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Fall of 2011 saw the installation of two art bike racks in downtown Eugene. While there is a plethora of utilitarian pipes and posts throughout the city, these new hunks of metal were a bit more in line with the spirit of Eugene. There are plenty of examples of public art scattered throughout the community. Murals adorn the backs of businesses, sculptures decorate planters in the heart of downtown and sidewalk chalk, graffiti and random installations around campus and in parks make Eugene more colorful. The artistic bike racks not only provide visual stimulation, but physical accommodation as well.

“I think it makes a pretty big statement,” Richard Hughes, president of the Greater Eugene Area Riders (GEARs), said. Yet, Hughes says the “more artsy” element of the racks is not necessarily a help to the cycling community.

“It softens motorists… or pisses them off.”

Hughes acknowledges he’s no art critic, but he knows bikes and he knows Eugene. So, when he became involved in the art corral project, he was disappointed by one huge oversight for a project in a town known for a particular kind of weather.

“They’re cute,” he said. “But where’s the roof?”

(more…)

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image via The Book Cover Archive

In 2010, when e-books outsold print books for the first time, culture columnists from the The Atlantic and Slate posted conflicting reactions. Mark Oppenheimer wrote, “Simply put, gadgets give us too much privacy. We’ll go into people’s houses or squeeze next to them on the subway, and we’ll no longer be able to know them, or judge them or love them, or reject them, based on the books they carry.” Elanor Barkhorn, associate editor at The Atlantic responded, pointing out, “after all, in this era of social media we broadcast our cultural preferences habits more loudly than we ever did before.” The popularity of e-books and reading online has sparked discussion in the publishing community over the future of the print book, the importance of book covers, and how we communicate.

The shift from print publishing to online and e-book platforms follows the patterns music and photography have taken in the last decade, from material objects to digital ideas and concepts. Reactions from people working with books range from optimism to ambivalence to staunch rejection. Evon Smith of Smith Family Bookstore says, “I can say with confidence that Smith will never sell e-books. We love books as objects.” On the importance of covers, she says, “We have the adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’ but when buying used books we absolutely judge them by the cover.” She says customers who come in the store with a specific title often browse the shelves, and end up with three or four books that catch their eye. In her own reading habits, Smith reads in print almost exclusively, except for checking her email.

Marleda Jones, library assistant at the Eugene Public Library says the e-book industry in still new and in flux, and she sees the format as another platform for delivering content to readers. “I have noticed covers are made more simple for electronic publication, with high contrast images and bigger text size,” Jones says. “Maybe this form of reading expedites the process of transferring information.”

“Much is to be gained by e-books,” says Chip Kidd, long time book designer for Alfred A. Knopf in a TED talk in April, “ease, convenience, portability. But something is definitely lost. Tradition, sensual experience, the comfort of ‘thingy-ness.’ A little bit of humanity.” In his speech, Kidd demonstrates how he created the Jurassic Park logo by copying a diagram of a dinosaur skeleton and distilling it to the now famous side-view head and shoulder silhouette. He says a story needs a face, to give a first impression and to let the reader know what he or she is getting into. Kidd argues the importance of the form of a book, including how it feels, its scent, and its emotional ambiance. “Even though we love publishing as an art, we know it’s a business too,” he says. Kidd’s speech, like his work, is engaging and bit flashy. What about readers who get their books from the library? Or those who are more interested in content than its form, presentation, and how it’s marketed?

A conflict arises between publishers whose motivation is to invent new ways to define and distribute books and readers who want to preserve the quality and value of reading in print. Tim Schaffner, founder of Schaffner Press, writes on Publishing Perspectives, “We must ask ourselves as we hurtle forth into this new age if we are losing not only the intrinsic value of the physical book itself, but the value of readership as a whole.”

There’s a marked difference in tone between the those nostalgic for old-fashioned print and those looking forward to the digital future. The print purists write elegies for dusty hardbacks while the futurists evangelize the values of blogs and open source authorship. Craig Mod is one of the futurists. Mod, a writer and designer, has written about publishing in the digital age on his homepage. He says the digital platform frees the book from its confines as a printed object. He uses Wikipedia as an example of public authoring that, according to him, surpasses the physical encyclopedia in usefulness, quality, timeliness, and convenience. The qualities print loyalists value – permanence, reading in solitude, a printed book’s sort of sacredness – Mod says we should forget. Similar to Wikipedia’s text, which continually changes through updates, Mod says digital books have the flexibility to change over time, through updates from the author, and from notes and comments in the margins from readers.

