A Surreal and Welcome Luxury

Look back at the newspaper articles chronicling the opening of ACMA’s Performing Arts Center and you’ll find a sense of wonder and appreciation.

IMG_6194

The Oregonian reported on the PAC’s opening back in 2010, quoting ACMA Senior Nathan Avakian, who said: “For most of the ACMA students, it’s slightly overwhelming. It gives us something to work up to. When you walk in and you see the space — and it’s gigantic compared to what we’ve been working in — it makes you to want to do work that has that same size impact.”

That gigantic ambition to create has continued at ACMA for almost a decade.

But the journey to completion started much earlier, with a groundbreaking ceremony under the March sun where students talked about the excitement and anticipation that went along with such an impressive building. Until the late 2000s “new construction” at ACMA meant portables or 1958’s Quonset Hut; the PAC would be a huge step forward in the life of our little school.

Screen Shot 2019-04-23 at 1.43.01 PM

Brian Bertram, who has directed plays in both the PAC and Quonset Hut, described the Performing Arts Center as “a grand palace, filled with bells and whistles, begging us to play to our hearts’ content. We have our large proscenium auditorium, microphones, and high-tech lighting instruments (that can be programmed to move on their own!), a truly pre-professional space where students can learn how the larger theatres in the “real world” operate.” And… he added, “for a more intimate experience, students can be seen acting and teching in the Blue Box, a black box theatre that (for a piece of nostalgia) still runs with the light board from our cafeteria stage days!”

Screen Shot 2019-04-17 at 7.03.50 AM

The PAC has seen performances and art shows large and small, with Art is My Voice taking over the foyer gallery every spring, scores of Senior Capstones, dance shows, musicals, plays, and concerts. It’s in the PAC that we have movie nights, open mic nights, storytelling, and huge collaborations like this year’s ACMA Spectacular.

During the school day it also serves as a place where we come together as a student body for assemblies, to hear guest artists, and gather in those times we need to be together. The red interior was aptly described by former principal Michael Johnson as the color of a heart.

Info Night

As ACMA’s Savant newspaper said in 2010: “With velvety red interior, harmonious acoustics, and plush folding chairs, stepping inside the new Performing Arts Center strikes any student as a surreal and welcome luxury.”

…the heart of our campus.

Advertisements

Theatre is Beautiful

IMG_0096Remnants of memory still fill the walls of the storage area behind the cafeteria, words from across the years looking down on piles of plywood sets and platforms, scraps of faux brick, wooden boxes, swinging stage doors, and even a wooden shield or two. This was once “backstage,” though there wasn’t actually a connecting door that actors could open, when the stage at ACMA was the south end of the Quonset Hut. This was before the Performing Arts Center opened on campus in 2010 and it saw the genesis of theatre at ACMA.

“There wasn’t a shell or cyclorama to hide the wooden backstage structure” recalls Linda Bloom, who taught theatre and tech in that airplane hanger. “One year there was a technical theatre class. The first order of business was to paint the backstage area black. We also painted the stage black. Lots of black paint, many hours, several coats. It was starting to look like a real theatre space.”

Those early shows were adventures in ingenuity for clever directors, flexible performers, and Herculean stage managers. “Dressing Rooms? There were two locker rooms behind the stage area,” explained Linda Bloom. “The custodial staff used one for excess supplies/furniture. The other was for props and costumes, in bad need of organizing. Tech theatre began to hang costumes and label the prop boxes. Casts preferred to change in the school restrooms. This meant the building had to be opened during any type of performance because there were no self-contained restrooms in the food court facility, proper makeup lights were non-existent. The cast put on makeup and dressed in the restrooms, while the audience was also using them.” She laughed at the memory, grief softened by time gone by, and then described the ACMA production of Bullshot Drummond, a crime farce “with about three thousand props, each used barely once.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 2.43.22 PM

Those long tables of hats, and books, and coffee cups, stretched out in the “prop room,” which Linda explained “was also considered the ‘green room’ where the actors hung when they weren’t on stage. Of course they couldn’t hear the  show, and that meant they couldn’t hear their cues, so frequent visits to the backstage happened often, so as not to miss an entrance.”

Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 9.03.03 AMACMA’s first musical was in that almost real looking space, The Apple Tree, in 2009. Brian Bertram remembers that “it sat roughly eighty people in very uncomfortable chairs. The ‘dressing rooms’ were on either side of the stage, and some overflow in the portables. Nevertheless, we had a two person live band (keyboards by Jodie DeHaven, all other instruments by Alex Milstead). The refrigerators that always had to stay plugged in would kick on in the middle of every performance, and they were SO loud! Performances always smelled like chicken nuggets, and we had little control over the heat. Rehearsals took place all over the school in any found space with a piano.”

That willingness and ability to stand by the old axiom the show must go on was just something ACMA theatre did. Our kids owned “our makeshift stage with pride, confidence, and a love of theatre that transcends the space,” remembers Brian Bertram, “making it a magical place, filled with passion and excitement.”

Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 9.04.44 AM

The Apple Tree wasn’t the only show with that passion and excitement. Jon Albertson recalled a production of Much Ado About Nothing set as a 1960s Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon beach picture. The war was replaced by a surf contest, and he played the friar while his son played Leonato. “My most vivid memory is completely spacing my lines during the wedding scene,” he told me “and my son leaned over and cued me.”

Performers working together made the space work, sometimes magically.

From Gossip to Kahlo’s View, jazz concerts, dance shows, The Good Doctor, and Antigone, ACMA thespians, musicians, dancers, and other performers made the stage their own.

Even after those programs left the Quonset Hut, whispers of memory remain.

IMG_0102They can be heard with a visit into the rooms behind what was the stage today. On the walls, messages from theatre students (addressed to theatre students) talk about love, appreciation, and the importance of taking risks and making art.

Students who performed in this unique venue could tell you a thing or two about making creative magic.

IMG_1218Ovid’s Metamorphosis, for example, when Director David Sikking and his crew built a giant pond to serve as the stage. Actors were barefoot, and moved over and around the water as part of the show.

…and when they knew it was coming to an end as a performance space, creativity had one last surprise. For ACMA’s production of Alice in Wonderland, theatre techs cut trapdoors in the stage, knowing this was the final show. Fanciful, fabulous, and freeing, the “cafegymnatorium” had one final run to offer the performers.

No matter the space, the creativity that artists bring to their surroundings can be inspiring. As the back of a weathered metal door tucked in the back of what is now a storage room tells anyone willing to listen: “Theatre is Beautiful.”

IMG_1215

Savants

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 1.58.13 PMIt only makes sense that an unconventional school would have an unconventional newspaper. The ACMA Savant, a print staple on campus in the 2000s, began with the mission:

Savant is a student-organized, student-written youth zine. We of the Savant staff believe that school journalism belongs to the students and that school news should be reported by the students. We also believe that each art pathway at our school should be represented in the paper as equals to the best of our ability. We, the Savant staff, pledge to work hard, dig deep, and most importantly, to represent our unique, amazing school to its fullest extent.”

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 1.58.43 PMYou can find many Savants catalogued online, and inside these issues you’ll find a window into the world of Arts & Communication Magnet Academy as quirky and opinionated, playful and iconoclastic, funny and heartfelt as the students who populated the school.

A sampling of articles shows ACMA Thespians volunteering at West Tualatin Valley Elementary School, sharing their love of performance with kids who saw them as stars; movie reviews, including advice on what to rent at the video store; and even a nice feature on Mr. Bertram’s wedding. What school puts in a feature on a teacher’s wedding? ACMA.

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 2.00.22 PM.png

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 1.57.55 PMCensorship looms large in several of the issues, discussions about the censoring of Capstones, of student art, even of Savant articles. One issue includes a funny mea culpa about Savant editors scratching out “one simple line,” an error in proofreading, as they explained it, that this many years later sparks curiosity as it prompts a smile.

Horoscopes, editorial cartoons, features on student bands, Savants throughout the years capture the spirit of ACMA, and a huge part of that spirit: art.

From drawings to photographs, poetry, stories, and articles about performances, Savants show ACMA students doing what they love, celebrating an unconventional school with an unconventional publication. So very ACMA.

