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Singing and acting merge in 'Midwinter'

ISing Choir and Portland Actors Ensemble team up to make something unique

TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - ISing Choir Artistic Director Stephen Galvan (left) leads a dress rehearsal for 'A Midwinter Night's Dream' on Tuesday at Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ in Beaverton. While the rest of the world’s choirs are busying themselves with holiday standards such as “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas,” the ISing Choir and Portland Actors Ensemble are doing something different, something a bit more challenging and something totally unique.

Together, those two groups and a couple special guests will merge singing, acting and Shakespeare in “A Midwinter Night’s Dream.” Their free production opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ, 5150 S.W. Watson Ave. in Beaverton. “A Midwinter Night’s Dream” continues at Bethel Congregational UCC with shows at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

While the performances themselves are free, reservations are recommended (go to isingchoir.org to reserve seats) and donations will be accepted, with this year’s proceeds going to the Portland Actors Ensemble.

“Usually, our collaborations are with other theatre companies, so this is pretty fun and different for us,” said Portland Actors Ensemble Artistic Director Michael Godsey. “To establish this collaboration with ISing, we applied two years ago to be a beneficiary at one of their concerts, and it opened up a bunch of interesting artistic possibilities for both groups.”

“This (production) was a natural since Portland Actors Ensemble was going to benefit from this,” said Stephen Galvan, ISing Choir’s artistic director.

The value of the two groups’ partnership has not been lost on Godsey and his fellows at PAE.

“There have been times in last decade where we started a season with less than one thousand dollars in the bank,” he said. But “our finances are in much better shape now because we have been able to better connect with donors and collaborators. Donations from the ISing concert will help us reach new underserved audiences, increase accessibility, and continue to build artistic quality.”

In addition to bringing together the ISing Choir and PAE — which offers a free Shakespeare-In-The-Parks program every year — “A Midwinter Night’s Dream” also excises a piece of Shakespeare’s famous comedy “A Midsummer Night's Dream” for this production.

“A couple years ago, I had seen (Portland Actors Ensemble’s) production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and I’d always wanted to do something in the drama vein,” Galvan said. “So we took the play within a play out from (‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’).”

The ISing Choir and PAE built their show around that bit of Shakepeare’s classic — the story of Pyramus and Thisbe and their romantic struggles as exacerbated by fairies — and turned it into something new, featuring music by John Rutter, Sven Hagvil and Chanticleer’s Music Director Emeritus Joseph H. Jennings.TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Jocelyn Claire Thomas Queen Fairy sings during a dress rehearsal for A Midwinter Nights Dream on Tuesday at Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ in Beaverton.

What they created was not only unique — “I don’t know of any other group that’s performed this suite,” Galvan said — but entertaining for the performers as well.

“What we didn’t anticipate was how much fun this has been,” Galvan said. “It’s been great fun. The play is great. It has a lot of laughs.”

“It has been great fun getting this together on our end,” Godsey said. “Amazingly, we were able to reunite the entire crew of mechanicals from our 2014 production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ ... Being able to get together again and do it after over a year for new audiences in a new place with an amazing choir has been joyous.”

The music for the performance was chosen for its feel — the pieces are about coldness, lack of light, the dying away of the year, Galvan said — and includes pieces from “When Icicles Hang” by Rutter, Jennings’ “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and Hagvil’s “All Days are Nights to See ‘Til I See Thee” — that last title taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 43.

Beyond all the previously mentioned talent, “A Midwinter Night’s Dream” will also include special performances by soprano Jocelyn Claire Thomas as Queen of the Fairies, Yvonne Yang on harpsichord and Dan Miller on organ.

Thomas, the featured guest artist, is known as a versatile soprano who’s been praised for her haunting sound and musical intelligence; she is a frequent performer in opera, concert and recital, and is returning to Beaverton after recently performing in Germany and Austria. Thomas has twice won the district level of the Classical Singer Competition, as well as the district level of the Advanced Artist Competition of the National Association of Teachers of Singing.

Miller, meanwhile, has worked with ISing previously and is well known as one of the leading organists in the area, valued also by Galvan for his knowledge of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface — a technical standard that allows a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers and other related devices to connect and communicate with one another).

Together, these disparate elements have come together to make something new, fun, beautiful and entertaining.

“Like ISing, PAE performances have always been offered free of charge,” Godsey said. “Both groups are built on the idea that a great community deserves great art, no matter what peoples’ economic circumstances are like.”

“We always try to be unique in our programs and we have yet to run out of ideas,” Galvan added.

This concert series is made possible through grants from the Cultural Coalition of Washington County, the Beaverton Arts Commission and the Beaverton Arts and Culture Foundation. TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Michael Godsey's character Nick Bottom the weaver waves his arms during a dress rehearsal for 'A Midwinter Night's Dream' on Tuesday at Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ in Beaverton.