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About Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013 | View Entire Issue (April 1, 1988)
Lou Harrison, musician, philospher,
Nature produces us as roughly 10 percent of the population in
every generation, and we are absolutely non-assimilable .
Religions can get changed, money can get redistributed, race
can get diffused in bloodlines, but being gay is renewed by
nature in every generation.
R I C H A R D
B R O W N
Tchaikovsky. And Lully, for example, was
apparently outrageous — yet his music is part of
he Portland Gay Men’s Chorus will pre
sent the first full-scale production of Young
“ I know that some gay people are eager to
Caesar, an opera by Lou Harrison, on Saturday have an entire culture behind a wail, isolated.
and Sunday evenings, April 9 and 10, in the
I don’t feel that way. Nature produces us as
Intermediate Theatre of the Portland Center for
roughly 10 percent of the population in every
the Performing Arts. The composer will be
generation, and we are absolutely non-
present for the performances.
assimilable. By that I mean, religions can get
Young Caesar is an unabashedly gay opera.
changed, money can get redistributed, race can
Its composer is an unabashedly gay man.
get diffused in bloodlines, but being gay is
Lou Harrison is one of America’s leading
What are you going to do about gay rights, and
renewed by nature in every generation.”
composers. His works are performed world
about changing the laws? That was the basis of
Does that mean that rights for gay people will
wide. and his influence on other composers is
SIR — to be political and direct.
have to be won anew in every generation?
far-reaching. This year alone, there will be
“ People who were up for election got in
“ Let me put it this way: Straight people
seven or eight new recordings of his music on
vited, and in San Francisco it was becoming
would like to think that they have it all made.
the Nonesuch, New World and New Albion
evident that there was voting power. So it mat
But of course we are a bom caution to them.
tered to the politicians. This was many years
Even if they know that justice must be done to
before Stonewall. And there was no violence.
He was bom in Portland in 1917 and lived
nature’s works, still there’s a little oh-I-wish-
here until he was nine years old. He lives now in
We went about it in a forum rather than a riot.”
they’d-go-away feeling on the part of a lot of
A man of wide-ranging intellect, Harrison
them. We must make it clear to — how can I put
“ From very deep inside myself,” he said, “ it
has pursued many interests in his 70 years. He
it non-offensi vely? — the dumber of the straight
is wonderful to come back to the place where I
speaks and has taught Esperanto; he is an
people that we exist and we are a primary
was bom and to a life fully open, with warm
accomplished painter and calligrapher as well
caution, and we’re also not so bad as society
fellowship. And I had no idea that PGMC’s
as a poet. He has mastered not only the tradi
As a member of the early gay rights organiza
tional musical forms of the West but also those
production of Young Caesar was going to be as
tion Society for Individual Rights (SIR) in San
of the Orient, particularly Korea, China and
brilliant as it is. It’s going to be terrific.”
Francisco, Harrison was a pioneer in the gay
Indonesia. He has composed a large body of
It was Harrison’s lover of many years. Bill
music for the gamelan and for combinations of
Colvig, who first suggested that he compose an
Western and Eastern instruments.
“ SIR was a good organization. Wehadasort
opera on a gay subject.
of support group. And we had lots of fun. There
Earlier in his career he composed serial
' I immediately thought of the episode in
was a dance every weekend. I remember teach
music, but many years ago he began to simplify
<• ’aesar’s life witli the king of Bithynia.” Harri
ing Ned Rorem how to Charleston one evening.
his music and return to tonality. He is considered
son said That was nearly 20 years ago. He
I took many friends there. Virgil Thomson
a forerunner of the minimalist composers, such
wrote the first version for a puppet theater pro
visited, and Nicolas Nabokov — a great
as Philip Glass and Steven Reich.
duction with an orchestra of only five members
number of people came from the East, awe
“ In some sense, I see myself as an instigator
playing a wide assortment of instruments; it was
struck at all this developing in San Francisco.
of that,” he said. “ The dates show that some of
performed at the Cabrillo Festival and in
The main thrust was that we invited politicians
my works precede the minimalists, and also the
Pasadena in 1971.
— some of whom are still in the public eye —
return to tonality. I am thought of now by some
“ It got the most widely differing reviews of
to come and talk to us, and we confronted them:
people as a sort of historical figure. But I’m not
any work I’ve ever done. Some reviewers
thought it was absolutely marvelous. And some
were outraged — how dare I?”
It was the subject matter— a gay love affair
between Julius Caesar and the king of Bithynia
— that caused the outrage.
“ Most of the reviewers didn’t know about
that part of Caesar’s life, and they were
Portland Women s Theater Company is looking for scripts that
horrified, They all hurried back to their
encyclopedias to look it up.”
reflect today's issues: health,child care, alcoholism,
Straightforward gay stories are practically
problems of professional women today
unknown in standard opera literature.
