and many of them include tales of the vibrant 1980s Portland music scene. I'm over the moon to bring my show, "Baring It All," to one of my "home" cities. 

Burnin' and Learnin'

Did you know that the big bronze woman with the sword in Monument Square is called Our Lady of Victories, also Soldiers and Sailors Monument? Or that the sculptor, a man born in Webster in the 19th century named Franklin Simmons, also has a statue of Ulysses S. Grant in the United States Capitol Rotunda? How would you like to learn tidbits like these about the Square and other areas in and around the Old Port, all while feeling the burn of a full-body strength and cardio workout?

 

The unusual combination is the brainchild of fitness instructor Leigh Rush Olson, the founder of Old Port Historic Workout and its sister, Kennebunk Beach Historic Workout. Olson got the idea in 1997 in New York City as a way to combine her history education with her training experience, and would lead groups of curious athletes in mobile workouts while telling them about the city’s ethnohistory. The Maine versions are in their first year.

 

Old Port Historic Workouts take place on Saturdays at 10 a.m., meeting in Monument Square, where participants will be led in ninety minutes of exercise, followed by a jogging tour with stops at Portland’s most intriguing sites, with anecdotes about each. Tickets are $30 at http://www.ticketweb.com/ and all levels of expertise are welcome.

 

Kennebunk Beach Historic Workouts are Tuesday mornings at 9 a.m., to convene at Mothers Beach. This one’s a little easier on the pocketbook, at $10 per person. Olson and her staff remind you to bring your own mat (or towel) and water bottle. She also says she engineered the double meaning in the titles of her events on purpose, and looks forward to helping you achieve a truly ‘historic workout.’

 

Link: https://historicworkouts.com/

Do Maine Dems Understand the Stakes?

I’m writing this column from the oppressive heat of Washington, D.C., so I hope you’ll excuse me if this comes off a little cranky. I was born here, at the private, non-profit Columbia Hospital for Women in 1985. Originally founded in 1866 as a charitable hospital for the desperate, pregnant wives of missing Civil War soldiers, the hospital closed permanently in 2002. You can now buy a two-bedroom for 1.5 million bucks in the wing where Duke Ellington was born.

It feels strange to be here, reminiscing about a hospital that has been turned into condos, while a health care bill that considers womanhood to be a pre-existing condition flounders on the Senate floor. But it doesn’t seem like the city has changed as much as you might imagine under the new administration. I can’t tell if that’s because I’m crossing the street to avoid people wearing red hats or if I’m still reeling from our own state’s recent catastrophe.

Given the number of hot takes written about the recent government shutdown, it would be self-indulgent to bore readers with further discussion of our spectacularly inept Democratic leadership. Luckily for all of us, as an only child, I’m entirely comfortable with a little self-indulgence. And I’m still spitting mad. Perhaps we take a moment to talk about what it means for progressive politics when you capitulate to conservative hostage tactics.

As the daughter of a longtime Republican campaign strategist, I’m intimately familiar with the lengths to which politicians will go to subvert the will of the people in favor of their own vested interests. But in the current climate, as Trump cronies try to coerce the Republican National Committee into footing the legal costs of the Russia investigation, the bar seems to have been lowered even further. Politicians no longer even pretend to follow the will of their constituents — when you fail to pass a budget because it incorporates a voter-approved tax increase, to whom, exactly, do you think you’re accountable? It’s obviously not Mainers.

But worse than conservatives who have been willing to let their loose-cannon governor “play chicken” for months are the progressive leaders who couldn’t negotiate a compromise budget that continued to promote public health, education reform, or wealth equality. With the local news writing op-ed after op-ed making it clear the shutdown was the result of a crude measuring contest, how did Democrats fail so miserably to stand up for the people who voted them into office?

The short-sighted nature of this budget is going to come calling on Mainers, and I think it’s going to happen sooner rather than later. In addition to reinforcing conservative theories that we’re more afraid of being labeled bad guys than holding firm to our principles, we’ve re-emboldened a majority-held Senate to demean and mock our values. Poor people? Who cares, they can just work harder! The mentally ill? Fine, we’ll keep the same, poorly implemented programming we had before! Prevention services designed to improve public health? Cut ‘em — public health is a made-up term anyway!

