Arts and Entertainment

Arts and humanities lecture series takes off at Vashon Allied Arts

Clockwise, from top left, Rebecca Albiani, Robert Bringhurst, Brian Yorkey, Awilda Verdejo, Robin Swicord and Nicholas Kazan. - Courtesy Photos
Clockwise, from top left, Rebecca Albiani, Robert Bringhurst, Brian Yorkey, Awilda Verdejo, Robin Swicord and Nicholas Kazan.
— image credit: Courtesy Photos

Gerry Feinstein said she felt a tad nervous last year, when an arts and humanities lecture series she and her husband Mike had organized was about to begin. Would Islanders like it? Would they come?

With one season under her belt, it’s a different story this year.

Last year’s series — the debut of a new program by Vashon Allied Arts — was not only much-heralded, it also sold out. From the first talk by novelist Jonathan Raban to the last, by acclaimed composer and conductor Abraham Kaplan, every seat was filled at the Blue Heron Art Center, an intimate space that added to the series’ richness.

This year, the lineup is again strong. Tickets are again selling at a rapid clip. And Feinstein, who again organized the series with her husband, said any doubt she had about the potential of a program like this to succeed on Vashon has long vanished.

“I feel very gratified that it was so successful,” she said of the last season.

After Raban’s talk last year, people told the Feinsteins how much they loved it — that they could have listened for hours. “It made us feel so good,” Gerry Feinstein said. “That’s our payment.”

The series, much like one held each year in Seattle’s Benaroya Hall, explores the creative process — from music to film to literature to art. And this year, like last, the Feinsteins were able to attract some luminaries.

The season opens with an incredible draw: Robin Swicord and Nicholas Kazan — both highly successful screenwriters — will be interviewed on stage by NPR and Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan. Swicord wrote the screenplay for “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “The Curious Case of Banjamin Button”; Kazan, the son of Elia Kazan, one of the most influential directors of all time, wrote “Reversal of Fortune” and “Bicentennial Man.”

The two live on Vashon part-time, not far from where the Feinsteins live. As far as asks went, Gerry Feinstein said, this one was easy. “We just walked down the street,” she said.

Another big name is Brian Yorkey, a playwright and theater director who won the Pulitizer Prize for drama this year with his highly acclaimed musical “Next to Normal.” His talk — an interview with Cornish College of the Arts associate professor Timothy McCuen Piggee — is on Feb. 20.

Feinstein said he was harder to reach, but because of his connections to the region — he started out his career at the Village Theatre in Issaquah — he, too, agreed to come.

The others who fill out the series have also experienced considerable professional success and are comfortable and engaging on stage, Feinstein said.

Historian Rebecca Albiani will offer up an introduction to Picasso — a talk that will complement Seattle Art Museum’s landmark exhibit of Picasso’s work this fall and winter.

Albriani holds a monthly lecture series at the Frye Museum that regularly sells out. The Feinsteins went to one of her talks after someone suggested she should come to Vashon, and Gerry Feinstein said she was riveted. “She’s amazing. She makes art history come alive.”

Awilda Verdejo, a celebrated opera singer who now lives in Seattle, will visit Vashon on Jan. 16. Verdejo, who has performed extensively in Europe, will present an evening of poetry and music — works by Langston Hughes both spoken and interpreted musically by a diverse range of 20th century composers.

The series closes on March 6, when Robert Bringhurst — a major Canadian poet, cultural historian and one of the world’s foremost authorities on typographic history and practice — visits the Island.

His groundbreaking study of the Native American oral tradition, “A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and their World,” was both controversial and celebrated; and his book “The Elements of Typographic Style” is the standard work in its field and has been translated into 10 languages.

The series, Gerry Feinstein said, came together fairly easily — much like last year’s. It helps, she said, that so many Islanders have connections to some of the region’s most successful artists, writers, historians and musicians. Islander Anita Halstead, for instance, used to work for the Frye and suggested Albiani. And VAA’s Angela Luechtefeld, who used to work for the Village Theatre, is a friend of Yorkey.

Those connections as well as simple requests have made the series, once again, come together, Feinstein said. And this year, she’s feeling nothing but anticipation and excitement.

“We were able to really get ourselves a great lineup,” she said.

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