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Monday, February 18, 2013


As I sat in the audience at The 5th Avenue Theatre for opening night of The Music Man, a surprising thought blew through my mind with the force of … well … 76 trombones.
If my ancestors had not decided to leave Iowa in about 1890 to come to Seattle, I would have been an Iowan, an Iowan descended from people much like the Iowans in Meredith Willson’s fictional town of River City.

Noah Racey (center) as Harold Hill with the company of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka
This show, which runs through March 10, was not only well worth the drive from Tacoma, but also a trip back in time to what could have been my own hometown. My grandfather once wore knickers like the boys on the stage and could have kissed a girl on a similar footbridge, visited a similar library, or experienced the same small town repression, gossip, and boredom as the characters in this beloved musical. Thinking of my family’s Iowa roots, I realized why The Music Man endures; beneath the unforgettable songs, comedy, fun lyrics, and dazzling dance scenes, it’s still a story inspired by real people who lived in a real place—Willson’s hometown of Mason City, Iowa, where he was born in 1902, in my grandfather's generation.
Memories of a Mid-Western upbringing so inspired him that he dedicated eight years of his life (and forty revisions) to examining and preserving those memories in a musical, writing the book, music, and lyrics. And it was his first attempt at such a daunting project. In doing so, Willson created a funny, entertaining, and yet true-to-life look at human nature and small town society, including people's hopes and dreams, the gossips, politicians, societal pressures on women, childhood without a father, and other issues that make it as relevant today as it would have been to my great-grandparents.
Marian the librarian (Laura Griffith, left) and Harold Hill (Noah Racey, right) in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka
When it comes to taking something old—like The Music Man, winner of the Tony award for Best Musical in 1958—and making it new again, no one meets the challenge with more finesse  and originality than The 5th Avenue Theatre. It was last produced here in 1995, but not like this. Executive Producer and Artistic Director David Armstrong called the current version “a fully realized production as you have never seen it before.” I just call it “great.”
Gabriel Corey (center) as Tommy Djilas with the company of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka

The whole perfect package represented, as usual, the kind of teamwork that makes every production at this theater spectacular. But I must say that no one aspect thrilled me more than the dancing. Of course I loved the music and lyrics, (kudos to every member of the fabulous 20-piece orchestra) but no previous exposure to The Music Man prepared me for the fresh excitement sparking this stage, thanks to the three-way combination of Joel Fram’s musical direction, Bob Richard’s choreography, and the talents of all those amazing dancers.
The company of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka
None impressed me more than Noah Racey in the leading male role of con man Harold Hill—who sets up the dramatic problem when he convinces a whole town to pay for band instruments, lessons, and uniforms for a boys’ band he never intends to form. Some of his footwork caused me to hold my breath, and his moves in sync with the lovely Laura Griffith, who played the female lead, Marian (the librarian) Paroo, flowed along flawlessly. Everyone in the ensemble looked so polished.

Harold Hill (Noah Racey, left) invites Eulalie Shinn (Laura Kenny, center) to head up the dance committee with the company of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaok
Colorful, period-perfect costumes and equally perfect hairdos, by Gregory A. Poplyk and Mary Pyanowski, respectively, plus Martin Christoffel’s clever sets, created the look and ambience of 1912 and made me feel nostalgic for an America I never actually knew. I’m a huge, huge fan of Tom Sturge’s lighting design, and in this production he brings the evening’s glow and eventual twilight to a cloud-strewn sky so gently and realistically that I expected to hear the crickets start to chirp any second. Beautifully done.When it came to the singing, I would have to give the prize to Griffith. Her beautiful soprano voice carried her lyrics clearly throughout the theater, and she brought tenderness to the character of Marian. But then there was also the show within the show, the barbershop quartet, a total delight.
L-R Olin Britt (Hugh H. Hastings), Oliver Hix (Eric Polani Jensen), Ewart Dunlop (Greg Stone), and Jacey Squires (Aaron Shanks) make up the school board and barbershop quartet in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka
How pleased I was to see Anne Allgoodagain, one of my favorites at The 5thAvenue. Perfectly cast, she brought warmheartedness, plenty of personality, and good humor to her role as Mrs. Paroo, Marian’s mother. The Shin family—Mayor Shin, so colorfully portrayed by Jeff Steitzer, along with Laura Kenny in the role of his dramatic wife, Mrs. Shin, and their daughters —provided the kinds of characters every small town needs and kept the laughs coming.
Harold Hill (Noah Racey) and Marian Paroo (Laura Griffith) in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Mark Kitaoka
In addition to this being a rollicking good time, a few important messages come through.

