David Mannix plays Arthur Stein in Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s production of the comedy “End Days,” which opens Friday, April 29, at the Bellview Grange in Ashland. I had the pleasure of directing the production.
David and I visited one rainy afternoon as the props and set were being loaded into the newly reopened Grange building.
A former stockbroker and lawyer, Mannix is on the board and artistic committee for Barnstormers Theater in Grants Pass.
DM: Grants Pass has a surprisingly strong theater community. Barnstormers is the oldest continually operating community theater in the state of Oregon. It started in 1952. It is community theater. Nobody is making a living out of the theater, except for those doing all those unglamorous things such as bookkeeping. We do have several part-time paid employees or contractors. We don’t pick plays; we look for directors who want to pitch a play that they are in love with and want to do. I think it works pretty well.
We do have moving to Grants Pass, from time to time, people who have been professionally involved. More than one Hollywood person (in their retirement) has landed in Josephine County and gotten involved in Barnstormers. These are people who are not getting on stage again, if they were before, but they’ll sometimes be involved in directing.
The board of directors is concerned with the mundane business-related things: running the building, paying the bills, looking at financial statements, capital improvements, personnel matters, and considering other events besides the regular season. Since we have a venue, we rent it out or enter into cooperative agreements with other operations. The creative side is the artistic committee, whose main responsibility is designing the upcoming season.
EH: You’ve done a lot of acting as well?
DM: In the last five years, I have done 15 or 20 roles. Accents were a major motif. It seems like in every other role I was called upon for one accent or another. It was either blue-collar New York or Russian or Dutch. I’ve been called upon periodically to be a dialect coach as well as to do some dramaturgy.
EH: Do you have an organized way of approaching accents?
DM: It depends on whether I have any personal familiarity with it or not. For the Dutch, I went back and did a semi-serious study of it. I looked at articles on Dutch phonology to come up with a few key habits that they have: devoicing final consonants, b’s turned to p’s and d’s turned to t’s. It’s surprisingly hard to get good samples. You can get samples of somebody speaking a foreign language, but it’s hard to find a good sample of a person who has a different native language speaking English, which is what you really need.
EH: Do you have a source for phonology?
DM: In terms of articles, yes. For example, there’s actually a Wikipedia article entitled “Dutch Phonology.”
EH: What is it about the medium of theater that is so exciting?
DM: I don’t think it is the same answer for everybody involved. I know of more than one situation where somebody dragged her husband kicking and screaming to a play she wanted to see. And, in spite of himself, he got caught up in it, and became a participant himself. That’s happened. He started maybe buying a season ticket, or becoming a financial supporter, or building sets, or whatever; and then he started acting.
Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s “End Days,” by Deborah Zoe Laufer, plays April 29 through May 22. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, Ashland. For tickets, call 541-646-2971. For information, visitwww.ashlandcontemporarytheatre.org.
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.