Ashland resident David Hill’s play “Larry’s Best Friend” recently won the national 2011 McLaren Memorial Comedy Play Writing Award. I had the pleasure of directing the play when it premiered with the Ashland Contemporary Theatre in 2010. In his college years, Hill was mentored by screenwriter Rod Serling of “The Twilight Zone.” We chatted at Boulevard Coffee on Siskiyou Boulevard early one afternoon.
EH: What is the dramatic action of “Larry’s Best Friend”?
DH: A man’s whole world view is challenged when his dog turns into a beautiful woman.
EH: “Larry’s Best Friend” had a tinge of the “Twilight Zone”?
DH: It’s finding extraordinary in the ordinary. We all experience a little disconcerting touch of unreality in our reality. Ambrose Bierce did a lot of that. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” was of that genre. George Bernard Shaw did that, too, unreality mixed in with the ordinary.
Greg Younger’s visionary play “Just Cause” was given a dramatic reading last month at the Ashland Playwrights Actors Atelier, a monthly workshop that allows local playwrights to hear their work. It was received by a delighted audience. Even though acting has been Younger’s primary career for decades, he considers himself first and foremost a playwright. We chatted on the terrace of the Nom Yen bubble tea house on Siskiyou Boulevard one sunny afternoon.
GY: I read recently that every playwright should have a group of people; that’s definitely the case, you need one. I’m very fortunate for the Atelier reading, although performance is a different animal altogether.
EH: Why are some of us passionate about theater?
GY: It’s the creative spirit. There’s very little banality in it; and it’s exciting. That’s why I’m there, to create, to get invested. I’m not putting on product. I’m putting on something that will move people in one way or another.
The Greeks understood that the stage was the window of the soul. To examine one’s humanity, and relationships, and what that’s all about, is one of the greatest reasons that we’re here. I find it the most grounding thing ever.
Theater allowed me to examine parts of myself I never would have been able to do in any other venue. I certainly couldn’t do it in any of the zillion jobs that I’ve had to support it. Going to the depths of your soul and screaming from there: Delight. There is just a joy that I feel when I’m present and alive on stage which is unequaled anywhere else. The same is why I write theater.
Theater is about spatial relationships. When you see the actors in person, there is a dynamic; the distance between them speaks. That is something that you cannot put on the page. So it takes a very astute reader of plays to know what a good play looks like, rather than a talking drama. I advise every single playwright to get on the stage and do a show.
Paramount is the play. The play is more than the script; it’s more than the actors; it’s more than the director; it’s all those together. It’s give-and-take. It’s very much a communal process. There’s a saying, “When you enter the rehearsal hall, leave your hat at the door.” It’s not about you. It’s about the play; it’s about what we’re creating. Leave everything behind.
EH: What makes a great actor?
GY: Versatility, openness, humility; the mind of a psychologist or a psychiatrist, somebody who is actually interested in the human condition, interested in other people, and curious.
For me, the ultimate actor is the Lawrence Olivier type, who stretches his boundaries, who can do anything.
The ability to witness: put awareness above and back of yourself. The ability to inhabit a world, inhabit it in front of other people and respect what that fourth wall is all about.
EH: The imaginary world?
GY: When you’re on stage, it’s not imaginary. It’s more real than this world is. It’s more profound, it’s deeper, certainly, and it smacks of poetry, the best kind of poetry. It’s not: “I’m just pretending on stage.” No way. Acting is being. What is essential for great acting is that you understand that: This is heightened reality. You’re in the thick of it, and it’s a beautiful thing. But it’s not pretending.
The Ashland Playwrights Actors Atelier brings together Rogue Valley writers and actors to read and analyze new plays. Readings take place the last Monday of each month. The next scheduled reading will be 6:30 p.m. Aug. 29 in the Gresham Room of the Ashland library with “The Angel Capone” by David Copelin. For more information, visit http://playwrightsatelier.org.
Peter Alzado (Oregon Stage Works’ former Artistic Director) is engaged in the creation of a new theater called the NEXT STAGE Repertory Company. One afternoon, we met at Medford’s Craterian Theater, where Alzado is currently in rehearsal for Lanford Wilson’s Pulitzer prize-winning play, “Talley’s Folly.” We then settled down with tea at nearby Grilla Bites.
EH: What makes a good director?
PA: I think great directors want an ordered world. They need to be able to have a real feeling for space, and how to communicate through space. They need to have an empathetic response to their actors. And they need to have a real sense of literature, and how to communicate those themes through the words that the writer has given them.
I’m not a big fan of, “Let’s do a concept.” I can see the value of it on occasion, but I’m much more aligned with getting out of the way and letting the material speak. If you find a way to allow the material to speak for itself the ideas that you have will enhance the material, and you’ll be dealing thematically with what the play is about. If you do that, I think you’ll have a real visceral impact depending on the writing and the themes. If you don’t do that, the impact and the audience response is intellectual and self-congratulatory. I sometimes find it off-putting. It’s like having somebody in an audience laugh at everything a friend does. I think that directing now is very much aligned to the technical aspects of the theater and less so to the acting.