"When it has been done,” Harrison said, “ as
to 30 women in the company, compared to
S A N D R A
H E L E N
in Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice, the gay
Family Circus’s four women and one man; a
subject is more alluded to than actualized.
omen’s theater is alive and well in Port
member is defined as someone who has worked
Robert Gordon [the librettist) and I didn’t stop
land! Family Circus Theater, although
in any capacity on a production. The company is
at alluding to it — we wrote it out.’
not strictly women’s theater, is back in action committed to performing plays about women,
and currently is running Have a Heart, a play
but other objectives and goals are still evolving.
“ The king is the dominant character in the
current production is a classic lesbian play
second act. In the end. he is left alone on the
Women’s Theatre Company is firmly ensconced
by Jane Chambers about love, death and
dock when Caesar sails away. I suppose Lorca
in its space in the Hollywood district, producing
would have called it a tragi-comedy. The story
Last Summer at Bluefish Cove.
Portland Women’s Theatre, now that it has
is fun. and it’s a true part of history. But if you
Deborah Heasley Rodney, one of the original
its own theater space, hopes to set a hill season,
think about the poor king, after all. he gave up
members and current director of Family Circus
including children’s theater, for 1988-1989.
his whole kingdom Apparently he loved Caesar
Theater, said that the company’s objectives are
Both companies are committed to non-
very much There is an interesting fact about
to reconnect with its previous audience, gen
oppressive theater. Cherise Millhouse said that
that that’s not mentioned in the opera. Caesar
erate a new audience, eventually to do touring
PWTC wants to present ‘ ‘a positive image of
became so attached to the court of Bithynia that
theater, and to provide good entertainment with
women, to avoid stereotyping, and to avoid
he returned several times as legal defense to
a social conscience.
friends that he had made there. Aside from that
typecasting.” Kathay Duff, the director, said
Family Circus is dedicated to finding and
trip up the Nile with Cleopatra, I suppose it was
the company “ still wants to have fun. that is
maintaining that balance between art and poli
about the only time Caesar took time out ”
stillagoal ” It’s easy to see why. when produc
The story is gay. but is there such a thing as
ing theater is nearly a full-time job and. as Faith
companies. Its actors are trained and experi
McDevitt pointed out, “ nearly every woman
enced. and the company strives to create
“ I really doubt it.” Harrison said “ We all
here has a career. It used to be that we had jobs,
material that advocates social change and is
have a range of emotions and can express them.
and our real life started when we got to rehear
inspirational and affirming, rather than
We can be fenx'ious. we can have angst, we can
sal. Now we have women who are lawyers,
be delightful and frivolous The works of gay
counselors at drug rehab centers, in the medical
The Portland Women's Theatre Company is
field, like that.
composers throughout history are integrated into
a larger and looser group. There are currently 25
the major literature Everybody knew about
PWTC is looking for scripts that reflect
Women's theater motivated by
Just Out • 16« April 1988
a minimalist. I’m a simplicist. I like simple
What he likes most is melody. He has been
called the greatest melodist of his generation.
Last fall, when the Philadelphia Orchestra
played his Third Symphony, he was asked to
address the audience.
“ I explained to them,” he said, “ that what I
do is make up tunes.”
Right. And what Rembrandt did was make
New Albion Records announced the release
on compact disc and cassette of a collection of
three works by Lou Harrison. The title work,
“ La K,oro Sutro,” is for 100 voices and Ameri
can Gamelan. The American Gamelan is a
percussion orchestra, built by longtime
Harrison associate, William Colvig, and inspired
by the Indonesian percussion orchestras
generically known as gamelan. The famous
Buddhist text, ‘ ‘The Heart Sutra,” is set to song
in nine movements in an Esperanto translation.
The second work, “ Varied Trio,” in five
movements, is scored for violin, piano and
percussion. The third piece, in seven
movements, is the Suite for Violin and
today’s issues: health, child care, alcoholism,
problems of professional women today, plays
about younger women and their particular
“ People want to go to the theater to be
entertained,” Rodney said, “ but they also want
to be inspired, to be motivated, to have hope.
They have to get up and go out and change the
world, and the problems are serious social
Both companies are looking for community
support. PWTC has a newly formed fund-raising
committee. Family Circus wants to stay small
so it can keep costs down, and it wants to tour. It
can bring a play into a classroom or put it on a
Local traditional theater companies also are
struggling for funds, but the difference is that
their community is larger, their costs are higher
and some of them pay their performers and
Alternative theater companies strive to bring
us theater that is particularly meaningful,
actively seek our feedback, and provide an
evening’s entertainment at a reasonable price.
They must seek and receive additional support
from the alternative community if they are to
Have a Heart is playing at Columbia Theater
on Tuesday nights through April 12. Last
Summer at Bluefish Cove will play at PWTC on
Friday and Saturday nights from April 15
through June 4. See Out About Town for