Last season at Oregon Stage Works Dennis Klein directed the hilarious and terrifying mystery thriller “Death Trap.” Dennis and I met before a rehearsal of his next production, a free, late-night workshop of Sam Shepard’s “True West.”
EH: How did you come to direct at Oregon Stage Works?
DK: I drove by this theater. I had heard an advertisement on the radio. So I came in. I fell in love with this space because this place has a soul, it has a palpable feel. It is a theater: it has blood, sweat and tears of theater. I felt it. It washed over me. I loved the place, and so I wanted to be part of this. I wanted to share the experience and to help if I could. It’s been an interesting ride.
EH: How does being in theater affect family?
DK: It’s very difficult. It causes a lot of tension because it requires so much time. It’s not just the physical time, it’s the emotional time. It’s stressful on a family. Ask anybody who is married. They are on the edge of divorce all the time because it excludes the other person. It pushes them away, because you are so focused. The people you are working with become the most important people to you for a while. For families, that’s hard. Donna, my wife, has become involved in costuming. It’s something she loves to do. She has now become part of the theater group, which instead of being exclusive has become inclusive.
EH: Why are actors so passionate about theater?
DK: I heard someone describing their relationship to dance. They said that the only time they ever felt free of all of their troubles and all of their thoughts was when they were dancing. You know, that’s kind of what it is. There’s nothing else that can be on your mind when you are on stage. It is the biggest adrenaline rush. It is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. On stage you have to connect. There’s a certain vulnerability. Good actors have that ability to be vulnerable.
In the original “Peter Pan,” if you remember, the reason Peter comes to Wendy’s house is his shadow was captured and he has to get it back on. I always thought of a role as being that shadow, and Wendy sews it back on, and it doesn’t fit perfectly right away. Well, that is what a role is. You slip into that shadow, into that role, and the more you work, the more comfortably it fits you. With that, comes honesty. The more honest you are, the better the acting is. Good actors are like that.
Film and stage are very different. A director is in charge of what you see on the screen. An actor is ultimately in charge of what you see on the stage. Screen actors all want to go back to where it is really personal. There’s no bigger rush than an audience. It’s just thrilling, unlike anything else, unless it’s something death-defying. The 10 minutes before the curtain opens opening night, there’s no drug that’s ever that powerful. The moments before you enter the stage, there’s nothing like it. It’s awesome, huge, magnificent. It’s bigger than you. When you’re on stage it’s really personal, more so than film. Stage work: It’s thrilling.
The late-night workshop production of “True West” plays from Aug. 15 to Aug. 23 — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at midnight, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 10:30 p.m. Admission is free.
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 trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre, and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at email@example.com.