The highly successful production of The Decorator by The Next Stage Repertory Company (at the Craterian Theater in Medford)featured the delightful Arlene Horwitz Warner, along with Doug Warner and Presila Quinby. Arlene, an energetic, inventive, and skilled actress, was already a successful graphic artist in the San Francisco Bay Area when she decided to expand her horizons and develop her acting skills. We met for lunch at Organics on Main Street in Medford.
EH: How did you train as an actor?
AHW: I took an improvisation class, and I loved it. I love the whole concept behind improvisational theater. I think it’s a great help in life, because you don’t know what is going to come up. It teaches you how to respond to situations in the moment. It’s an opportunity to just let it go, find humor, and be yourself. While studying improvisation, I also enrolled in The American Conservatory Theater Studio Program in San Francisco, then some private acting classes, and a summer theater program through the Royal National Theatre in London.
Theater combined a lot of my interests: from psychology, to performing, to the visual art of the sets and costumes, and how everything worked together. It was a great outlet for me.
EH: What makes a great director?
AHW: Every actor is unique. Everyone has a different way of working, a different key that unlocks what they have to offer, a different approach to how they can get inside or respond to the material. I think a great director is someone who is able to work with each individual actor and each individual personality to access that individuality and bring it out. People respond differently. I don’t think a director that has a flat approach (expecting to treat everyone one way) always brings out the best in people. Everyone has a different style and a different way of working. When a director can see, understand, and work with that, I think they get the most out of their actors and create an environment that is safe. It creates a better, more positive, more productive, and more creative working environment, all in all a better production.
EH: What do you mean by safe?
AHW: When you are rehearsing, you are trying things. Some of them are going to work, and some are not. If you don’t feel that you have permission to try something that looks stupid or falls flat, you’re going to hold back. You’re going to play it safe. If you play it safe, you’re missing a lot and you’re not opening up opportunities for great moments.
EH: As an actor, what do you think makes a good actor?
AHW: Somebody that you can trust that’s going to put in the work, deliver the product, and connect with you on stage. Someone who is very present with you, connected to you, that you can trust that if you stumble, if possible, will be there.
EH: What do you mean by being present?
AHW: In the scene with you, and in their character, so that you can connect and actually have the real interaction on stage that the scene requires.
EH: What is it about theater that is so magnetic?
AHW: You’re actually witnessing human interaction. Even though it’s written and rehearsed, it’s becoming animated. And you are witnessing in person. There are real lives there. When you’re in a performance it will only happen once.
The Next Stage Repertory’s next production, The Wild Guys, directed by Peter Alzado, will open Thursday, March 22, at the Craterian Theatre in Medford. For tickets and information, call the box office at 541-779-3000, or order tickets on line at www.caterian.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.