In 1922, Grant Shepard was “bitten by the theater bug” at the age of six. He went on to earn a Bachelors Degree in Theatre Arts and a Masters Degree in Cinematography from the University of California Los Angeles. He taught at the University of Miami and California State University at Los Angeles. Shepard has acted and directed theater in the Rogue Valley for over twenty years.
EH: Why are some people so passionate about theater?
GS: The theater-going public (which prefers live theater to cinema) is apparently hungry for the immediacy of the relationship with the persons and things that happen on-stage as opposed to shadows on the screen.
EH: What makes a great play?
GS: It depends on the viewpoint. From the audience’s standpoint, a great play is one that pulls people in over a long period of time. From the performers’ standpoint, a great play is one that has parts that are challenging and fun to do. From the critical standpoint, it would be a play that is attention absorbing, gives entertainment, and looked back-on as having been worthwhile. It either has some kind of a message, thought provoking situation, or character development.
EH: What makes a great actor?
GS: To be a great actor, one must be dedicated and mature. To justify the term great, it requires maturity to become a character with an awareness of his relationship to the times, to the situation he’s in, and to the other persons he’s dealing with, so that on-stage you have actors who are an entity together. By their complete absorption in the situation, actors transfer that situation to the audience, so that the audience becomes a participant in what is going-on on the stage.
There is a very clear distinction between an actor who plays a part and an actor who becomes the character. I’ve done a lot of directing. I take great joy from directing and watching something develop. I frequently say to the actor, “Now if something totally unexpected happens outside the script, I want to see you react to it as this character would react to it, not as you would react. If there is suddenly a surprise, I want you to respond to stimuli as the character does.”
EH: How do you direct a play?
GS: Many people that think that directing consists of going to rehearsals and telling actors where to move on the stage, which is the least of it. At least forty percent of all the work I do in directing is done before I meet the cast. I absorb the play, and it absorbs me, so that by the time I meet the cast, I know the characterizations that I want to bring out, and I know all of the relationships.
The players are your raw material. You’re the sculptor, and they are the clay; and all clays are different. My technique depends on whom I’m directing. Actors react differently to the various things that a director will say. You have to develop the characters, get the relationship between them going, and get what you want out of them – working with what they bring to it. And you never know what that thing is until you get started. Then you adapt your technique.
My technique is developed with each situation that I find myself in. The most important genius in directing is working with the actors, adapting your techniques to them, then getting the production you had in mind. And that takes a bit of doing.
Shepard will be onstage in the musical“1776”, playing June 20 – July 22 at the Camelot Theatre in Talent. For information and reservations, call: 541-535-5250.
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.