You may have seen Barbara Rosen in Camelot Theatre’s “1984,” in “Durang, Durang” at the Oregon Stage Works or in “Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Ashland’s Children’s Theatre. This former professor of English literature and Shakespeare scholar is disarming with her casual manner and keen insight. After retirement, Barbara and her late husband, Bill, moved to Ashland’s Mountain Meadows at the urging of her two daughters, Susan and Judith Rosen.
I met Barbara at Oregon Stage Works, where she is rehearsing for Bertolt Brecht’s “The Jewish Wife,”a part of “Things We Do,” a series of plays, readings and events concerned with the conflict in the Middle East.
EH: How did you get into acting?
BR: I’d always done it in churches and schools. Of course, I always taught theater, especially Shakespeare. After Bill had gone, I thought I had to do something I didn’t do with him because we had even written books together. He read most beautifully but never wanted to be on stage. So I thought, “Alright, I’ll go and take some lessons.” So I took some lessons from Peter Alzado.
I started off with Ashland Children’s Theatre, the dysfunctional fairy in “Midsummer’s Night Dream.” It was just delightful. Then I got a nice part as the drunken disgrace of the community, Sarah Goode, in “The Crucible.” Acting proved a very good thing to do. I meet a lot of people much younger than I backstage. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to do it, but as long as I can, I want to.
EH: What makes acting more unique to you than other arts?
BR: I have really no skill in painting. I have some skill in writing, I write poetry, and things like that. But one thing, if you teach, you have to act. You have to learn acting, basically, because you have to learn to pitch to a certain class.
I think words are very much a part of it. And during the war there wasn’t much to do but read, and I was an enormous reader. I think, too, that it is an overcoming of a very shy child. What is fascinating about it is that you have to use your body for it. You have to learn to put the words through the movement too.
One thing that is ever-intriguing to me: There are some performances, and sometimes a lecture, too, where there is this sudden thing that happens between the audience and actor. There is this intense silence. Then you know that the actor can to do anything he wants with that audience. But something has connected, and the actor is affected by it just as the audience is. Nobody can really explain what it is and why it happens when it happens.
EH: It’s so ephemeral, isn’t it? There is nothing tangible about it.
BR: It’s there; it’s absolutely there, but how do you get hold of it? It’s impossible to say. We talked a lot to the actors while doing work at Stratford on Avon in England. They used to get very upset when the play was “Macbeth” because they said that that play is so dark, so bloody, it’s so weighing upon you, yourself, that they would become very jittery by the end of a long run, just because it was like (I suppose) it was just like being in hell. You could see how it affected them.
The thing about being on stage is that you are not you. It is this ability to be somebody else, and I think that this ability allows you to connect with other people and somehow make them see, or have them, make you see something new and different.
Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She has a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's degree from San Francisco State University. She studied acting at The American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at email@example.com.