Here’s the thing — Maine is dying. The median age is 43.5 years old. We can’t retain young people, and our workforce could face a 50,000-person shortage within the next 15 years. One Mainer per day, on average, is lost to the opioid crisis. One-fifth of our children are living in poverty. It means nothing to post signs proclaiming we’re “open for business” when we’re literally shut down, and figuratively governed by a ruler-wielding clown.

Maybe I mean literally in both instances.

I can’t seem to shake the feeling that the political arena, as we know it, is dead. As I was watching the drama unfold at the State House on July 3, I kept coming back to a conversation I had with a friend who lobbies on behalf of progressive causes. She asserted over and over that nothing was certain, that nothing could be guaranteed — that the old ways of governance are dying, and that our fight to reclaim any semblance of democratic process is futile.

Part of me thinks that’s an easy cop out for a woman who bills by the hour. But a greater part of me thinks she’s right. And if the fight is futile, isn’t it time for progressive politicians to change the battleground?


Sultana Khan can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

News Briefs: the Malaga Monument, Green Slime, and a Media Merger

Descendants of Malaga Island Community Honored With New Monument

A dark, once-covered up stain on Maine’s history — the systematic exile and mysterious deaths of the Malaga Island community — was made permanent and visible last week through a monument unveiling at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.  

The monument bears the names of the mixed-race Mainers who were victimized as part of the eugenics movement of the 1900s and forced to leave their homes by the state. Institutions like the state government and the local media dehumanized this community of 40 or so people by describing them as "homeless", "feeble-minded," "half-breeds," and "queer folk." Multiple decades later, descendants of the original families are subject to racial slurs like "Malagalite."

Today the new monument offers healing and closure from a time where systemic racism had deep roots in Maine.

A small crowd made up of Malaga Island descendants, Governor Paul LePage, and Rev. Holly Morrison of the Phippsburg Congregational Church gathered for somber reflection and a viewing of the new monument.  

According to Kate McBrien, a historian of Malaga Island and chief curator at the Maine Historical Society, the history of this community and its impact on descendants has long been covered up. 

"It's long been a secret, a hidden part of Maine’s history," said McBrien. "With the removal of any remaining buildings, as well as the bodies of those buried in the island’s cemetery, the State tried to erase all evidence of the people who lived there. Many in the Phippsburg area communities as well as the Malaga families themselves buried the history for generations, denying any connection to the island. But history cannot remain hidden forever. Current generations have discovered their connection and the state has accepted responsibility for its role in the removal and destruction of the Malaga community. This monument ensures that the people who lived on Malaga Island will never be forgotten again."

The monument, which stands six feet tall and cost $30,000 to construct ($24,000 of which was taken out of LePage's discretionary portion of the state budget), seeks to confront Maine’s shameful past.

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LePage speaking to the crowd in front of the new Malaga Island Monument. Photo By Adrienne Bennett, the Governor's Press Secretary. 

News of this symbolic gesture wasn’t met with widespread laudation online. Some commented that due to his history of racially insensitive remarks, Governor Paul LePage wasn’t the best choice of person to commemorate the monument, despite his office funding the project. The Governor also mentioned his Malaga 1912 Scholarship Fund, managed by the Maine Community Foundation, and set up to benefit descendants of the island's residents who can prove their ancestry. It's set up from now until 2020. 

 

Back in 2012, when the Maine State Museum hosted an exhibit on Malaga Island called “Fragmented Lives,” LePage offered an apology on behalf of the state.

 

“To the descendants,” he declared, “I will tell you as a governor, I will say, we apologize for this hardship we have caused you. We did similar things to the Native Americans here. And, frankly, ten years after Malaga Island was destroyed, the largest Ku Klux Klan rally in the history of the United States was right here in Maine, against the French Catholics coming down here from Quebec. So, we understand. We have been part of it as well. So, my sincerest apology on behalf of the people of Maine to the descendants.” 

 

McBrien and others thought that LePage's involvement with the project was both powerful and necessary.

 

“I believe it was very appropriate for Governor LePage to be at the dedication ceremony today,” said McBrien. “The memorial itself was his idea and his suggestion. He also contributed the most money towards the creation of the monument. He was also the person to create a scholarship fund for the descendants of the Malaga Island community and has been committed to seeing that continue. The speech he gave today was spot on and from the heart.”

