Arts and Entertainment

‘Hours of Life’ initiates Art Museum auditorium

'Hours of Life' Director Corey D. McDaniel makes a suggestion to actor/singer Kevin Matthew who plays Edgar Allen Poe. The play's composer Paul Lewis, in front of the keyboard, looks on.
— image credit: Connie Mears/Staff Photo

Some stories are timeless, transcending the setting in which they first appeared. Boy meets girl is pretty standard fare in theater, but when that “boy” is the turbulent Edgar Allen Poe, the inherent drama ratchets up.

Bainbridge Island playwright Paul Lewis turns an old story, that of the obsessive, erotically charged love affair between Poe and poet Sarah Helen Whitman, into a contemporary musical, and juxtaposes it against the backdrop of the dawning of the Machine Age.

“It’s a romance that is impossible, yet inevitable,” Lewis said. “Helen is a wealthy, mystical, young widow. Poe is impoverished. Some would say a renegade. A bad boy.”

Lewis wonders what force or forces created such a juxtaposition. Whatever it was, that force is still at work: Tonight, Lewis will detail the troubles of a dark 19th-century poet on the virgin stage of Bainbridge Island’s newest venue – the auditorium that is the first component of the planned Art Museum. During Monday night’s rehearsal, most of the chairs in the 95-seat venue were still covered in plastic.

“I miss the old building,” said Barbara Hume who plays Poe’s lover Sarah Helen Whitman. “I remember getting ice cream there. And singing karaoke.”

That is the old story, one for which many islanders hold a similar nostalgia. But now, immersed in rehearsing for the play that will initiate a new era in the island’s history, she’s part of a new story. One that has yet to be written.

The Art Museum’s Executive Director Greg Robinson is a significant collaborator in and witness to the creative process of birthing this new narrative into being.

Reflecting the approach the board is taking, he uses the word “discovery” often. The board has gone to great lengths to involve as many organizations and partners in the process, starting with the design of the building on the island’s most prominent corner.

Robinson, drawing on his early career in facilities planning, has enjoyed the cerebral challenge of that phase. Form follows function.

“It’s like a puzzle,” he said, sitting at a table in the new classroom. “It’s really fascinating, and is its own creative process.”

After five years at the helm of the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, Robinson is aware of Bainbridge’s unique situation. Usually, he said, a museum is built because an established arts organization outgrows its space. In this case, the opportunity for the perfect space became available and the organization is emerging from that set of circumstances.

“This was a dream and the perfect site became available,” Robinson said.

In a way, erecting a structure is the easy part.

“How do you grow an organization?” he said. “It’s not as linear as designing a building.”

He and the board understand that the story they’re midwifing is not just theirs.

“We want to become a ‘cultural living room’ for the island,” he said. “We’re really interested in what does the public want out of it that we haven’t thought of yet.”

To that end, he and or the board have met with dozens of groups, forging “cultural partnerships” with entities such as IslandWood, Bloedel Reserve, the school district, the Metro Park and Recreation District, Senior Center, Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, and its closest neighbor, Kids Discovery Museum. For instance, KiDiMu will be using the Art Museum’s new classroom this summer for some of its creative camps. The next generation of islanders will be forming new memories of their own.

What will the collective story become? Only time – the hours of life – will tell, but tonight, a few new strands gets woven.

To learn more, visit www.bainbridgeartmuseum.org.

 

A new era begins

A premiere staged reading of “The Hours of Life,” a musical written by Paul Lewis, with some lyrics by Colin Speer Crowley, runs from 7:30-9:30 p.m. tonight in the Bainbridge Art Museum auditorium, in the Island Gateway complex, 554 Winslow Way E.

The nimble cast includes Kevin Matthew as Edgar Allan Poe; Barbara Hume as Poe’s lover Sarah Helen Whitman; Robin Denis as Maria Clemm (Muddy) and Mrs. Power; Jason Fowler as the Conductor; Johann Maezel, Pabodie, and the Stranger; Jennifer Jett who plays Anna Power, Eliza Poe, and Virginia Poe (Sissy); and Susan R. Anderson as Willem Schlumberger, the Librarian, Barkeep, and Nurse.

Admission is by donation.

 

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