"The theater journey's been great." — Doug Ham
Over coffee and root beer at Bloomsbury Coffee House, Doug Ham described the theatrical team experience.
EH: Theater is life-giving, in a way, isn’t it?
DH: The first show I was ever in was during the height of the Vietnam War. People were afraid of being drafted. I was a mess. At the end of the show this couple came up to me and said it was so cool for two hours to come into the theater and to be able to laugh out loud and to and forget about all that is going on outside. I thought, “Well this is what I need to be doing.” It can be an escape and it can be a teacher.
EH: Tell me about the kids that you work with at Ashland High School.
DH: Technical theater kids are great. They learn. They are appreciative. They really enjoy it. It becomes a big part of their lives. And it’s really important and great that Ashland has a levy so that we can keep those programs going. I guess next year is going to be challenging with the state lowering the amount of money going to schools. Hopefully programs aren’t going to be cut.
There are kids that don’t fit into other patterns that fit into theater or sports or art or music. You cut those programs, which a lot of districts have done, then where do they fall in? I think they get kind of lost in the shuffle.
Our theater students learn how to work with different people. I have a group of my technicians that are paid per hour for all different kinds of school and outside events. Another aspect of my job, besides teaching technical theater, is to rent the theater out. We have an incredible space: a 408-seat, full-capacity theater. We do a lot of theater rentals to groups outside of the high school.
EH: I hear that your productions are amazing.
DH: We do incredible stuff because directors, choreographers, designers are all professionals who are hired in to do the shows. It’s not like the drama teacher does everything; Betsy Bishop acts as producer. She brings people in.
We have an incredible relationship with Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We have master classes with OSF actors, and so the students really have amazing opportunities for a lot of good training, more than just a typical high school theater education. It’s really like a performing arts kind of situation.
EH: As a designer, how do you like to work with directors?
DH: It’s great when you work with a director that is a team player that you can go to and you can shoot ideas back and forth and decide on a concept. You feed off of each other and it’s just great to work together. Then it’s a team, and it’s just fun, because everybody gets exactly what they want. An actor doesn’t want a director to tell him how to do his character from line readings to everything else. The actor has to be as creative as the director. And the designer needs to be as creative as the director, so that the ideas meld.
But every show is a challenge. It’s all dependent on the space and the budget. I try to make my designs unique. We try to create a whole environment. You create the environment, and the audience understands where they are, and can accept that, and then immediately go into the story.
I love directing and I love designing. And I hadn’t acted in a long time until “Trip to Bountiful.” It was great to get back on the boards.