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 2.34.21 PM.png

Quonset Hut

Delightful is his feigned disbelief.

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 1.39.27 PM

For an art school to create professional grade painting, drawing, dance, music, theater, sculpture, writing, and film in a building closed as an elementary school in 1974 is astounding to begin with. Dancers working in portables, musicians too, two programs that would seem to require bigger, better, and more specialized spaces, and not just making due, but making beautiful art should have jaws dropping. That filmmakers can produce polished products from a trailer, or that art studios housed in what were once elementary school classrooms can be the launching pad of stellar sculpture and fine art should inspire disbelief, legitimate disbelief, at least from anyone not familiar with Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. And yet…

For any of us who work here, who have gone to school at ACMA, or who are the families of ACMA artists (of any kind) making it work with what we have has been a part of our artistic life as long as the school has been around. When the students decided ACMA needed a gallery, they built one. When the students recognized that they needed to make the school their own, they painted murals. And when the burgeoning dance and theatre programs found themselves without a performance space, they took to the Quonset Hut.

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 3.12.05 PM

Before the Performing Arts Center came to ACMA, students acted, danced, and made music on a stage in one of the most recognizable parts of campus, the round roofed building that has been, in its history on campus reaching back to 1958, an indoor play area, gym, and cafeteria.

Seeing productions on the main stage of the PAC today, it’s hard to imagine that this same high quality programing could ever take place in what looks like an airplane hanger, and yet…

IMG_0780In 2007, film teacher Corbin Supak played the role of a visitor to ACMA in 11th grader Megan Gould’s short film that embraced this dissonance. The PAC was less than two years away, which may have given these artists the piece of mind to poke fun at their “FOOD COURT / AUDITORIUM,” and poke fun they did.

The show begins with Mitchell, an earnest ACMA student, welcoming our visitor to a campus that should look familiar to alumni and current students alike. They peek into a converted classroom to see a tap class before heading outside to see “the performance space” for ACMA’s shows.

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 2.46.00 PMSpotting the Quonset Hut the guessing begins: Auto shop? Construction? Scene building shop?

“Where is the entrance?” our visitor asks, widening his arms to suggest a grand marquee. “It’s right there, next to the trash can,” deadpans our host. They go inside, past the “ACMA Breakfast Special” and into “the performers entrance?!?!” Not so much.

After noticing the “installation art piece” of a water cooler and some microwaves, our pair stop to listen to a rehearsal of the upcoming play. “Mime?” he asks. “No.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 1.38.18 PM

They notice cafeteria coolers, stacks of tables, and signs proclaiming ACMA an exceptional school. With a smile almost touching his lips, our host asserts: “This is legitimate theatre.”

This low key critique of the state of arts facilities at ACMA stands the test of time, and as we prepare to close up the C.E. Mason Elementary building that ACMA has called home for more than a quarter century, it’s fun to look back at the place we’ve made work for so long. As in the student film, any cheeky (feigned) disbelief (because we know that we’ve spun gold from straw for so long) is made easier knowing that a new space is on the horizon, a campus opening in the fall of 2021 designed to be an art school.

In three or four years will the current photography room, film room, and art studios be thought of as being as antiquated as the Quonset Hut? Maybe. I’ll wager that those of us who are able to spend time at both sites will have stories to tell that will make students new to ACMA widen their eyes.

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 1.40.55 PM

Inside

Close to a hundred of us gathered in the library, cameras out, curiosity high, ready to see what was going to happen. At the front of the room our assistant principal and a senior stood together, masks over their faces, goggles on their eyes, power tools and a crowbar laid out in front of them on a table. Also on the table was a box.

box

Beautiful patinated copper, sealed decades earlier, the box was an object that had been in the principal’s office longer than most of our students had been alive.

Rumor had it that the box was found when workers moved a sign denoting the construction of C.E. Mason Elementary and opened the wall where it had been stowed. With no markings on the box and no indication who had put it there or how long it had been tucked behind the metal plaque, it got put on a shelf and there it stayed.

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 1.48.55 PMUntil today.

