John Stadelman’s hilarious performance as the obsequious yet self-important Vice Principal Douglas Panch in the “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is truly unique. I was curious as to how he prepared for the role.
John sings with the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers. He performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for six seasons. He has directed theater up and down the West Coast, at Ashland High School and the Oregon Cabaret Theatre.
A Stanford graduate, John graduated from law school at the University of Southern California before pursuing a career in film and theater. John is also a landscape designer; the name of his company is Green Man Gardens.
We met in the Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s elegant restaurant section on a weekday afternoon.
EH: When did you first start acting?
JS: I participated in community theater and high school theater when I was a kid, which is one of the reasons I like directing over at Ashland High School. I think theater is a huge gift to that age range. In that specific time in your life, theater knocks down walls, opens doors, makes you look at yourself as an emotional being and observe your behavior, “When I feel this way this is how I act.” It’s fantastic for teenagers.
EH: How did you prepare for Vice Principal Patch, the self-defeating middle school administrator?
JS: A long time ago, I saw a documentary about prison reform that featured a scene with a social worker. He wore the ’60s glasses and he had the ’60s crew cut, but he had Panch’s voice. It made me laugh so hard. It’s never left my brain. I’ve always thought someday I’ll have a chance to play this guy. It’s imitative. The rest of it you take from the script and your own personal experience. He is disappointed in his own life, and so he likes to order 8- to 12-year-olds around, so he feels in control. He finds a bit of kindness in the end, and so he’s a little bit redeemed.
EH: He gets so involved in his candy, too.
JS: He’s hypoglycemic. If you get either too much or not enough sugar, you turn crabby and snappish. He has a little problem there.
EH: Why do you think theater is such a magnet to so many of us?
JS: People used to say that the theater was dying because it was replaced by film and television. The pendulum may already be swinging back. We find a kind of human connection to live people on stage, to being part of a live experience that television and film and even literature can’t bring you. There’s a consciousness that happens with a group of people that’s wonderful.
When you’re on stage, especially when you’re doing a comedy, if the energy is clicking, it’s like surfing. The audience’s energy pours across, and you pour it back, and so there is a wonderful relationship that happens that doesn’t happen in the other arts. I think that experience for an actor and an audience is why people are so passionate about it. It’s the live relationship of person to person. It is more exciting to have a conversation with somebody across a table over dinner than it is to read a magazine article about them. It’s that human touch. There is also the fact that it is never a repeat experience. The theater can never really be the same. It’s different every night. People respond differently every night. That’s why I love it.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” runs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays with brunch matinees at 1 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 30 at Oregon Cabaret Theatre. For tickets and information call 488-2902.
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. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.