· Lies always cause trouble for those who tell them.

· We should not jump to conclusions about the morals, motivations, and private lives of others.

· Sometimes love comes along when we least expect it.

· And love changes everything.

My ancestors’ wanderlust and the lure of the West meant I did not grow up an Iowan. But it was fun to pretend I had, while losing myself in this delightful production. Even if you’ve seen The Music Manbefore, go see it again as if for the first time. I can tell how much creativity and love went into this particular version.And remember; love changes everything, for the better. Don’t miss this show.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


The Proctor Business District, in the north end of Tacoma, is known for its atmosphere of vitality and community spirit and its delightful summer Arts Fest, which will occur on Saturday, August 3 this year. Through an annual contest, some lucky Pierce County artist's poster design will be chosen to promote this event. The artist will win cash and plenty of publicity.
The winning poster for the Proctor Arts Fest 2012, painted by Andrea Greenfield
“The ProctorArts Fest Poster contest is a great way to show off your art,” said BonnieCargol, a member of the festival committee and an artist herself. “If your art is selected, you will not only win $300.00, but you will see it on the Arts Fest posters all over town, in the paper, and on a billboard in the ProctorBusiness District! How great is that?”

Here’s how great it is.

·         The winner will receive a $300 purchase award, the acceptance of which grants the Proctor Arts Fest Committee the right to reproduce the artwork ONLY for the purpose of promoting the event. The original art will remain the property of the artist.

·         The winning artist can display his or her artwork in the Proctor Art Gallery on the day of the festival and all through the week preceding it.

·         With the exceptions of photography and art generated by computer, any artistic medium will be accepted.

·         The winner’s artwork will be an important and highly visible part of a popular event that keeps gaining attendees and attention.

Trumpeter Lance Buller and his Combo dazzled crowds at the 2012 Arts Fest
The ProctorArts Fest, purposely planned for what is statistically the summer weekend least likely to have rain, has everything going for it—plenty to see, do, and enjoy.  Many of the region’s best artists and artisans of all kinds prioritize this event and reserve their spaces early. Live entertainment and tasty foods make for a day packed full of family fun. But even if you’ve never been to this event, you can use your imagination to create a piece of artwork following the theme of the spirit of a summer art festival.

“Just imagine what a fun Art Fest and street fair mean to you,” Cargol said.  Paint, draw, sculpt, etc., a picture of it, put it on a CD, and mail it to us. Please no photography or computer generated art.”

Although limited to artists living in Pierce County, students at the local colleges are welcome to enter, as are artists of all ages. A committee made up of artists and Proctor business people will judge the entries.

 Additional information:

Do not include lettering on your art, unless it is integral to the design. The printed information will be added to the poster by our graphic designer/printer. Please do not feature any Proctor Business. Submit your entry on a CD. CDs will not be returned.

Entries must be postmarked by April 15, or dropped off at the Proctor Art Gallery, 3811 N. 26th Street, by this date.

Send entries to:

Proctor District Association
Proctor Arts Fest Poster Contest
P.O. Box 7291
Tacoma WA 98417

Include name, telephone number, email, media and brief resume.

For questions, contact Bonnie Cargol at

Now you can "like" Good Life Northwest on Facebook.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


"Mount Rainier" by Adriana Willsie
Once upon a time, in a land called the Pacific Northwest, I knew a little girl who seemed sprinkled with fairy dust. Call it sparkle, charisma, blessedness or whatever you want, but there is a certain quality that even in a world full of cute kids, some have and some do not. And she did. You know the kind of child I mean—the kind not only physically appealing, but full of glee, dancing through their days as if they believed their purpose on Earth was simply to experience carefree happiness, a rich imagination, and creative freedom. They make us smile, laugh, and wonder what they will become.

