Talking Jazz with Thor Polson

Jazz pianist Thor Polson has recently released a new CD, “Thor Polson & Friends, The Portal.” Besides performing, Polson teaches piano and languages: Latin, ancient Greek and German. One afternoon, we met at Bloomsbury Coffee House in Ashland.

EH: Tell me about your performances.

TP: It’s just an expression of pure joy. We play the music that I and other band members love. It’s flipping the joy switch. I count it down, and we’re just off to the races. I suppose I feel responsible for having prepared all that music; but when I’m playing it, I feel that it has gone through me, that I haven’t generated it. To me, musicians are conduits, not vessels: I don’t feel responsible for the music. When people compliment me, I don’t know what to say. I suppose, if I were playing a completely written-out piece of music, OK. But when it gets into improvising, I don’t know what will come out. It will depend on my mood, or my health, or the angle of the sunlight, or moss growing on a tree. Who knows what will happen?

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Randall Theatre to Expand Beyond Theater

Randall Theatre Artistic Director Robin Downward is expanding the theater’s entertainment offerings. While maintaining its community theater, the venue will host a variety of performers, including bands, comedians, drag shows, burlesque shows, murder mystery dinners, singles mixers and an improv troupe.

Downward, a director and performer, will continue to act and direct while hosting a new artistic director for the theater.

I met Downward at Mellelo Coffee Roasters in Medford.

EH: Tell me about the Randall Theatre’s new direction.

RD: It’s different styles of things for different kinds of people. The Randall Theatre building is now the Randall Entertainment and Show Hall. It houses the Theatre Company and Event Works Productions. Most of these new events will be hosted under my Event Works production company.

We are still planning on doing live theater. For the theater demographic, there are lots of choices in the Rogue Valley, but there’s no place for people who want entertainment, especially for people between the ages of 21 and 45. There’s bars, bowling and movies. We are looking at that highway 5 corridor, and of attracting those acts that are driving through. That’s what I’m trying to focus on.

Looking at bands, I’m being very selective. We’re concentrating on more of an eclectic style of band that people haven’t really seen in the area. I love the local stuff, but people can see it in a number of other venues. In the Rogue Valley, other than Grants Pass, there are no live entertainment venues that are like this: with a stage, lights and seating, other than the Craterian, or the Holly (when it opens), but those have 600 to 1,200 seats; this has 99. It’s fun and it’s intimate.

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Camelot Officials Ready for 2020 Season

Camelot Theatre’s Artistic Director, Shawn Ramagos, a former Disney lighting and special effects technician, brings considerable stagecraft expertise to Camelot productions. Executive Director, Dann Hauser, came to Camelot with an extensive marketing background. We met in the theater’s board room to discuss their plans for an eclectic 2020 season.

SR: With this season, I wanted to reach all of the demographics that we have, young and old. I think there’s a little bit of something for everybody.

EH: How does the Camelot experience differ from other Rogue Valley theaters?

SR: We focus on large-scale musicals and musical spotlights.

EH: How has Camelot changed in the past two years?

DH: [Ramagos] has brought a whole new stagecraft to the quality of our shows. Before, our sets used just a small portion of the stage. Shawn goes from edge to edge and beyond that, taking in the whole proscenium, better lighting, better sound.

SR: When we talk quality, we don’t just talk about great acting and great singing. We also look at the technology and the scenery. I created our “Behind the Curtain” series. It’s a YouTube channel that we have. It shows how we do what we do on stage.

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CTP Aims to Alleviate Election-Year Stress

Susan Aversa-Orrego is managing director of Collaborative Theatre Project, now in its third year in the Medford Center. We met at Boulevard Coffee to discuss CTP’s 2020 season.

SA: We wanted to have an interesting, more intriguing, and happier season. It’s an election year, and people are already overly stressed. Why not do something that alleviates stress? We start with Ken Ludwig’s “Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood.” It’s a true swashbuckling epic. It fits into this fun, quirky season that we’re shaping: a combination of new and classic plays.

EH: What effect does live theater have on a community?

SA: I think it starts conversations. It’s a place where people who don’t know each other can experience the same thing at the same moment in time. Then you see the conversations happening in the lobby, strangers starting to talk to strangers. Theater and the arts create a community. Our lives are very bare without them.

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Art Prof Uses Imagery to Teach

Jeffrey Scudder, assistant professor of art at Southern Oregon University, creates dynamic presentations with exquisite imagery for his lectures and performances. An internationally known figure in the art world, Scudder holds a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture from Yale University. He teaches in SOU’s Emerging Media and Digital Arts program, telling stories with pen and paper, while instantaneously capturing and creating post-expressionist images, with a host of newly developed computer software. We met at Case Coffee Roasters on Siskiyou Boulevard.

EH: Tell me about your productions.

JS: Since I come from computer art, I do a lot of performance without computers, a lot of drawing and telling stories. I transform things. I change from one image to another: A morphing image with a morphing story. Lately, I have been doing a lot of drawing with sound. Performing while drawing and talking simultaneously. These are modernist ideas of connecting drawing and sound.

Sometimes in order to understand what’s happening with computers or technology, you have to use a different medium to describe it. You want it to be in the background so that you can focus on the conversation.

People don’t usually think of computer art as something that requires a physical presence. I’m spearheading a movement to create more intimacy through computer art. I’m often drawing on paper, but I’m talking about video games. I am creating a form of intimacy by not actually playing the video game. Instead I’m talking about ideas using another medium.

When I perform, I like to create a setting, like a chamber music performance. I use a lot of candles, there’s music playing, sometimes snacks. I like the audience to feel that they are part of the action so that people feel at ease, so that they are ready to take in images and let things happen.

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Ginger Eckert on voice and speech

Ginger Eckert is an assistant professor of theater at Southern Oregon University in the area of performance voice and speech. You may have appreciated her work with Oregon Center for the Arts productions of “Hedda Gabler” and “Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika.”

We met for a conversation in her office on the SOU campus.

EH: What is your approach to coaching voice and speech?

GE: There’s all the speech stuff: The phonetics and making sounds at the right times, in the right ways, in the right rhythms and patterns. Then we are working on being honest and revealing when we speak, so that I can feel you, and I can understand you in a very specific way.

EH: What are the dialects used in “Angels in America?”

GE: There’s Russian, British RP (neutral) accent, Yiddish; Roy Cohn has a Bronx New York, Jewish accent. We call his particular way of speaking an idiolect. In the world of accents, everybody has their own accent or their own way of speaking. Dialect follows a group pattern. The way a particular person speaks is called their idiolect. There’s a huge factor now of actors playing real people. Whether they capture that person’s speech patterns would be inside of that person’s idiolect.

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OSF actor Chris Butler on TV and theater

Chris Butler’s superb performances at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — Othello in “Othello” in 2018, and Griffin in last Season’s “How to Catch Creation” — prompted me to ask him for an interview.

Among other achievements, Butler earned his MFA in theater from the University of California at San Diego, and he played Matan Brody in 21 episodes on “The Good Wife” TV series. We visited over Cobb salads at Standing Stone Brewing Company.

EH: Tell me about your training as an actor.

CB: At UCSD, where I got most of my training, they didn’t subscribe to one particular school. They would give you a sprinkling of everything to see what resonated with you. They weren’t trying to make you a specific type of actor. They would let you bring what you had to the table and try to give you something to help you succeed. I’ve had a little taste of all of it. I approach the character from character background, character history and, “Who is everybody else in the play, and how do they interact with me?” And a little bit about, “Where did my character come from before he started the scene?” I have a personal method, but it doesn’t strictly come from this person or that person.

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