A few weeks back we started advertising the event, our opening the box that we believed was a time capsule. No one knew how old it was, or to be honest even if it was a time capsule. Old cynics wondered if there would actually be anything interesting inside. One cheeky alum suggested it might “unleash the demonic horde upon its unsealing.”

But we opted to brave disappointment or swirling demons, and during an all school lunch we gathered anyone interested in joining our adventure, prepped the power tools, and cued up a couple of cameras to capture the event.

img_0696.jpg

It took some work, but we broke into the box, pulled away a flap of copper, and looked inside. What we found was amazing.

IMG_0742Three stout newspapers were tucked in the time capsule, dated 1951. From them we learned about a school bond measure, rattling sabers of international conflict, and the shocking headline: BOY TUSSLES, DIES. Ye gads. One student asked afterward: “People really read these?” We assured him they did.

More local were copies of Live Wire, the elementary school newspaper, complete with jokes, updates, and stories written by the first through fifth graders. An example: “What can a canary do that a strong man can’t do? ans. Take a bath in a saucer.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 1.31.17 PMA photograph of the land on which the school was built came next, a glimpse back at 1947 when Beaverton looked much more rural than it does today.

An accompanying document, aged to sepia, informed us that the price of the parcel was $11,000 for “ten acres, more or less.”

Next out of the box were a fistful of envelopes, carefully labeled, containing documents relating to the school: a Teachers’ Bulletin, a Parent-Teachers Program, and a Teachers’ Handbook. That handbook told us that “every teacher should train her homeroom in good citizenship to prevent vandalism” and that “freak or cruel punishments should never be used, and all corporal punishment will be administered by the superintendent.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 12.45.58 PM

More photos came next, smiling faces of the children of C.E. Mason Elementary. Many of these pupils, to borrow the parlance of the age, would be in their seventies now. A couple of our current kids wondered aloud if we might track them down. We might.

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 1.35.53 PMIncluded was an Oregon Department of Education report on the school, which proudly reported “The spirit of the school is excellent. Children show their pride in the new school by their behavior as they move quietly and busily about the building. They show a desire to learn and an enthusiasm about the school curriculum. A pleasant comradeship among the teachers reflects a comfortable environment.”

A history of the Beaverton Schools written by 8th grade students told us that “in the 1890s, boys and girls of Beaverton went to school in a three room, frame schoolhouse …at the entrance to the school yard was a sort of stile, with steps designed to keep stray stock from entering—at that time cattle and other animals roamed about pretty much as they pleased.” 1890 was closer to 1951 than 1951 is to today.

Another envelope labeled “silver coins” revealed $1.80 in nickels, quarters, dimes, and a half dollar, not enough to buy anything fancy, but a treasure nonetheless.

img_0698-e1552683779798.jpg

Rolled up tight beside the envelopes were a stack of scrolls signed by the faculty of C.E. Mason Elementary and each of the classes. From familiar (to Beaverton educators) names like Errol Hassell to the childish scrawl and budding penmanship of 1950s youngsters, these lists of names made a personal impression on those of us gathered in the library.

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 1.29.23 PMTucked inside with the rest of it all was as pamphlet from the Masonic Lodge. Somehow that felt right.

Principal Esther Peer’s “Monthly Report” told us the details of the school: 198 students filled C.E. Mason, with four tardies for the month, and a 98.2% attendance rate. I can picture her sitting in this same office I’m in today, pencil in hand, writing out the report with beautiful precision.

Right now, of course, my office smells like 1951.

With the box open and lunch at an end, the assembled students and staff went back to classes, thinking, maybe, about the faces of those who have filled these hallways before us. The former English teacher that I am couldn’t help but think of Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society inviting students to lean in and really look at the faces of the lads who had come before them. Carpe Diem, he whispered, seize the day.

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 12.47.11 PM

Throughout this year our school has taken the opportunity to look back over the decades that this campus has welcomed students, from the opening of C.E. Mason Elementary through short stays by Five Oaks Middle School, Greenway Elementary, and a slew of special programs, and finally the establishment of Arts & Communication in 1992. These reflections help to give us perspective, root us in history, and show us a human face for the passage of time.

When we open our new building in 2021, seven decades after the first school opened on this site, our current students will install a time capsule of their own. How I wonder what the principal and her students in 2090 or so will think when they break open our box.

