Ashland Contemporary Theatre Artistic Director Jeannine Grizzard will perform some hefty roles in upcoming Ashland productions. On Halloween, at the Playwright Actor Atelier, she will read the title role in “Dr. Foster,” a modern adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus.” In November she will perform in Terrence McNally’s “It’s Only a Play” at ACT. We met for lunch at Sesame next to Lithia Park.
EH: Why did you decide to direct theater?
JG: I wanted to express what really great thinkers were trying to say. I knew I could translate that into rooms and actions and environment. I wanted to manifest great writing, greatly done.
EH: What propels you pursue theater?
JG: Certain types of people have a huge drive to express their digestion of life in a cogent way. If you are going to do more than just chit-chat at a cocktail party, then picking a piece that you believe in, and having a group come together who all want to do that, is a great way to exercise that longing.
I think that artists who are enthusiastic about their work create an experience for the audience that is beyond how proficient their work is, or how nice the set is. It has a spark that is a real aphrodisiac in a way. I want ACT to be a sustainable, reliable theater which is a great place to play.
EH: How is working with amateur actors versus professionals?
JG: There’s something about actors who don’t have to worry about doing theater as a job, where they can bring the whole of their being to the play. They’re not having to do it all of the time. They’re not having to pace themselves. It’s sprinters versus marathoners. That can make for an extraordinary and touching theatrical experience for the audience, better than high-grade professional work. It’s about the people, the team and the level of artistry.
EH: What makes you passionate about a play?
JG: My dream is to put on “Equus.” The questions that are asked in that play are the deepest questions: What is the nature of God, and what is your relationship to God? What kind of love do you bring to that relationship? What does that do in the psyche? The quantity of important questions that gets unpacked in that play, in proportion to the two hours that it takes, is absolutely masterful.
EH: What are your criteria for choosing plays?
JG: I need a play where the author has a real defined theme and a burning desire to bring before us a question. I would love to have a meaty moral issue, where people have to decide what their morals are. It would be good to have a plot that I can follow. There have to be substantial characters that hold my focus. It would be wonderful if the language were elegant. If the playwright really knows how to write, if he could pack a wallop in a phrase, I’d love that.
EH: What makes a good actor?
JG: Flexibility, an ability to communicate, openness, a willingness to drop an agenda and try something way off-center, and a willingness to look silly.
EH: What is the essence of a great director?
JG: Passion makes almost anything great, especially if it has real clarity. When you are directing a play (which is an exploration of ideas through character), you find the best people you can, you build the right essence of the cast, then you shut up and you listen to them. It’s all about listening.
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Your news during the run-up to Freud’s Last Session is, indeed, exciting! We saw an off-Broadway production of it in NYC and absolutely LOVED it, and we’re looking forward to our own production right here on the west coast. Thank you all for all your hard work and effort to bring these productions to our Ashland stages. Break a leg!