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Best of Olympia 2015 Arts and Entertainment: Nathan Barnes, Salon Refu, Theater Artists Olympia, Christian Carvajal ...

Weekly Volcano staff names the best arts and entertainment in Olympia for 2015

BEST TEMPEST IN OLYMPIA: Olympia Little Theatre knows Shakespeare. Photo credit: Austin Lang

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BEST ONRAMP

Olympia Audition League

Are you a singer, actor, dancer or singer-actor-dancer who's wondering how to break into Olympia's thriving (though admittedly cliquey) theater scene? Perhaps you're a new arrival, or you may have just graduated from high school or college - in which case, no one off-campus is hip to your training and talents. The answer, my aspirational amigo, is the Olympia Audition League general auditions held each summer, known community-wide as "OALs." I attended the first such auditions in 2009, and to be honest, I wasn't a fan of the process. In 2014, however, the event ran smoothly and, for the most part, amiably. Even better, it introduced local directors to a wave of talented folks who've turned up in productions from pop-up shows to the biggest of big-ticket spectacles. Between generals, the Olympia Audition League hosts such workshops as "Breaking Bard," a Shakespeare master class, and its Facebook page is the go-to for up-to-the-minute audition notices from troupes and filmmakers all over town. {CHRISTIAN CARVAJAL}

BEST REALLY NICE GUY WHO TAKES CHANCES

Nathan Barnes

I've heard that Nathan Barnes got some serious blowback for bringing Benjamin Enterner's installation "Mining the Ego" to the art gallery at South Puget Sound Community College. Why? Because the installation included a monstrous reclining male nude drawn with black markers on blow-up vinyl sculpture. This huge sculpture called "Colossus" stretched from the door of the gallery all the way to the back wall, and his most prominent male part was not covered up. Apparently, it shocked some folks.  Here's the thing, it's as simple as this: When SPSCC ran the gallery and Cassie Welliver was the director it was a great gallery. Then the Washington Center took over and the quality of their shows took a nose dive until they hired Barnes, and the quality of their shows quickly improved and is now equal to or better than it was at its previous best. {ALEC CLAYTON}

BEST DAMN-THAT'S-IN-OLYMPIA? GALLERY

Salon Refu

Let's face it, folks. Olympia simply does not have intimate little galleries that show the latest and greatest works by regional artists and don't augment their sales by doing framing or selling crafts and gift items or commercial prints. But local artist and somewhat reluctant entrepreneur Susan Christian has defied all the odds to successfully open and manage Salon Refu, which is exactly what I just said Olympia doesn't have. Christian sells art of no commercial appeal. Over the past year, she has had shows of Jean Nagia's Jean Nagai's correctional fluid paintings (as in white-out), Mary Randlett's marvelous photographs, Haley Bea's quirky prints, Joe Batt's installation of anthropomorphized animals and child-animal hybrids, and Evan Clayton Horback's Rauschenbergian collages. Christian has taken a short break and has rented out the space, but will reopen in the spring with an exhibition by Nathan Barnes. Salon Refu is at 114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia. {AC}

BEST MOVIE THEATER

Capitol Theater

Lax industry standards make this an easy category to win: To distinguish yourself, you merely have to book movies that someone with half a brain might be interested in seeing, project them in focus and maintain a physical environment that's homier than downtown Beirut. More often than with any of the competition, that's the Capitol Theater, still Thurston County's best bet for an evening at the movies that won't leave a patron ruing the state of cinematic entertainment. Intelligently selected indie fare is of course the place's continuing calling card, though its popularity also has a good deal to do with the availability of kickass music shows. Secret weapon: Executive Director Audrey Henley (named Best Olympian in 2013) - who made a name for herself booking crossover bands, indie delights and enticing acts - always puts community first. 206 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia {RON SWARNER}

BEST GONE AWAY GALLERY

Matter Gallery

What's that painful moan you hear? It's the collective moan of Olympia and South Sound art lovers' distress over the loss of Matter Gallery. But hold your horses, there's a flicker of a chance that it may reopen in another location - ideally another downtown Oly location. Jo Gallaugher started the gallery in 2009 with 48 artists dedicated to working with recycled materials. Three times during Matter's short lifetime it was named best gallery in Olympia by the Weekly Volcano's reader poll. By the time the gallery finally closed it had evolved into an artist-run cooperative gallery with a handful of artist-owner-managers representing more than 100 local, regional and national artists. The owners did say they intended to find a new location and reopen, but in today's financial climate it is hard to imagine that is going to work out. But we can hope, can't we? {AC}