I hope that they will have that same feeling of wonder and exhilaration that we all felt in the library today, that looking back and seeing ourselves, that experience of connection with a group of people learning and laughing where we now do.More than history, today’s grand opening of that present from 1951 was true inspiration. Carpe Diem. Lean in. Seize the day.

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 12.45.50 PM

 

We’re working to scan and photograph all the objects from this marvelous collection, and we hope to have it online in early April.

Gramps

His email arrived like a gust of Alaskan wind, ruffling an otherwise uneventful Thursday and bringing with it a hearty smile.

Nanuq!

That’s Inupiaq Eskimo for Bjorn.

I’m trying to find the photos of my grandfather, Dr. CE Mason, which I know I have someplace. I fear they may be in my Conex shipping container, which is at this time completely buried in snow.

But these two photos are good for a start. They were taken by my grandmother, Bertha Clement Mason. She developed and printed her own photos. The information says they were both taken on the Canby to Molalla Road.

I’ll keep looking for the other photos. Gramps was a big fan of getting studio portraits taken.

thanks,

James Mason
Nome Alaska

As many folks know, I spent the better part of the fall searching for a photograph of C.E. Mason, the fellow our school building was named after in 1949, a local doctor and school board member, and a truly valued citizen of our little town in the first half of the 20th century. He was, by all accounts, also known as being generous to those he served as a physician, an advocate for quality education in Beaverton, and an extremely kind person.

Stories of the hundreds and hundreds of babies he delivered in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, many in peoples’ homes, abound, as do memories of him taking in payment what his patients could afford. As I heard these stories in the fall, I could imagine him traveling the dirt roads out to farms, calling on those in need with the care, kindness, and professionalism that would endear him to generations of Beaverton families.

With this note from his grandson James came photographs that brought those imaginations to life. The first was of Dr. Mason traveling by horse and buggy.

DR. CE Mason 1912. Near Canby Oregon

I could almost hear the clop of the horses and see the doctor as he bent his head toward the work at hand, helping those in need. It reminded me of a story told to me by one of C.E. Mason’s other grandsons, Richard, who said that once he “met an old couple whose family farm had been sold to build a new housing development. The couple, twin brother and sister, had a fascinating personal story that still made them smile.

“They were born at home in the late thirties to a young mother. Back then, twins were a challenge, so apparently C.E. never told their mother she had twins. She went into labor late one night and C.E. drove out to the farm and delivered the first baby around 11:30 at night. Then, he told the mother, “My goodness, we’ve got another baby in here.”

“The mother said, “Well, I’m exhausted.  I’m going to sleep.” After 45 minutes, she awakened and pushed out the other baby, which was born at 12:15 am. The two were delighted to tell people (all their lives) that although they were twins, they had different birthdays.  They smiled when they told me the story and they were in their late 70’s.”

Dr. CE Mason 1912

The next picture, from the same era, shows the tall, lean C.E. Mason, bowler hat and dark suit, standing in a very Oregonian landscape. Not one to be confined to a city, I thought, not unlike his grandson in Nome.

Look close at this photo and you’ll see the rutted dirt road on which Dr. Mason piloted his horse and buggy. From his dapper bowler and bow tie to his well worn shoes, C.E. Mason is every inch a country doctor who made a difference. I can almost make out his stethoscope bulging from his coat pocket.

I love the fact that it was Bertha Mason who took and developed the photographs, something I mentioned to our current photography classes when I showed them the pictures. She was an artist in her own right, I thought, looking at that photo in the woods, and a good one at that.

Dr. CE Mason and wife Bertha

Another email followed the first, with two more delightful pictures. The first gives a face to Bertha, standing beside her husband, taken sometime around 1910. They’re a handsome couple, poised on the start of a grand adventure that will take them from Illinois to Oregon.

The final photo is a studio portrait from 1960. The fifty years that separate these two photographs were filled with so very much history, including in 1949 the naming of a new Beaverton Elementary School after the good doctor. Arts & Communication Magnet Academy now lives on the spot of C.E. Mason Elementary, and as we look to rebuild campus at the end of this year, it makes me happy to have a photograph that we can frame and put in our office, a nod to a founding father, and a reminder that kindness and generosity, dapper bowlers and well worn shoes, a sense of civic spirit and a dedication to education will always have a place in our school.

