By Mikael Krummel

Inside the Opal 

When Ivan DelSol and his wife first moved to Lane County in 2011, they set up housekeeping on the second floor loft of the Lawson Building—a vacant, ramshackle, century-old brick storefront in downtown Cottage Grove. “The building,” DelSol recalls, “was taking on a lot of rain. It was a disaster area. Main Street was deserted—there was nothing happening downtown.” 

DelSol, a self-described “revolutionary type” also cobbled together the rudiments of a black box theater on the ground level of the Lawson. Unconventional? Maybe for most Cottage Grove residents—but hardly out of character for DelSol given his background doing experimental theater in L.A. 

The tiny theater inside the Lawson Building has seen a curious evolution over the past half decade. Punk and metal rock shows of earlier years have, at times, given way to art forms better matched to local tastes, which is not to say the theater has eschewed politics and controversy. DelSol has long viewed his projects as “kind of a bucket list thing” for adventurous non-actors, and these days some of the theater’s most popular performers include downtown shopkeepers. Plus, the theater’s affinity for youth arts has helped establish a partnership with the student-oriented Storybook Theatre of Cottage Grove.

Some of the changes reflect a general renaissance seen in downtown Cottage Grove the past few years. They also reflect an expanding vision for local community arts. Whereas the Lawson has sometimes struggled as a theater operation, recently it has evolved into something more sturdy. It has literally transformed into a registered nonprofit: The Opal Center for Arts & Education. And the Opal Center is emerging as a force for a more diverse community shaped by creativity and the arts.

“It’s about flexibility,” says Center Director Leah Murray. “We don’t have to stay mainstream. We don’t have to be an elephant in the room. We can do what we want.” And according to Murray, part of what the Opal Center wants to be is both welcoming and provocative. New programs, new players, new points of view.

Support the Opal’s vision by checking out upcoming events and shows.

Hearing voices

A handful of folks are once again gathered around a large table above the Growers Market. Individual identities alter slightly each week, but intentions hold constant: assemble key pieces of a fledgling, local radio station. KEPW, 97.3 FM. Homegrown community radio. “No Voice Left Unheard.”

For most of the players attending this particular session, excitement is tempered but unmistakable. Committee members are steering KEPW through largely uncharted local waters. The station is currently streaming content over the web, but there’s a critical need to launch over-the-air broadcasts by February or risk losing FCC licensing. 

“We’re calling ourselves a ‘news, public affairs, and arts radio station,’” explains Andrew Rosenthal, one of the volunteer planners, “but we’re trying to do that as locally as possible.” Though KEPW formally sits under the organizational umbrella of the nonprofit Eugene PeaceWorks, the planners around the table seem to share a collective attitude about station operations––consensus rules.

Launching a LPFM (Low Power FM) station doesn’t demand a Warren Buffet-sized bankroll; it does, however, require fundraising tenacity. So far, the station has attracted donations from the Oregon Country Fair and the Grateful Dead’s Rex Foundation. That said, the $20k dream of securing a reliable transmitter and broadcast tower aren’t yet fully realized. Local businesses and listeners will likely soon be asked to kick cash into the kitty.

Most of the launch team envisions a 50/50 program mix of music and public affairs when the station is fully operational. Musical content will heavily favor local musicians and genres infrequently heard on other area stations. Public affairs components will incorporate local news and interviews, organization profiles, discussion of topical local issues and editorial viewpoints.  

“I think we’re going to draw in liberal listeners,” says engineering coordinator Dee Kemp. “And we’re also going to delve into radical audiences and their issues.”

“Put your ideas of judgment and criticism on the shelf, then pick them up after class,” advises Rosenthal. “You don’t have to like or not like what you hear. Just be open to the idea that whatever it is, it has a right to exist.”

Pickleball explosion

Take a guess at what currently ranks as the fastest growing sport in the U.S. and the world. Would you believe it’s pickleball?

Okay, the sport has nothing to do with dills or gherkins. But according to Eugenean Roger Schaljo, it’s an easy game to pick up, “and it’s much more fun than a treadmill.” Schaljo would know. He’s the founding president of the Emerald Valley Pickleball Club. 

Although pickleball officially incorporated in 1972, it didn’t find a landing spot in Eugene until sometime around 2012, when the Berean Baptist Church offered several dozen retirees access to courts on church property. That’s when Schaljo first stepped into his teacher/organizer/booster role.

“I think of it almost as ping pong,” says Schaljo, “only it’s like you’re standing on the table.” Like tennis, the game is played in singles or doubles—except the court is smaller, the net is lower, and racquets amount to large wooden paddles. The actual pickleball resembles a baseball-sized whiffle ball. 

Pickleball action can be very fast at times, then suddenly shift to soft and slow. The ball is returned (smashed, lobbed, dinked, etc.) before (or after) bouncing off the court. Players cannot stand in 4-foot deep zones (“kitchens”) extending back from the foot of the net. The rules make for frequent close play to the net, which in turn adds extra sociability to the mix.

Pickleball popularity is exploding in most cities, but especially in communities with large retirement populations. In Eugene-Springfield, the sport boasts its own unique features. Though area player counts are still relatively modest, the recent addition of eight outdoor courts at Springfield’s Meadow Park, plus increasing court totals in schools and gyms, have launched local fan interest on a sharp, upward trajectory.

Plus, the presence of two local singles players and a doubles team holding national titles is surely impressive. One of the champions, former UO tennis coach Buzz Summers, owns claim to the title of best player in the 80-and-older age bracket. Much like local Pickleball Club president Schaljo, Summers has earned a widespread reputation as an outstanding ambassador for his sport.