Rick Bartow remembered

Actors William Webster, left, Rich Hicks, Linda Haggerty and Jeffery Wilson perform in “Rick Bartow: In Spirit,” a newly penned production coming to the Studio Theater in the Newport Performing Arts Center. (Courtesy photo)

New play to accompany local artist’s exhibit

Newport artist Rick Bartow will be the central character of a new play, coming to the Newport Performing Arts Center on Dec. 14.

The show is not a biographical piece by any means, but rather a tribute to Bartow’s artistic genius in the form of a fictional story. The play portrays an impossible meeting of Bartow and three of the authors he drew in the now travelling exhibit — A.E. Houseman, Emily Dickinson and Bertolt Brecht — after they leap from the page and into his studio.

“He actually painted 17 authors and it’s lovely, tantalizing, unknown why he picked the writers he picked,” said Merridawn Duckler, the Portland playwright commissioned to write the show. “And at first I thought, ‘well, I’ll do all 17!’ but that seemed like a long night of theater.”

Duckler was asked to write the piece by Newport Visual Arts Center director Tom Webb to accompany a special exhibit.

A series of Bartow’s portraits, each of which feature a different author, will be traveling as an exhibit to libraries around the state. The collection was originally donated to the Newport Public Library by Bartow and inspired the premise of “Rick Bartow: In Spirit.” One of the show’s performances will be recorded, and that video will be shown as part of the travelling exhibit going forward. During the performances at the PAC, the artist’s works will be on display in the lobby, and audience members are encouraged to come early to view the exhibit.

Duckler had her work cut out for her, as she had never met Bartow — though she loves his work. In researching him, she spoke with a number of people who knew him at varying levels of intimacy, in an effort to capture Rick Bartow in spirit. She stated that her hope with the show is that “people recognize what an incredible treasure Rick was, not only in Newport.”

“To me,” said Duckler, “he’s the quintessential Oregon artist; he represents everything great about Oregon.”

The result: a lovingly crafted script made for New Vision Arts to bring to life. Director Marc Maislen has worked with a small cast and crew to craft the physical manifestation of Duckler’s — and, by extension, Bartow’s — work.

“It’s really been a pleasure to direct something that has not just the teeth, but contrasts,” said Maislen. “It’s not your typical theatrical thing, where you have this major dramatic incident and ‘how are we going to solve it?’ It’s more of a revelatory, developmental piece … it’s really beautiful: a lot of laughter, some tears and a really hopeful outcome.”

Maislen stressed that the heart of what has brought this show into existence is the same thing that Bartow loved so deeply — the community. For example, the afterschool Art Friday classes at the VAC have created masks and sculptures that will be featured and used in the show. Similarly, Maislen explained that a number of people had come up to him, in many situations, and told him stories about Bartow and what he meant to them because they had heard he was working on the show.

The show will run for one weekend only: the evenings of Dec. 14 and 15, as well as a matinee on Dec. 16. If those shows sell out, a Thursday show will be added.

The show is seizure-safe and, with the exception of a minor swear word being uttered twice, kid-friendly. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $15 for students and can be purchased at the PAC box office, by phone at 541-265-2787 or online at www.coastarts.org.