Actress had a long, winding road to success

"If anything makes me a little bit afraid, I make a point to do it." — Rochelle Savitt

After seeing Rochelle Savitt’s compelling performance in Oregon Stage Works’ “Trip to Bountiful,” I was determined to find out more about this gifted actress.

“I was fortunate,” Savitt said, looking fresh and smart as we settled in for lunch at McGraths.

While we talked about her life in the theater, I realized that Savitt has made her own “fortunate” life.

EH: Southern California’s South Coast Repertory Theatre (where OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch was an associate artist), you were in on the beginning of that?

RS: I was there before they moved into their palace, when they were in a converted dime store. I was in a few productions and did whatever they needed backstage. It all came together for them at a time when I could no longer afford to participate in it. I had to earn a living, and my kids needed me at home. I didn’t get back to acting until my son graduated from college.

EH: And then?

RS: My kids were on their own at that time and were productively employed. So I moved to L.A., got my head shots, got an agent, got involved with theater and went for it. I was earning my living as an actor. Then things happen, as they do in the acting business. You have a great run; then you have a dry spell. I had interests in other things like politics that I had forgone while focusing on an acting career, and I was without health insurance. So, I made the decision to get a full-time job and drop the acting. It was like going through a period of mourning or grief, a sense of loss. It took me a while.

EH: How is it that you came to Ashland?

RS: I moved here partly because I thought (because of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) it was an area that was conducive to theater work.

I went to Oregon Stage Works and saw the show “Copenhagen,” which blew me away. I was impressed to the point that, when I went out at the intermission and ran into Kate Sullivan, director of the children’s theater, I told her that I’d be interested in working with the theater. She said, “Are you an actor? There’s a role you might read for in our next show.” So I did. I’ve been doing roles ever since. So, I’m having a wonderful time with that. I’ve been so fortunate to have found that connection.

The audiences for “The Trip to Bountiful” were so beautiful. It’s been a lovely experience. I was glad that I was able to do it because it has been just a year since I had major surgery and chemotherapy. It was lung cancer. To be able to come back to a demanding role like that was most gratifying.

I’ve sort of been involved with acting all my life. I wonder at the vulnerability. When you’re an actor you open yourself up to allowing people to see you; you’re emotionally vulnerable in a role, but it’s you. You’re safe in the role, but it’s still you. That’s part of the connection people make when they’re working together in that way.

I think the thing that I like about acting is when you connect with that audience. When that energy reaches you, how wonderful it is, the sense that they are with you, this whole room pulling together. This room full of strangers, all feeling concern and empathy for this character and what is happening on the stage.

It’s a wonder to create those moments. You go through your whole life seeking that on a one-to-one basis, and here you have created this moment where people are of a mind. That’s such a high, higher than the applause. It doesn’t have to be drama. It can be in laughter as well as tears.

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