BEST PROPERTY RESCUE

Theater Artists Olympia

Theater Artists Olympia, the often campy, sometimes avant-garde stage "collective," has demonstrated remarkable staying power over the last 12 years. The troupe's output declined in recent seasons, however, due in large part to difficulty finding suitable venues. Meanwhile, the Midnight Sun, a black-box performance space that used to be an inner-city bus office, has been visibly decaying on Columbia Street. Under the leadership of artistic director Pug Bujeaud and board president Brian Hatcher, TAO took control of the Sun and opened its first show there, a revival of Arthur Kopit's Chamber Music, in late April. TAO's winter production of The Head That Wouldn't Die, a musical written by Bujeaud, was my pick for best show of 2014. Next up: Neil LaBute's 2007 rehab dramedy In a Dark Dark House, opening March 27. The Midnight Sun may indeed be a dark dark house, but TAO's come a long way toward giving it its own rehab dramedy. {CC}

BEST PROPERTY FLIP

Olympia Family Theater

I had the questionable honor of appearing in the final Capital Playhouse show, Legally Blonde: The Musical, last March. Despite recent successes, the unholy trinity of debt, scandal and ethical anomalies finally caught up with the popular company, and its assets were auctioned off to address an over-$50,000 debt to the IRS. Olympia Family Theater, on the other hand, had quickly outgrown its State Avenue headquarters, so co-founder Jen Ryle arranged to move into the 612 Fourth Avenue space beginning officially September 1. In the meantime, OFT crews labored to open, clean and revitalize the building's interior. When audience members poured in for the opening of Busytown on September 26, it was hard not to be stunned by the transformation. My wife is on the OFT board, yet even I had no idea how much work had been done. The nonprofit Arbutus Folk School next door, by the way, is another welcome addition to the block. {CC}

BEST SHOW I HAVEN'T SEEN YET

"Building for the Future: Collections at Evergreen"

Sometimes you don't even have to see a show to know it's going to be great. That is the case with "‘Building for the Future: Collections at Evergreen," now showing until March 4 at The Evergreen State College. There's more to it than just an art exhibition. Due to the short-sightedness and outright stupidity of some people in the state legislature and the College administration, TESC is in danger of losing its art gallery. Naturally, there are people who are upset and who are fighting to save the gallery. As one small step in the fight toward keeping the gallery, TESC has pulled together a special show to highlight what a marvelous collection they have to share. The show includes artists Diane Arbus, Rick Bartow, John Divola, Lyonel Grant, Allan Houser, Ester Hernandez, Helmi Juvonen, Jacob Lawrence, Larry McNeil, Ramon Murillo, Richard Misrach, Susan Pavel, Lillian Pitt, Mary Randlett, Charles Stokes, Andy Warhol, Edward Weston and more. Area art lovers should flock to the gallery because of those names alone. I know I will. {AC}

BEST TEMPEST IN OLYMPIA

Olympia Little Theatre

Shakespeare's romantic comedy The Tempest is a beast of a show to stage. Its uncomfortably colonial mindset toward non-Europeans, its treatment of the innocent and all that accursed iambic pentameter make it a handful for any troupe. I watched Theater Artists Olympia struggle with Tempest in 2008, as "Prospera" staggered through a debilitating migraine and Chris Cantrell's Caliban took a header down a flight of stairs. By contrast, director Robert McConkey's July 2014 production at Olympia Little Theatre came off without a hitch. That's the second amazing Shakespeare production I've seen at OLT - and I'm not even counting TAO's excellent Titus Andronicus, staged there in 2012. McConkey did a masterful job of incorporating elements from MGM's The Wizard of Oz, and Alayna Chamberland earned her supporting actor Carvy award as Ariel alongside laudable work from Lynn Couch, Sara Geiger and Rick Pearlstein. Sadly, we don't see much of McConkey onstage anymore; but if this is what we can expect from his directing efforts henceforth, I for one would be over the rainbow. {CC}

BEST TEMPEST IN A TEAPOT

Christian Carvajal

Who's your favorite movie critic? Does he or she bestow praise on every movie release, or are most reviews mixed good and bad? Would you describe your favorite critic as perpetually ... nice? Well, I wasn't, either, and that engendered animosity over the last five years. A mom-and-pop company in Gig Harbor started the ball rolling by denying me comp tickets, followed in 2014 by a musical theater troupe that had railed against me and my Volcano colleagues. In December, my review of an uninspired holiday revue brought on similar outrage, but by then I'd had enough. Even positive reviews were giving me sufficient agita to keep me awake nights. I asked for and received an "open-ended sabbatical" from criticism, and our current format downplays reviews. Is that a net gain for the theater community? Company managers, understandably fretful of their bottom line, say it is. Local patrons, who make budgetary decisions of their own, may not be so sure. What is sure is a national trend toward denying comps or even seats to professional critics is catching on. Our paper wasn't the first; we doubt we'll be the last. In decades to come, we may remember what we used to call unbiased criticism in the legitimate press as a quirk of theatrical history. {CC}

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