Looking at opposing views on e-books objectively creates the impression that a battle is going on between print and digital people, but that may be far from the truth. The librarians, booksellers, critics, and designers I talked to or read share a dedication to literature, and while they disagree on the big issues, each one plays an important role in the book culture. Whether the future of publishing is in trouble or if digital can save it, or if we should say “forget it!” and read a book is a matter of perspective.

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The clean Northwest breeze splashed her face as she made her way over the grassy hill. The breath that she was trying so desperately to catch was knocked right back out of her lungs as she took in the sight. The glittering ripples of the Columbia River mimicked the deep blue of the sky as it weaved through the scaling cliffs of the Gorge. The bright sun sat regally in the west of the massive globe above her and the pounding bass of the music resounding from the stage at the bottom of the hill vibrated inside her ribcage, welcoming her back. Finally able to deeply inhale the clean air of the Pacific Northwest, Berrin Boyce, with the broadest of grins on her face and tiny pools of happy tears collecting in her eyes, bellowed out in her loudest voice:

“Happy Sasquatch!!”

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(more…)

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes, by Jessica Brookes

Canon, AU, OTP. Cosplay, fic, GPOY, fluff. Shipper, mpreg, tl;dr.

These words, acronyms, and initialisms may seem indecipherable, but they comprise a small sample of the jargon that is well known and frequently employed in those communities that join together on the Internet to express a shared love, even an obsession, with works of art and the people that created them.

These fan communities go by many names, but they are most commonly referred to as fanbases or fandoms. They are the homes of the geeks, the nerds, the outcasts. They are the places in which those who are unashamedly enthusiastic about loving things find a safe space to be themselves.

The most popular fandoms today exist primarily online, spread out over thousands of forums, blogs, fanfiction hosting sites, and websites that showcase user-made art. These communities create vast archives of analysis, art, and humor, all hinging upon the shared interest in a particular original work of art or the artist behind it. Crossover between fanbases is not uncommon, and some fandoms are so closely linked that jokes along the lines of “some fandoms marry other fandoms, get over it” often occur.

Jessica Brookes, a member of the Portland Believes in Sherlock fan group, elaborates on both the positive and negative realities of participating in a fan community.

Joining a fandom means an automatic, immediate bond with people who share your interests. In the real world, meeting people who care as much as you do about specific artistic works is harder and occurs less often. Everyone that joins a fan community is there because they expressly desire the opportunity to share their love a specific thing.

“That’s the beauty of fan communities,” Brookes says. “You meet amazing, intelligent, passionate individuals who share your interests, and those people enrich your life in a way that random acquaintances don’t.”

Yet committed involvement in a fandom is not without its drawbacks. A common trend involves those that have been involved in fandoms for longer than others forming an elitist mentality. This can take the fun out of being an involved fan, causing newer fans to feel unwelcome due to fans with seniority claiming superior opinions, greater fondness for characters, and deeper knowledge and understanding of the canon, a term that refers to the concepts accepted by the fanbase as officially a part of the original source material. When significant portions of fandoms develop this attitude, they may get the reputation of being less welcoming than other, leaving newer fans feeling isolated.

In addition to this, Brookes points out the danger of mob mentality forming within fandoms.

“Once something spreads, whether it’s something good or bad, real or fake, it spreads widely and rapidly,” Brookes says. “People can lose sight of reality if they see something enough times, and that’s a major problem.”

Despite any issues that arise from the potential for mob mentality in fan communities, it is no secret that these fanbases are practically bursting with user generated art. Artistic expression in fan communities comes in just about every format imaginable. There are written fictions in countless styles and maturity ratings; role playing games; drawings of any medium on anything from notebook paper to canvas to digital drawing pads; paintings; videos; food art; comics; graffiti; fashion; short, moving animated images called gifs; micro-stories made out of a set of gifs in the styled of a paneled comic; and more. The quality of these artistic expressions ranges anywhere from casual stick figures to commissioned works of art that take months to complete.

Jessica Brookes with her painting of Lara Pulver as Irene Adler

Fan creativity of award-winning quality has existed for decades. The Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist was introduced in 1967 and is awarded each year to the creator of the best piece of fan art of the previous year. The Hugo Awards, presented by the World Science Fiction Society, focus on the best science fiction and fantasy works published each year. Because of the strong connection between fandoms and the science fiction and fantasy genres, it is no surprise that attention is given to the most talented fan artists of each year.

With the ever-increasing opportunity for fans to create and share works of art based on original source material comes as much criticism as praise. Fanfiction in particular is often condemned as self-indulgent, pointless, and potentially even harmful to the originators of the work on which the fanfiction is based.