 

What turned Casco Bay green?

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Green slime all over Mill Creek. Photo By Emily Haggett of Friends of Casco Bay.

The unsightly green slime that showed up in parts of Casco Bay last year is back, earlier and greener than before.

 

Researchers from the Friends of Casco Bay have been monitoring the green slime — or as they know it, algal blooms — since last year, when they originally thought it was due to the drought conditions. Now they’re working fastidiously to determine what caused the blight this time in areas like Back Cove, Antoine Creek, and Mill Creek.

 

“We hoped last year's weather conditions made it an anomaly,” said Ivy Frignoca, the Casco Baykeeper at Friends of Casco Bay. “But our theory that maybe the drought conditions caused the blooms didn’t turn out to be correct.”

 

According to Frignoca, algal blooms are a result of high amounts of nitrogen and a significant drop in pH levels. But the underlying causes are still unknown.

 

“We don’t know now what’s causing the blooms to occur,” said Frignoca. “It could be a change in chemistry and weather patterns. It’s a symptom of a problem we’re trying to figure out.”

 

The reason why green slime concerns researchers is because it kills clams, which further impacts the overall health of the bay.

 

“All the clams were sticking their necks out, they were really stressed out,” said Frignoca. “By the second week, they were all dead. We’re just curious what the algae mass is doing to the health of the tidal flats.”

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A very stressed out clam. Photo Courtesy of Friends of Casco Bay.

High amounts of nitrogen are believed to be caused by human activity, whether it be from storm runoff or the water pouring out of waste-treatment plants in the area. Frignoca asks the public to watch out for algal blooms in other areas and report back findings to the Friends of Casco Bay so they can continue their research.

 

“If they see these blooms, I hope they let us know,” said Frignoca. “We can't be everywhere on Casco Bay.”

 

In the meantime, residents concerned about the health of Casco Bay can help by ensuring their pets’ waste doesn’t get into the water and by avoiding the use of lawn fertilizers. If these practices were more widespread, the levels of nitrogen in Casco Bay could be reduced.

 

Major Maine Media Consolidation Won’t Affect Jobs Or Final Products

 

Big insider news in the world of Maine media broke last week: Reade Brower, the owner of MaineToday Media (the parent company of the Portland Press Herald) bought out Sun Media Group (the parent company of the Sun Journal, the Forecaster and 16 other publications across the state) for an undisclosed amount, merging the companies under a single ownership and creating undoubtedly the largest media company in Maine.

 

Sun Media Group was owned by the Costello family for almost a century and spanned four generations of owners. The last owner, Steve Costello, said it was a bittersweet time, but one that felt right.

 

“We didn’t take this decision lightly,” said Costello. “We’ve partnered with Reade for the past few years in various aspects of the business. It’s worked very well. It evolved into this. We feel good about the fact that he has a very good sense of our same values: community journalism and a commitment to the employees.”

 

According to Costello, he was told that there would be no staff layoffs, and all of its 225 employees would be offered their jobs at the new company with the same level of pay and benefits.

 

It seems that readers of Maine newspapers won’t notice much of a difference from this deal, as Sun Media’s publications will still publish under the same name and continue to offer community journalism.

 

“They’re not looking to make a lot of changes,” said Costello.

 

MaineToday Media publishes the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and the Coastal Journal, with a combined weekday circulation of about 60,210. Sun Media’s newspapers reach about 300,000 people, which will presumably be added to Brower’s audience once the deal becomes final on August 1, and SunMedia turns into SJ Acquisition, with its operations kept separate from MaineToday Media.

 

Costello seemed optimistic about the future of his family’s journalistic legacy, and print media in general, so long as MaineToday Media continues to evolve with the changing habits of news consumers — something he believes that the new owners already do quite well.

 

“Print is evolving into a digital media,” said Costello. “There's still a bright future for community news. Whether it's the Phoenix or the Sun Journal, anybody that provides community journalism will still have a viable product. You just need to change the medium to a digital platform.”

