Doug Burns is Camelot Theatre’s interim executive director. He has a Master’s in Business Administration from Harvard Business School and a long career in theater and advertising. Burns recently returned to Ashland after an absence of 13 years. In the 1990s, Burns was the general manager of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre. We met at Noble Coffee.
EH: What is your attraction to theater?
DB: For me, it’s about the people. I really like actors, singers and musicians. I find these people incredibly creative and open-minded. It’s this traveling community. You bring a group of people together for an intense period; they create this community, and then they disperse. I love their camaraderie. I love their openness, their fun and their weirdness.
Theater itself is that magic of live energy between the performers and the audience. There’s one expression, “Audiences get the show they deserve,” because of their energy and their response to the show. If the audience is with the show, it can go to the heights. One of my raison d’etres for being in theater has always been to make sure the artists are taken care of.
EH: Tell me about family and theater.
DB: It makes for an interesting crew. They do tend to move around a lot. The people, for the most part, are loving and welcoming. They don’t have cultural hang-ups and very few prejudices, if any. If you’re in it, it’s a family. It creates instant family. It’s a wonderful open environment for children. They see the creativity, and if they really get involved in it, they can see the hard work that goes on.
The unifying force of the play, the idea behind the play, can bring everybody together for a wonderful creation, but then it’s over. There are all these new adventures that have become quite magnificent and a memory that you share. Then you can go on to the next one. It’s not just a one-time thing.
EH: What makes a great play?
DB: The material is the key. You’ve got a person to put the words down on paper, and then the director who interprets that vision, and then the actors who create it before the audience who perceives it from their own perspective. So, it’s a real collaborative process, all the way to the end. Movies don’t have that because there’s no feedback from the audience while the movie is playing. It’s a done product. When you are in a theater together with other people who are experiencing the same thing, it’s exhilarating. There’s nothing like it. It’s magic.
I like the storyteller aspect and the music of theater. When it’s done well, it’s transformative. It goes back to the earliest man. Besides drawing on cave walls, it’s the earliest art form. Those roots in our culture go back to the earliest days of expressing ourselves. The continuation is important. It touches something that is core in our being.
EH: What makes theater work on a business level?
DB: Business is about presenting a quality product at a reasonable price, being sensitive to your audience and to your employees. I’m not a person who believes that business is about profit. Business is about community and creating a living for people. There’s really a lot to be said about the numbers. From a macro perspective, they really tell you a lot about flows and trends and ups and downs and inconsistencies. There are business procedures that are very applicable, but business is not the be-all and end-all. The business is to support the artist.