Oregon Cabaret Theater’s founding director, Craig Hudson, has been its resident scenic and lighting designer for the past 26 years. A former professor of theater arts at Southern Oregon University, Hudson divides his time between his design projects at OCT and the Red Tree House, a bed and breakfast he designed and built in Mexico City.
For those of you who haven’t visited OCT, it’s a gracious, polished, welcoming environment that serves up tasty dinner theater. Audiences are consistently satisfied, and so is the OCT staff, some of whom have been there since the theater’s inception. Hudson and I met for coffee at the Rogue Valley Roasting Co. on Ashland’s East Main Street.
CH: I’d always wanted to have a theater. When I was at grad school at Penn State, I was talking to friends who collected memorabilia from old Philadelphia theaters. I said, “Someday I want to have my own theater; if you ever see a big main chandelier for sale, let me know.” They knew of one. So I carted around this huge chandelier looking for a place to put it. That’s the chandelier in the Oregon Cabaret Theatre.
EH: How did you find this fantastic space?
CH: One day a friend said, “You have to come and look at this building.” Somebody had kicked in the back door of this old church. And I thought, my God, this would be a great theater.
EH: Do you have a favorite set that you’ve designed?
CH: We used to do a lot of dinner theater at SOU. We did a very good “Tom Jones.” People were eating in what was the auditorium. We’d put platforms over the seats. The ceiling was tented. We built a whole balcony. Actors could go down stage, up through the audience, up staircases, around, and back down on the stage. It was really fun. The food service was integrated into the show. The audience was brought into the space, and everything happened around them. It was one of those total experiences. It was magical, the minute you walked in.
EH: What character traits make a good theater person, a good designer?
CH: There are the obvious things that you have to have. You have to be somewhat of an intellectual. You have to be able to read the play and know what it’s about: What are the themes? Why is it written the way it is? You have to be able to present your ideas. You have to know how directors and actors use the space, what they’re going to need, and all the requirements of the play.
But the big thing is that you’ve got to be somebody people like to work with. We all work in theater because it’s a fun experience, most of the time. And if you’re not pleasant to work with, probably you’re not going to get very far. It’s shedding one’s ego, being flexible, and being able to see things in different ways. We’re not artists who work independently. We can influence the director in a good way.
Most designers are actually smart people, even about acting. Occasionally directors know that. They know what the actor is saying; they know what the play is saying; but they don’t really have the objectivity to know whether the message is clear. We can be a great resource as an objective eye.
Hudson’s next set design will be for OCT’s “Holmes & Watson Save the Empire: A Musical Mystery.” It plays April 8 through June 5 and previews April 6 and 7. Performances are Thursday through Monday at 8 p.m., with Sunday brunch matinees at 1 p.m. For tickets and information, call 541-488-2902.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at email@example.com.