The Art Of Protest — Every Decision Counts in Mainer's Participatory Film 'The Maribor Uprisings'

In 2017, the stakes of organized dissent seem exceptionally high. The 214 people charged as part of the anti-fascist protests on January 20 — a/k/a the DisruptJ20 action during the inauguration of Donald Trump — have been hit with felony charges and currently face up to ten years in prison. These blanket charges — levied onto some without evidence that they did anything more than show up — are the most severe repercussions for nonviolent political protest in recent history. In early parts of 2017, GOP legislators in more than 20 states across the U.S. have introduced bills intended to suppress organized protest, which the U.N. has stated are “incompatible with U.S. obligations under international human rights law.”

 


But as times change, so do the tools at our disposal. When anthropologist Maple Razsa set out to make The Maribor Uprisings, he had little idea what political life in 2017 would be like. As it turns out, the Mainer’s groundbreaking film about a series of Slovenian political demonstrations in 2012 could serve as a valuable experiential tool for audiences who have never witnessed a protest first hand.

 

The film is comprised of on-the-ground footage that Razsa, along with co-director/producer Milton "Milo" Guillén and others, shot during a series of civilian protests in Maribor in November of 2012, when Slovenia’s second-largest city revolted en masse against its mayor, violent police forces, and a corrupt political elite.

 

Using organizational tactics that mirror those deployed at Occupy Wall Street and elsewhere, Razsa and Guillén facilitate the screening, guiding the audience through a series of collectively made decisions throughout the film that steer their trajectory through protests and direct action within Maribor. Audiences decide, for example, whether to follow activists as they escalate the demonstration by rolling a bale of hay to be torched outside City Hall, or to stay back with the more peaceful protesters in Liberty Square. In each case, audience members are required to face not only the content of the film, but one another.

 

Each of the film’s decisions leads to other crossroads and talking points, the paths and discussions of which change with every screening. Like life, Razsa says, it’s impossible to “undo” a decision in the film. And though audiences shouldn’t expect a choose-your-own-adventure style “wrong choice,” part of the experience of the film is collectively processing the consequences of decisions made in the heat of action.

 

Razsa, a Maine-raised documentary filmmaker, writer, and anthropologist, has had ties to Slovenia since he was a teen, when an exchange student classmate convinced him to travel there as a high school exchange student. As he tells it, Razsa arrived to former Yugoslavia a year before the war started, and he spent his time there “watching the country fall apart.”

 

Now an Associate Professor of Global Studies at Colby College in Waterville (where co-director Guillén also works at a photography and video journalist and educator in the Communications department), Razsa identifies Maribor as one of an early wave of modern revolutionary protests across the globe which began with the Arab Spring, and which continues with insurgencies in the U.S., from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter to Standing Rock.

 

While the particular circumstances in each protest surely differ — the anti-globalization protests of the turn of the century to Standing Rock's protracted sit-in — they share common themes of citizens pushing back against systems of inequality, through government corruption, and ecological destruction.

 

But from a technical standpoint, the modern wave of protests also share the emergence of video as a tool to make movements, protests, and narratives of oppression visible to a wider public. Maribor is a prime example of this, as its biggest uprising occurred when protesters posted videos of a mass of citizens calling for the resignation of Mayor Franc Kengler to Facebook and other social media, resulting in the protest captured in the film.

 

The Maribor Uprisings may be unconventional, but it’s a film Mainers should expect to hear a lot more of. And for a production ostensibly about Slovenia, it has deep local ties, not only from the Maine-raised Razsa but the hand of veteran editor Mary Lampson of Dresden, who has edited documentaries as influential as Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County U.S.A. (1976), about a labor strike in a rural Kentucky coal mine, to Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis’s climate change doc This Changes Everything (2015).

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INDIRECT ACTION Maple Razsa facilitates a screening of The Maribor Uprisings

“The conceit of the film is that you can’t go back,” says Lampson, who moved to Maine from New York in 1978. “If you make this choice you have to follow it to its logical conclusion.”

 

Audiences might feel compelled to choose the more dynamic or cinematic choice, but unlike most entertainment, the film is designed to hold audiences accountable for those decisions. “What’s so interesting is that it’s not just somebody’s fantasy,” says Lampson. “These things really did happen.”

