October 25, 1997 in Nation/World

Talent Roundup Arts Groups Book Acts At Coeur D’Alene Auditions

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Ask Eva Gayle Six why the arts are important for rural communities and she might impart this piece of trivia:

The flute was invented before the wheel.

The Metaline Falls, Wash., woman was one of 131 arts organizers from Oregon, Washington and Idaho screening the acts of 74 talent hopefuls at the annual Arts Northwest Booking Conference in Coeur d’Alene this week.

With more small towns banking on cultural tourism as a new source of economic diversification, arts organizations are sprouting up in rural communities throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“It brings quite a few people into town who spend money,” said Six, artistic director at Metaline Falls’ recently renovated Cutter Theatre. “But just as important is it brings arts into peoples’ lives.”

They are succeeding, arts organizers say, because they network.

They chat in exhibition booths where artists eagerly hawk their videotapes and cassettes. They take workshops on staging successful events and warmly applaud at the live showcase performances, which continue today at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. at North Idaho College’s Schuler Auditorium.

For performers, the conference offers a shot at being booked into some of the Pacific Northwest’s premiere gigs.

“I have to turn into the marketer, be the schmoozer, the spin doctor, and that’s a little different,” said feminist political comedian Melinda Pittman of Portland. “In the end all I can say is ‘Gee, we’re funny. Hire us.”’

Festival organizers, meanwhile, come to survey talent while connecting with arts volunteers from other communities.

“I came to network with people who have similar problems,” said Sharon Smilley, executive director of the St. Maries Arts Council. One such problem is staying within a tiny budget.

Smilley may be searching for entertainers who will work for less than $3,000, while representatives from Tacoma’s Northwest Broadway Center may be willing to spend $30,000 per booking.

The performers range in price. While small-town libraries could afford storyteller V. Ted Hutchinson of Federal Way, Wash., they might not have the venue or the budget for champion Texas fiddler Laurie Lewis or Kokoro Dance, a Japanese modern dance company from Vancouver, Wash.

They also range in taste. Pittman said conservative logging communities are largely split about whether they love or hate her feminist environmental humor. She’s been hired at Coquille and Corvallis, Ore., but has had less luck in Idaho.

“It’s one thing to come in with a children’s theater year after year and do The Nutcracker,” Pittman said. “It’s something else to bring in an artist with a sense of purpose, mission and even controversy to spark social discourse in communities.”

During the select evening showcase performances, entertainers have a tense 12 minutes to convince the audience of their talent. Last year in Eugene, Ore., a jazz singer’s strand of pearls burst mid-scat, bouncing across the stage between lyrics.

The conference’s North Idaho location prompted a handful of safety inquiries from some minority performers, but Arts Northwest Executive Director Jack Alotto, a Boise native who helped organize the Festival at Sandpoint, eased fears about the region’s racist stereotype.

Tedd Davis of the Los Angeles Modern City Repertoire Dance Company said they come to the Northwest booking conference because states like Idaho and Oregon tend to embrace the novelty of a largely African American dance troupe.

“It gives us exposure in a part of the country we ordinarily wouldn’t be in,” Davis said.

On stage Thursday night, Canadian pianist Marie-Andree Ostiguy noted that while she hadn’t visited the state before, its potatoes were “perfect for a girl on the go, like me,” because they cooked 10 minutes faster than eastern Canada’s potatoes.

At daytime exhibition booths, performers and organizers trade tapes, talk prices, and schedule tentative gigs. After the conference, Alotto creates a master list of scheduled bookings and sends out tour schedules.

“This creates an efficiency, an economy for the arts,” Alotto said.

Instead of high-priced professional development specialists from San Francisco, the conference turns to local arts aficionados - like Lewiston’s Dogwood Festival organizer Leslie Essleburn or The Festival at Sandpoint’s Diane Ragsdale - to give workshops for other community planners.

“Rural culturalism” is becoming a more prominent element of small town economic diversification, said Donovan Gray, director of the Washington State Arts Network.

Metaline Falls’ Lafarge cement plant closed in 1990 and the nearby Vaagen Bros., sawmill followed in 1996, but community members still volunteered hours of labor to renovate a beloved old school into an award-winning community cultural center.

“People tell me the Cutter Theatre project has given a heart to our community,” said Eva Gayle Six, artistic director for the center.

Her conference fees were paid with a $95,000 grant to create an arts network throughout northeast and north-central Washington. The proposed artists circuit will feature performances in Newport, Colville, Republic, Omak and down the Columbia River through Wenatchee.

“This is a conscious strategy on part of these communities, to build cultural tourism,” Gray said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

TALENT SEARCH

Tickets are $9 and available at the door at North Idaho College’s Schuler Auditorium.

Today, beginning at 1:30 p.m.:

Mermaid Theater of Nova Scotia, narrative performance.

Foothills Brass, brass concert.

Michael Nicolella, classical guitar.

Rochel Garner Coleman, one-man show portrayal of Deadwood Dick.

Wylie and the Wild West, traditional country and western.

Today, beginning at 7:30 p.m.:

Al Andalus, contemporary andalusian music.

Melinda E. Pittman in Paradise Flossed, political comedy cabaret.

Kokoro Dance, Japanese modern dance.

Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, Irish fiddle champion.

Dragonmaker Productions, giant puppets with the ferocity of monster trucks and the grace of ballet.

Murph, physical comedy.

The Special Consensus, acoustic bluegrass.

This sidebar appeared with the story: TALENT SEARCH Tickets are $9 and available at the door at North Idaho College’s Schuler Auditorium.

Today, beginning at 1:30 p.m.: Mermaid Theater of Nova Scotia, narrative performance. Foothills Brass, brass concert. Michael Nicolella, classical guitar. Rochel Garner Coleman, one-man show portrayal of Deadwood Dick. Wylie and the Wild West, traditional country and western.

Today, beginning at 7:30 p.m.: Al Andalus, contemporary andalusian music. Melinda E. Pittman in Paradise Flossed, political comedy cabaret. Kokoro Dance, Japanese modern dance. Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, Irish fiddle champion. Dragonmaker Productions, giant puppets with the ferocity of monster trucks and the grace of ballet. Murph, physical comedy. The Special Consensus, acoustic bluegrass.


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