Adriana Willsie and Noah Saipe                photo by Teri Saipe
That little girl was my niece Adriana Willsie who grew up in Redmond, Washington. I watched her grow up. The happy child become the happy woman, beautiful inside and out. She graduated from Princeton University and worked in the non-profit sector for several years. Then she decided to become a full-time artist, an “unapologetically upbeat artist,” she says. Now living in Wisconsin and engaged to be married to her true love, Noah Saipe, Adriana still experiences and expresses her life with a sense of wonder, joy, and enchantment. Her distinctive artistic style delights a steadily growing number of people who have discovered her website:

AdrianaWillsie—Fresh Art & Custom Portraits.

"Dog Days of Summer"    by Adriana Willsie
Adriana first gained attention for her custom portraits of pets, because she somehow manages to express the animal’s personality as if she knew them. That same uncanny ability to recognize and make visible the true character of any subject she paints reveals itself in her still lifes and landscapes too. In each work of art, she shares her joyful spontaneity and keen perceptions.

Maybe this involves a bit of magic, because Adriana's magical childhood allowed her to see and do things in her own unique way. I recently interviewed my niece and am pleased to share our conversation with the readers of Good Life Northwest.
"Nighttime Cityscape - Seattle"    by Adriana Willsie
Good Life Northwest: How do you think growing up in the Pacific Northwest influenced your art and the person you are today?

 Adriana: I was lucky to be raised by two parents who understood the importance of unstructured play. I spent hours every day doing things like building tiny villages out of the moss and twigs in our yard, climbing trees, making my own “paints” from clay and charcoal, and shooting huckleberries at my unsuspecting brother.

These days, I can see just how rare and lucky is the kid who gets so much time playing outdoors and exploring. But looking back, I can see how it sparked my need to play and explore with paint. It's also impossible to grow up around so much natural beauty and not feel the need to somehow capture it.


GLN: What did you love best about growing up here?

Adriana:  I know it sounds cliché, but I loved the outdoors. Growing up, I always had this sense that our backyard was full of magical mysteries. For a while, I was convinced we had elves living in a gnarled tree behind our house. My friends and I would often go on hunts for treasures like interesting rocks or egg shells. And we assumed that the woods in our back yard could provide anything we might need (clay for binding stuff together, huckleberries for food, ferns to turn into forts, etc.) It was quite the pioneer mindset!

"Noah's Portrait"   by Adriana Willsie
GLN: What strong connections do you still feel?

Adriana: Somebody once bought me a little sachet of pine needles that smells exactly like the woods I grew up in. Every time I smell it, it gives me a sense of calm. Also, the sound of rain on leaves, no matter where I am, always brings my mind back to the house I grew up in.

"Lemons and Cake"    by  Adriana Willsie
GLN: Do you plan to do more landscapes and still life paintings in the future? What are your goals where art is concerned?

Adriana: My biggest goal for this year is to explore still lifes. I've started doing weekly challenges with artist friends to help us all improve our work, and I'm taking a color theory class at the university. I hope that by the end of the year, I'll have even more passion for painting and a deeper understanding of acrylics.

"Asparagus" by Adriana Willsie
GLN: Why do you choose to create works that are rather small in size as opposed to using larger canvases?

Adriana: This is something I started doing because of my budget. An 8-by-10-inch canvas is much cheaper than a 24-by-36-inch! But the more I painted, the more I realized that my painting style is to start and then work until it's done. Now I enjoy working on the smaller side because I can work my way through the whole painting at once. It also allows me to price my work so that it's affordable for everyone.

"Pumpkin" by Adriana Willsie

GLN: It seems to me that you have the ability to capture the essence of your subjects with a fresh and pleasing minimalist approach. How in the world do you do this? How are you feeling when you observe the subject and how do you discern which qualities you most want to express?