 

Maribor had a secret screening at the 2016 Camden International Film Festival and had a private test screening in Maine last spring. Since then, it’s received a warm reception at the Toronto festival Hot Docs, and is featured at this week’s Maine International Film Festival, its premiere screening the evening Saturday, July 22, at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville. The film returns to Portland in late summer, as Razsa facilitates a screening in Congress Square Park on September 15. Other area screenings will be announced shortly.

 

The Phoenix spoke with Razsa via Skype in Athens, Greece, where he was conducting research for a book on the way activists have welcomed refugees to Europe over the last few years.


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YOUR FACILITATORS Maple Razsa and Milton "Milo" Guillén [Photo courtesy Colby College/Andrew Kist]

 

How have screenings of The Maribor Uprisings been in Slovenia compared to other parts of the world?

 

Well, I would separate the screenings we’ve done in Slovenia from other places. When screening to Slovenia, we’re screening to people who are or were part of it, so they have a totally different perspective on the film that is specific to them.

 

When I started this project, I was worried that the first questions I would get would be where the hell is Maribor? I was worried that people would not get what this was about, that it would feel like too specific a story. That has not been the case. Maybe it’s partly because of the form, or partly because we’re in such a period of protest, but people have very easily read the project through their own experiences and places. Especially in the bigger, more cosmopolitan places we’ve shown, like Denmark or Toronto, we’ve gotten people from protest movements from around the world who are in the audience. People are making comparisons to Gezi Park [in Turkey] or Tahrir Square in Egypt, or the Montreal students’ protests of the last couple years. Black Lives Matter in New York for sure was a big topic of comparison.

 

That’s been one of the heartening things. Usually, you show a film and people ask questions about the site, the documentary, what’s going on there now — further background. But most of the questions have been more like How would I respond? How would this connect to our world? I don’t know if that’s in part to the invitation of imagining yourself there making those decisions, or if it’s because the film is in an unusual form, but it’s really nice to see people connect to the material that way.

 

So people actually identify themselves as having taken part in protests like Black Lives Matter or Tahrir Square?

 

Yeah, absolutely. Some of the most powerful moments in the film happen in the interactive space in the theater as people are talking to each other, as much as when they are watching the film. In the screening in Copenhagen that we had [, there was a decision to go toward conflict with the police or try to fight and hold this square or to regroup and try and find safety. And a woman from Turkey who was part of the Gezi Park protests spoke up and said, “Well, what happened [for us] when people moved toward only militant tactics [was that] a lot of women didn’t feel safe anymore and it became much more of a male protest. So I would ask that we regroup and think about how we can keep everyone involved.”

 

A similar thing that happened with Black Lives Matter protesters in Brooklyn. They were like, it’s never safe for us to go toward the most violent parts of the protest so I’d ask that people show solidarity and retreat to this space. And so there’d been like a straw poll first, and it looked like everyone wanted to stay and fight. But once there’d been those interventions of people drawing on their own experience, the audience swung the other way and decided to go on the other path. So some of those encounters would be very important.

 

I think for many people, this is just entertainment. They choose what sounds like the most exciting thing. But as soon as someone starts saying no, this is a lot like my real experience, it’s like, Oh, this isn’t just a game. It’s really neat to see that.

 

In America obviously, there are constitutionally protected rights to protest, and in various other parts of the world there’s a shiftier understanding of that.

 

Yeah, but in the New York screening, though. We had a couple of people who are defendants in the J20 prosecutions. There are 200 people who have been charged as a group and they’re facing upward of 75 years in prison. They were talking about why the selective prosecution of some people serves to criminalize the whole protest sometimes. And that was very similar to what happened in Slovenia. It’s interesting that even in the U.S. you see parallels to this stuff.

 

What dates from the 2012 uprisings does the film cover?

 

The film gives you a little pre history — there had been two earlier uprisings that had been violently suppressed by the police — and then you enter live action in real time at the start of the third uprising in November. There were some smaller ones afterward but this was the largest and most confrontational of the uprisings — November 3, 2012.

 

How typical is the running time for a screening?


It runs about 70 to 90 minutes. That’s with a little bit of discussion folded into it.