Opponents of the genre dismiss it as inherently lacking value and do not consider any fanfiction to be worthy of the label of literature. Many even consider it illegal.

The tendency to include under-developed original characters, use of poor grammar, and depiction of actions unsupported by characterizations in the canon have all been contributing factors to fanfiction’s negative reputation.

However, as the popularity of fan-created art grows, there is increasing evidence in favor of the validity of fanfiction. Many professional authors and screenwriters have spoken out about their beliefs and preferences regarding fanfiction written based on their works, and the general attitude seems to be a positive one. While it is not uncommon for them to avoid reading fanfiction, usually due to a strong personal connection to their characters, most are in favor of their fans writing creatively about their characters and worlds as long as it is not done for monetary gain. Still, some authors, such as Anne Rice, Lynn Flewelling, and George R. R. Martin, remain firmly opposed to fanfiction created from their works.

Even such high profile authors as J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman have stated their support of fan-created stories, though Rowling is weary of fans writing Harry Potter fanfiction that includes explicit material, asking them to be sure their work is credited to the fan author and not Rowling.

On her blog, Independent Paranormal, indie fantasy and supernatural fiction writer Jennifer Rainey posted a piece titled “In Defense of Fanfiction.” She confesses to having written fanfiction as a teenager and explains how it helped her grow as a writer without her even realizing it.

Writing for a supportive, interactive, and knowledgeable readership, Rainey writes, provides a trustworthy and dedicated critique group that can help hone the skills of an aspiring writer. Additionally, because the communities they write for are so well versed in the source material, fan writers learn the art of avoiding excessive details and focusing instead on key plot and character development.

Fanfiction is not the only creative outlet for fanbases that comes with a negative connotation. Fanart in general is not widely accepted as a valid contribution to the visual arts canon. The two major claims against fanart are that it is not real art and that it does not tend to be a moneymaking venture. For those that create and appreciate fanart, these arguments entirely miss the point.

Tumblr blogger makingtriangles explains the creation of fanart as an expression of the need to make something tangible that explores hows an artist thinks or feels about something. She points to the use of cultural symbols in both art that is original and art that is derived from another artistic source.

Respected artists in all facets of the art world use imagery that recalls mythology or religious teachings as an emotional shortcut for their audiences. In the same way, fanart expands on a fanbase’s shared knowledge of an artistic source to create new meaning behind characterizations, scenes, or interactions.

“I think it’s important to remember that fan communities and fanworks aren’t meant to be harmful to the original content,” Brookes says. “They’re just expressions by fans of their love of something. Most of the time, they’re fun, creative, constructive, and a fantastic way to meet people who are passionate about the same things as you.”

***

The Power of Fandoms as Demonstrated by Sherlock Holmes’s Lovers

Despite the tendency of fan communities to flourish on the Internet, such dedication to works of art is nothing new. There are countless historical cases of fans joining together to discuss and enjoy shared interests based in the arts. Some were even strong enough to influence the body of work of the artists they revered.

Andrew Scott as Jim Moriarty, by Jessica Brookes

Contemporary fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories wore black clothing or tied black cloths around their arms in mourning over the death of the main character. So distraught were Holmes’s fans that they took to writing their own alternate endings in which Holmes survived, boycotted the newspaper for which Conan Doyle wrote, and fervently demanded the author bring the detective back to life. American fans created clubs proclaiming, “Let’s Keep Holmes Alive.” The author reluctantly brought Holmes back in response to the surprisingly large amount of backlash.

This ferocity of commitment to the protection of beloved characters and stories remains at the heart of fan communities today. A campaign that mirrors the “Let’s Keep Holmes Alive” clubs erupted after the finale episode of the most recent series of BBC’s drama, Sherlock. Fans of the show hang posters or even graffiti random locations throughout the world with phrases like “I believe in Sherlock,” “Richard Brook is innocent,” or “Moriarty was real. Brook is a crook.” Even the writers of the show have embraced this campaign and delight in the creativity and art with which their fanbase expresses its love of the show. After all, Sherlock is first and foremost an adaptation of the original works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. That makes Sherlock, in the end, high quality, well-funded fanfiction.

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Marc Shapiro walks into the men’s dressing room at the Very Little Theatre in Eugene, Ore., and turns the lights on to reveal walls covered in pictures, a bat pinned to the wall, and markings to remember many of the performers that had been on stage at the theater.

The Very Little Theatre was founded in 1929 as a community theater and has remained one of the most successful community theaters in the country. In 1950 they moved to the building they are in now at 2350 Hilyard Street.