Adriana: Thank you! That's such a wonderful compliment. I'd say that the thing that excites me the most about painting is the color. Put me in the paint aisle of an art store and I will almost start drooling. When I'm beginning a new piece, I usually think about whether I want calming analogous colors or vibrant complimentary colors, and I begin making decisions from there. My paintings tend to be simple because I generally like to finish them in one day. Once I get revved up about something I'm working on, I can paint for 10 hours straight. But by the next day, it's old news.
"Orange" by Adriana Willsie
That may be, but the talent of this artist is the latest news. And once acquired, her work never grows old, because it comes with a wee bit of Adriana’s own essence—that of an artist gifted with originality, a love of vivid color, and a keen eye for the most important elements in the characters of people, animals, places and things.

I hope my niece's life will always feel as magical as a gnarled old tree that could be hiding elves in a Northwest forest. I hope people who read this will remember that the children in their lives also need plenty of unstructured play outdoors. If you want them to have a lucky life, they need to spend time where the fairy dust can find them.

"Tahoe"  by Adriana Willsie
Now that you know a little about Adriana, please take a look at her other paintings and delightful blog and get to know her better. Then you might want to contact her about doing a custom painting or sketch for you to keep or give as a very special gift.

Adriana Willsie—Fresh Art & Custom Portraits

Adriana Willsie’s shop on Etsy  (check out her paintings, pillows, and more)

"Griffin"  by Adriana Willsie


Good Life Northwest now has a page on FACEBOOK 
  The artwork in this blog post was used with the permission of the artist and may not be reproduced in any form.

Friday, February 1, 2013


Family history has a funny way of coming full circle, even after 150 years. In April of 1861, a presidential proclamation called for 75,000 men to serve in "The War of the Rebellion" for three months. A certain nineteen-year-old in Wisconsin—who would later become my great-great-grandfather—volunteered, joining the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Now I have volunteered to help reveal a small part of the big story of a war that changed the life of my ancestor and for lasted years, not months. I've volunteered to help examine the Civil War experience in Washington Territory through the Washington Territorial Civil War Read-In. 

Property of Candace J. Brown
“Washington Territory? The Civil War didn’t happen here, did it?” people ask.
That was my reaction too, when I first heard of the project. Among the pioneers, except for immigrants who had recently arrived in North America, many must have had relatives involved in the bloody conflict, so of course it mattered to them. But with communication slow and difficult, and since no battles took place here, it is easy to imagine that the war seemed remote from the lives of those in the distant Northwest. I could not have been more mistaken.
Even though residents of Washington Territory could not vote in the presidential election of 1860, when it came to strong convictions and politically-based actions they were as involved as anyone back in the States, United or Confederate. In recent years, the Washington State Historical Society has discovered in their records a wealth of material related to the territory’s experience of the Civil War. These records exist in the form of letters, newspaper clippings, books, and other items, more material than the usual researchers have time to read. That’s why they developed a research project called the Washington Territorial Civil War Read-In, running from January through August 2012. And the WSHS needs our help.
Courtesy of the Washington State Historical Society, and quoting from their information,
"Democratic appointee James Tilton arrived in Olympia, Washington Territory in 1855, accompanied by his family and a young black slave, named Charles Mitchell. Mitchell fled to the Crown Colony of Victoria in September 1860, a fugitive on a tiny Puget Sound underground railroad.  Here, the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, October 18, 1860, reprinted an article on the flight from a Washington Territory newspaper."
In anticipation of a major exhibition titled “Civil War Pathways,” scheduled for February 2014 at the Washington State History Museum—and in order to build a searchable online database—WSHS is looking for volunteers to read and review various materials that tell the story of the antebellum,wartime, and early Reconstruction periods as experienced in Washington Territory. The volunteers will help to create a database of citations and scanned documents by uploading their findings to an online form, thereby documenting what they’ve read. Training session held in various cities around the state will teach these researchers everything they need to know. Each assignment will require about a month to complete in a person's spare time and should prove fascinating for those of us who love history.
Lorraine McConaghy is a professional public historian who works at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, teaches at the University of Washington, and is the author of three books. Active in many history-related organizations, she lectures and shares her enthusiasm far and wide, and is also managing the Read-In, with help from Darby Langdon, the project coordinator.
McConaghy told me in an email, "This audacious project will harness the work of hundreds of readers in our state to create a unique database, and it is also a wonderful opportunity to really understand Washington Territory's Civil War, from scratch—from the very newspapers, correspondence and public records of the time!"
photo portrait James Tilton, ca. 1865      courtesty of the Washington State Historical Society
Take a look at this excerpt from the F.A.Q. document the project provides to volunteers, stating facts about the impact of the Civil War in the Territory of Washington that will surprise and amaze most people:
Convictions about race and slavery, treason and secession, military preparedness, international relations and wartime suppression of civil liberties divided settlers in Washington Territory as they divided Americans in the Confederate States of America from those in the United States.  Washington’s governor resigned to “go South,” and so did many officers of the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy who had been stationed in Washington. 