 

From what I understand, one of the factors that led to the series of uprisings was a sort of public-private partnership that the mayor of Maribor made with a company that enforced speed radar systems. There were suddenly all these minor traffic violations that were extorting money from Slovenians. How much was that a part of the public consciousness when the uprisings occurred?

 

Yeah, that really blew up. Everyone I had spoken to [in Slovenia] talked about that as the last straw. It was a pretty dramatic story of corruption. Like, 70,000 automated speeding tickets issued in the first couple weeks — basically, one for every vehicle in the city. And when people found out that 90 percent of the proceeds when to the private contractor and not to the city, they got very upset. And then they heard that the mayor was on the board of the organization, and then finally they heard that he was about to run for this national body called the National Council, and members of Parliament have parliamentary immunity so they can’t be prosecuted. He would have gotten immunity if he had been elected. They heard this was happening, and people put it on Facebook and then mobbed around the building calling for his resignation, and for him to leave the building and not to be given this parliamentary immunity that protected him from corruption charges. And then the police beat people. There was a lot of violence against people who gathered there, and then it started to snowball as people got angry about that.

 

Could you talk about some of the ground rules you lay down before screening the film?

 

Yeah, absolutely. There’s a script that [Portland writer, actor, and filmmaker] Ian Carlsen and I developed, so that if someone else is going to show the film without one of the directors present would know how to run it live. First, we give a little bit of the background to orient people to the fact that this is a protest that’s one in a series of global uprisings from the Arab Spring through to Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock. Then we say that’s all out there in the larger world, but we wanna turn now to this room and what we’re going to do together. And we talk about how basically directly democratic and anti-authoritarian practices were common to this whole period of uprisings, from Occupy and all these others, and we’re going to use a few of them in the theater to make decisions. And the first one is that you decide collectively, together, and that there’s no going back from those decisions. Once you make a decision, that’s the path you’re on, and like in life, there’s no going back.

 

The second one we use is “take space, make space,” which is the idea that if you’re someone for whom it’s easy to speak and often is invited to speak, then hold back a little and make room for people who speak less. And in that spirit, as facilitators, we try to draw people present who are from underrepresented communities into that discussion too — women, people of color, etc. And then we point out to people that for some people in the audience this will be a kind of entertainment and it will seem like fun and interesting, and for other people it will bring back very real and frightening experiences of the police and protest, and to hear each other out and listen and be aware of those differences and respectful of them in the theater.

 

How many different crossroads and voting points are there in the film?

 

It depends on which path you’re on, but basically six or seven. But I would say that on each pathway, there are two moments that dramatically put you on a different pathway. The others are a little like sidebars, but there are basically four significantly different paths through the material.

 

In a recent piece for POV magazine, you talked about potentially formatting this to an online version, but you were reluctant to do that. Why?

 

We’re still entertaining the idea because we’d like the material to be more widely accessible. I’d like to prepare an educational version with a set of readings and a syllabus. I think it would work very well with a classroom, where you’d be able to watch together able to reproduce some of these dilemmas in the classroom and argue about them with a little bit more of an advanced reading with it. But I’m reluctant to lose something about this format. I like the way that the form mirrors the content, which is that you’re forced to be together with other members of the public and make decisions collectively. That parallels the kind of decisions that protesters always have to make in the streets, and to me, to lose that or reduce it to an individual experience, makes it more game-like and takes away what I think of is that political element. So I’m not closed to it, but for now we’re still kind of reluctant to do that. But if the right kind of host came up, we’re still open to it. But you can understand my reluctance.

 

Sure. And you are writing scripts for hosts for screenings that may not include yourselves?

 

Yes. We were just at a film festival in Romania. We got the first draft of the script done so that they could run it themselves. They did a couple of screenings in Transilvania with that script we developed. Now it’s ready to go to student groups and those sorts of things who can’t afford to bring in a director to facilitate.