Dr. CE Mason

On a personal note, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to James Mason for sharing these beautiful photographs of his “gramps.” They bring to life a person I’ve read much about and whose story I am proud to share with our school community. Thanks too to Richard Mason for the memories of C.E. he shared. Learning more about our past helps us gain perspective that can make our collective future better and better. Thank you.

News and a Gong

Screen Shot 2019-02-27 at 3.32.44 PMOne of the joys of looking back over the history of Arts & Communication Magnet Academy is stumbling on photos, stories, and videos that capture a day in the life of our school. Formal performances are wonderful, and looking back at recordings of music, dance, and theatre is an inspiration; yearbooks offer a window into the past, they are chronicles striving to present the year writ large; but for a glimpse into what it was like on campus in years gone by it’s those more impromptu moments, the times when daily life or more modest school events were put on film, that may offer the best seat in the house. Two of these that do a wonderful job of showing life in the early 2000s come in the form of ACMA News and a full recording of the ACMA Gong Show.

Screen Shot 2019-02-27 at 3.48.05 PMWatching the video of the ACMA News is a delight. Predating, but anticipating, “Between Two Ferns,” this adventure in pluck shows the playful charm that one can imagine those same teenagers brought to math class and science class and English. Our hosts introduce several segments, including a look at the major changes to ACMA, with a student body “now above 475 students!” There is also a bit on yearbook photos, with a look behind the scenes at the fans that blew hair and photographers who captured the silliness. A stock market report, a testament to the way in jokes age, is delivered in perfect deadpan. I imagine some of the students who were here at the time will get the gag. A segment on theatre shows the Quonset Hut as performing space. And in a surrealistic turn, “TV Tutors” show up, leaving the audience with an understanding that at ACMA “the news” was as serious as a painting by Dali or a play by Beckett.

Screen Shot 2019-03-08 at 6.33.09 AMIn December 2003 ACMA hosted their own Gong Show. With a run time of just over twenty minutes, the video of the ACMA Gong Show shows flashes of talent, humor, and youthful exuberance, all presented with a dash of silliness that is as much a part of ACMA as artistic ability.

Current ACMA teachers Jon Gottshall and Geoff Hunnicutt, both with fantastic facial hair that should delight today’s students, help judge the affair. When I showed them the video at least one of them confessed to a touch of guilt for banging the cymbal that served as a gong.

Screen Shot 2019-03-08 at 6.33.44 AM

The crowd seemed to love the show, laughing and clapping as the series of performers took the stage for a variety of acts from serious to playfully kooky. From a moving rendition of “Summertime” that had the audience snapping their fingers  to a smiling tune called “Uhhh…” that earned not one but two gongs, ACMA performers worked the crowd, engaged with the judges, and showed ridiculous talent and a willingness to be ridiculous.

Not everyone was sure what to do with a cover of the Talking Heads tune “Psycho Killer,” so in true ACMA style they chose simply to enjoy it …at least until the gong brought the act to an end. Other students finished songs before that cymbal crashed, but even for those who made it, eyes shifting from judge to judge to judge to gong were the rule, rather than the exception.

Screen Shot 2019-02-27 at 3.37.21 PMThe most rigorous gong came for The Dancing People, whose act from beginning to (quick) end brought the crowd to their feet, and the judges too …as they rushed for the gong.

The night ended, as the best Gong Shows do, with our emcee lowering expectations for the winners with: “Keep in mind we don’t have very nice prizes. What’s that? A used pencil!”

The Dancing People were told they needed to share their pencil.

The grand prize, delivered with fantastic game show music and much aplomb …a pencil!

Laughter ensued. So very ACMA.

There is much, much, much more to the story of ACMA in the early 2000s than is captured in these videos, fabulous facts, splendid stories, and marvelous memories, and yet as a slice of life these are clear windows into a creative and wonderful world.

Screen Shot 2019-02-27 at 3.47.05 PM