Not every settler partial to the Confederacy or opposed to the Lincoln administration left the Territory.  Those who stayed behind ranged across a spectrum from Peace Democrats to the secret, paramilitary society known as the Knights of the Golden Circle, extremists who drilled for the assassination of Lincoln’s political appointees and advocated the secession of the Pacific Republic.  There was one celebrated fugitive slave case on Puget Sound, and at least one other African-American slave in the Territory.  Settler attitudes toward race were enormously complicated in Washington Territory, where the racial hierarchy included Asians from the “Sandwich Islands,” Native and mixed world people, blacks from Africa, and African-Americans, slave and free. 

While some Republicans were abolitionists, few at any point on the political spectrum were advocates of black social, economic or political equality.  In other words, one could oppose slavery but not favor free blacks.  As far as we know at present, no anti-war, anti-Lincoln newspaper in Washington Territory was shut down by military authority; the northernmost newspaper to be closed was the Portland Advertiser in the new state of Oregon.  Territorial residents had subscribed by mail to the Advertiser as well as a number of other Oregon antiwar newspapers; Republican appointees delivered the mail in Washington Territory and were partly responsible for the suppression of those newspapers, seen as treasonous.  And, as far as we know right now, there were no territorial instances of the suspension of habeas corpus.  The Crown Colony of Victoria was the destination for at least one fugitive slave from Washington Territory, fleeing to a substantial black community; however, Victoria was also the haven for pro-Confederate sympathizers and Confederate agents, seeking to purchase and equip a war steamer to harass coastwise shipping. 
Training dates, times, and locations for the Washington Territorial Civil War Read-in are shown below.

NOTE: I just received an update from Lorraine McConaghy about an additional training session in Seattle. She said, "The demand has been incredible, and the first two trainings are completely full. So we're working to find a site for a training in the Seattle area, 10-4, April 27. If folks will let us know that they're interested, we'll add them to the list and let them know when we do and where the training will be."

Even though Seattle seems to have plenty of volunteers, many more are needed in other parts of the state, so please share this blog post with anyone anywhere in Washington who might be interested.

Please note that the Walla Walla training is on a Sunday, whereas most others are on Saturdays.

Saturday, February 9, 10-4 Seattle  FULL
Wednesday, February 13, 10-4 Seattle  FULL
Saturday, February 16, 10-4 Vancouver
Saturday, February 23, 10-4 Olympia
Saturday, March 2, 10-4 Tacoma
Sunday, March 10, 12-6 Walla Walla
Saturday, March 23, Yakima
Saturday, April 13, 10-4 Cheney

         Saturday, April 20, 10-4 La Conner
NEW! Seattle April 27, 2013 Location TBD (See note above)
Would you like to be involved? It’s easy. Just contact Darby Langdon or Lorraine McConaghy for more information. They will welcome your inquiry and answer all your questions.
But don’t wait too long. If enough people hear about this you could miss the opportunity to help create this lasting legacy. And when it’s all finished the volunteers will be invited to a celebration where they can meet each other. Like the information document says, “The Read-In is a community, not just a project.” Please join us!