Upcoming Screenings of The Maribor Uprisings

July 22, 9:30 pm | Maine International Film Festival | Railroad Square Cinemas, 17 Railroad Square, Waterville | www.miff.org

September 15, 9pm | Congress Square Park, Portland | www.congresssquarepark.org

Look for other potential screenings in the fall at www.mariboruprisings.org

Nick Schroeder can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Chekhov in the Park — Fenix Finely Forgoes Shakespeare for Elegant 'Three Sisters'

How many times have you watched Midsummer in a summer park? With all due respect to the Bard, do you ever yearn to enjoy your picnic with some other master of language and the human condition? This summerFenix Theatre Company takes a blessed break from Shakespeare to bring Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece Three Sisters to the Deering Oaks band shell

Now, if Chekhov intimidates you, or if his name conjures only grey Russian misery, rest assured that this excellent Fenix show, directed by Tess Van Horn, is your antidote: It’s wise, wrenching, and funnyIt’s gorgeously staged and exquisitely acted. Its language (in Štĕpán Šimeks lively, modernism-peppered translation) makes a snappy poetry of the colloquial. And in its characters’ myriad desires and heartbreaksyou just might recognize some part of everyone you know.

The title sisters come from a well-off, intellectual Moscow family, but they live in the provinces, where they long for a more sophisticated life. Olga (Reba Short), the maternal eldest, teaches and never married. Masha (Casey Turner), middle sister and bitter, married at 18 to an older schoolteacher (a doddering Kevin O’Leary) she once thought brilliant, and now despises their small town. “Knowing three languages in this shithole,” she laughs sourly, is like “having a sixth finger.” And the youngest, Irina (Hannah Daly), wants passionately to work. “If I could be an ox,” she yearns, “instead of a young lady who sleeps till noon!”

Over four acts, we follow the dreams, fortunes, and loves of the family: their adored little brother Andrei (Peter Brown) loves a peasantNatasha (Heather Irish), of whom his sisters disapprove. Lieutenant Tuzenbach (Joe Bearor) loves Irina, who only likes him back. And jaded Masha is bewitched into an affair with the idealistic Colonel Vershinin (Rob Cameron)Most everyone desiresomething beyond what they have — or else has given up on desire.

The extraordinary Short, Turner, and Daly are deliciously convincing as sisters, with their reversions to childish yelling or giggling, their adult resentments, the deep mutual knowledge behind both exasperation and tenderness. They acutely triangulate and push against the sisters’ roles — Short’s generous, peace-keeping Olga; Daley’s wide, watchful IrinaTurner’s sharply poised Masha, flashing brilliantly between fury and euphoria.

As the man who stirs Masha from her misery, Cameron gives Vershinina touch of antic comedy, stuttering on his own intelligence and enthusiasms. He and Turner craft a lovely meet-cute sequence as Vershinin goofily, endearingly philosophizes to the householdhis and Masha’s appraising gazes meet, and her taut irritation melts away.

Visually, the show is elegant and rich in nuance. Costume design (by Heidi Kendrick) is pitch-perfect: the navy and wine in the officers’ uniforms, the whipped sherbet dresses that mark Natasha as other, the sisters’ own telling constellation of grey, black, and white. Actors range the full depth and levels of the band shell, forming thoughtful, ever-shifting tableaux in arresting depth of field. Between acts (performed without an intermission, but the two hours flycome interludes of simple uke and mandolin (by Megan Tripaldi and Ray D Murdoch Curryand character movement — pacing, greeting, undressing, glaring, reaching. Every gaze, twitch, and touch enriches our sense of their complicated, flawed, yearning selves.

The exceptional ensemble calibrates carefully between comedy and drama, revealing empathy even in small moments. In a blink of a scene, the socially dysfunctional soldier Solyeny (Sean Ramey) hints at deep trauma when we learn why he’s always rubbing and smelling his handsThe cynical, self-loathing doctor (Paul Haley) delivers a comedic but devastating monologue about why he’s drinking again; his nihilism nonetheless allows him a warm, funny rapport with Irina. And “I’m content,” O’Leary’s cuckolded schoolteacher says three times — once to his wife; once, defensively, to Irina; and oncinto the void, on his way into the night.

Chekhov lets us know and care for all of these souls, makes all humanity feel like our own confounding, exasperating, hilarious, heartbreakingly beloved family. And he lets us laugh. So don’t pine for Midsummer. Go to the park, spread your blanket close, and crack open something strong.


Three Sisters | By Anton Chekhov; Directed by Tess Van Horn; Produced by Fenix Theatre Company | Through August 5 | Deering Oaks Park, Portland | Free | www.fenixtheatre.com

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