Shapiro, who is the technical director at the Very Little Theatre, says, “If we were to rebuild this theater, and we’ve often talked about this, there’s a good chance we would take the walls and display them.”

Very Little Theatre

The graffiti performers leave behind can be quite detailed sometimes and be in different forms, from signatures, to cartoons, props, and posters. There are no rules.

 

When the University of Oregon remodeled their theaters and created the Miller Theatre Complex, which houses both the Robinson and Hope Theatres, they too kept the panels with writing from the actors.

John Schmor, head of the department of theatre arts, says that some of the signatures on the wall go back about thirty-five years. Although the writing at the Robinson only goes back to the 1970s, some of the marks left in Villard Hall go back further than that, but are nearly impossible to trace back to performers.

As a much newer theater in Eugene, Ore., the Lord Leebrick Theatre Company was established in 1992 and occupied their current location at 540 Charnelton Street in 1994. Mary Whetherbee, office manager for the Lord Leebrick Theatre, says, “Very little that has been written on our back wall.” Although in other theaters the graffiti the performers leave behind sometimes spreads throughout the building the Lord Leebrick Theatre only has one or two items that were left in the actor’s bathroom, the rest can be found on stage.

The Very Little Theatre has writing throughout the men’s dressing room. Even the insulation, that was installed about a year ago and covers up old signatures, has been written on. “They’ll write wherever they find space,” Shapiro says. “Sometimes they’ll write in spaces you didn’t think anybody could reach,” he says as he points out a large drawing backstage that is about ten feet up in the air.

Judging from the dates in some of the writing Shapiro thinks that the performers started their graffiti in the men’s dressing room and have moved to the women’s dressing room when the walls in the men’s dressing room became too full. The performers have written their names behind mirrors, costumes, insulation. “Most of the graffiti centers around a specific play,” Shapiro says looking at pictures people have drawn or posters people have stapled to the wall.

Very Little Theatre

The performers often focus their graffiti around the play they performed, such as this Guys & Dolls performance.

 

The black partitions backstage at the Hult Center, the performing arts center in Eugene, Ore., is full of photographs, posters, drawing and signatures of people who performed on the stage. From performers in international productions like Wicked and Beauty and the Beast to local groups like the Eugene Symphony, everybody has written their name in white on these black walls.

While the graffiti appears in most theaters, there are no rules for it. People aren’t asked to write their name down or draw a picture of the show, but yet somehow all performers know to leave their mark on the buildings they have visited. “They all anticipate to become famous,” Shapiro said. “But not me, I’ve worked in theater for 50 years, and I don’t think I’ll get famous.”

Shapiro’s role as a technical director might keep him from ever coming to the foreground as a celebrity, but this hasn’t stopped the people who work the lights and sounds at the Very Little Theater from carving their names in the wood above their control panels.

Very Little Theatre

Even the people in the audio booth want to leave their mark on the theater.

 

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by Katie Armstrong

Its red eyes are bulging and bloodshot. Its snout is pink and pig-like. Its purple antennae stick straight up in the air. Its teeth are red and thin, pointing in several directions. What is this creature? Is it a ferocious animal? Is it a misunderstood alien? Is it a lemur in a costume doing yoga? (more…)

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The Very Little Theatre is a volunteer organization run solely on membership power.

It’s a freezing Thursday night for the opening of “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” and Paula Tendick cannot stop tapping her black stiletto on the carpet of the green room in The Very Little Theatre. Paula Tendick is a hooker – tonight onstage, of course. She feels the ends of her false eyelashes as they graze the top of her eyebrows. She then closes her eyes, trying not to show the pain she is feeling from the massive headache from the tightly knotted bun on her head.

She takes a step but stops. One stage mate laughs as she nearly falls getting ready to walk onto the alley-decorated stage.

“It’s time,” she whispers to herself as she walks to the center of the stage.

Gazing at the gray-haired crowd, as she’s flaunting her short, red mini-skirt and low cut blouse, all of her fear escapes her. She opens her mouth, and the words flow out.

She woos the crowd.

Since 1929, The Very Little Theatre has been the jumpstart for amateur actors like Tendick. It was born during the Great Depression, when eight local theatre enthusiasts put the idea together. While the name of the theater may seem odd and obvious, incoming Publicity Director and former VLT President Scott Barkhurst says that it suits The VLT well.

“When the group of theater enthusiasts got together, one person said to the others, ‘There are hundreds of little theater groups up and down the country, but this is certainly going to be a very little one!’” he says.

