"The form becomes one with the content, and that's where the power lies." — Mark Turnbull
Mark Turnbull has had a long and fruitful career in music and theater. When he was 17 he signed with Reprise Records with his recording, “Portrait of the Young Artist.” His music has been described as folk-jazz, which he depicts as “a cross between Burl Ives and Thelonious Monk.” Last fall Mark played Dog Kelly in his own musical, “Tales of Fannie Kennan Better Known as Dora Hand,” at the Oregon Stage Works.
EH: You’ve spent almost your entire life in music and theater. Is there any time that you did anything else?
MT: There were two years when I was seven and eight, when I was in little league. I put down the ukulele for two years.
EH: You’re doing the music for “Kickin’ the Clouds Away” at Oregon Cabaret Theatre?
MT: It’s great. It’s a musical review but what looks to be an elegant evening of light and almost nostalgic entertainment becomes a very powerful piece of theater with the resonance that these songs (from the ’20s and ’30s) have today. The other night, John Stadelman was singing, “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” and somebody in the back said, “Sing it!” It was connecting. It’s an extraordinary show.
EH: You were the musical director of the Laguna Playhouse in Southern California?
MT: At first I didn’t have any interest in musical direction. For my money there wasn’t anything creative in it. It was codified. The orchestra gets the music sent to them and this is what is. But the costumers don’t get the costumes sent to them, they build them themselves. And I thought, “The orchestrations are the costumes of the music, so I’m going to make my own.” People need to hear the score fresh, as if they have never heard it before.
EH: Do you have any ideas for another musical?
MT: Yes. I’ve always got something up my sleeve. Another one that set box office records at the Laguna Playhouse was “Manet” about the life of Edouard Manet. We did it with living pictures of Manet’s paintings. My people stepped out of the paintings and sang and danced and told the story. That’s one we need to get back on its feet.
EH: What is the function of theater, what do we all get so excited about?
MT: The stage, when it functions best, is when it admits its own uniqueness. It does not try to compete with cinema but says, “This stage is the floor of your imagination.” The more the experience relies on the audience’s imagination to complete the picture the deeper the experience. When the theatre tries to convince you that this is real, it fails. When it says, “This is not real. Look, we have rouge on our cheeks,” then our defenses go down, and we can fall into it, and that’s when the magic takes place. It’s a very ephemeral type of alchemy that illuminates from the inside. When the text is real, we’re swept up in it.
What is the function of theater? We’ll mix Shakespeare and Lincoln here: It is our better mirror, it allows us to see what can be, that we’re capable of that lift. But it can do this through the simplest of means. That is the magic. The form becomes one with the content, and that’s where the power lies.
Mark Turnbull will perform on Wednesday, March 18, at 7 p.m. at the Paschal Winery, just across I-5 from the town of Phoenix. He will be play guitar and sing, with Tami Marston sitting-in. The Paschal Winery is an intimate setting. The tasting room looks out on spectacular views of the vineyards and the mountains. Mark’s new CD, “Father’s Day, Simplicity Himself,” will be available for purchase at the concert.
“Kickin’ the Clouds Away” plays Mondays through Sundays through March 30. Call 482-2902 for tickets and information.