Early on, The VLT underwent difficult economic conditions at its beginning including World War II, fluctuating consumer tastes and increased competition to become one of the oldest, continuously-operating community theaters in the United States.

The VLT has grown to be not so little, though. The Board of Directors is able to produce more complicated shows because there is a full-working stage. Full-fledged productions and a space of its own were not always the case for The VLT, however.

Back in the 1930s, The VLT was in the “Pillbox,” which was a drugstore on 13th Street. The residence provided seating for only 95 to 100 patrons on wooden packing cases and folding chairs.

“We are now able to stage fairly professional looking backgrounds here given the space we have now,” Barkhurst says. “And the numbers of guests keep growing.”

President of the Board of Directors for The VLT Rich Scheeland creates his own blueprints for how the stage will look for the next performance.

And that’s just what happened in 1935. People kept coming back for more plays, but rent also grew, unfortunately. The VLT was forced again to move its operation. For only sixty dollars a year, The VLT resided at the Lane County Fairgrounds in a framed exhibition hall known as the “Barn.” With renovations to the new space, a larger stage harbored full-scale productions as opposed to the one-act plays at the “Pillbox.” Not to mention, the space even provided 200 seats for guests.

One hundred extra seats just weren’t enough, though. In the 1947-48 season, long-time VLT supporter Horace Robinson convinced the theatre to sell season tickets. They did a five-play schedule for that season where tickets were five dollars a piece, raising $2,500. The following season was even more successful, selling $4,000 in season tickets.

This meant that it was now time for its own space. The VLT needed something more than the “Pillbox” or the “Barn.” It needed something more comfortable and bigger. So with the $4,000 raised in season tickets, the members of the theater bought the property located on Hilyard Street from the city of Eugene where it remains today. It contains a 220-seat auditorium, a workshop, dressing rooms, a green room and a small service kitchen.

Aside from its lengthy history, what makes The VLT different from other theaters, Barkhurst says, is the fact that it is solely a volunteer-based organization.

“Every person gets a vote, which is very unusual for an organization,” Barkhurst says.

President of the Board of Directors for The VLT Rich Scheeland says that because the theater is a volunteer-based organization, camaraderie is a characteristic amongst its volunteers.

“Being a member of The Very Little Theatre is like a sense of ownership for some people,” he says. “Because no one is paid, everybody’s voice carries equal weight when it comes to making some of the major decisions.”

These members have been active members of The VLT for 20 years or more and have, thus, become life legends of the theater.

Perhaps the most unique part about The Very Little Theatre, though, is the fact that the costumes are real clothes from the older eras. Many times they take dresses or suits and just add to them or rework them to fit the actors.

Paula Tendick, who originally began her membership at The VLT with acting, is also one of the costume designers. She says that the costume designing is her favorite part because it’s vintage but it’s also her own.

***

“This is it!” Tendick exclaims.

As she sits down with Carol Massahos, director of the upcoming play “I Hate Hamlet,” she whips out her pencil drawings of a beautiful Shakespearean dress.

“What is this? I love it!” Massahos exclaims.

As Massahos gazes at the intriguing drawing, she cannot help but wipe away a tear of joy from dripping down her cheek.

She jumps from her chair and runs backstage where the mannequin wearing the 70s’ empire dress is sitting. Tendick calmly walks over and runs her hand down the front showing Massahos where she will add a flowing piece down the front. Tendick then closes her eyes and runs her hands down the upper arms of the mannequin indicating where the sleeves will be added.

“I can definitely work with this,” Tendick says.

***

“It’s all a matter of formulating ideas,” Tendick says. “You see an already existing costume, and wonder what you can add to make it better.”

As a matter of fact, The Very Little Theatre’s costumes are so unique that its directors lend some of the vintage costumes to the Shelton McMurphey Johnson House, the oldest house in Skinner’s Butte, so everything looks real for guests who come to watch the performances.

Just when you think it stops there, The Very Little Theatre pleases its member with yet another appealing factor.

“People constantly tell us how nice, comfortable, inexpensive, convenient and entertaining our location is,” Scheeland says.

Granted the audience at The Very Little Theatre isn’t, well, young. Yet, the theater is just a place where people gravitate once their kids get out of high school and into college.

“I used to sit back and wonder what was with all the gray hair in the audience,” Barkhurst laughs. “When these people die we are in big trouble!”

Scheeland responds as he laughs, “Forty-year-olds become fifty-year-olds become sixty-year-olds. You have a never-ending supply.”

So with better quality of productions, more space, a more convenient location and a plethora of entertaining performances that have been perfected since 1929, it’s no surprise that The Very Little Theatre keeps growing.

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