Jim Edmondson, who is directing the “The Cyrano Project” at Southern Oregon University, is an associate artist at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where he has been an actor and director for 38 seasons. We met one afternoon in the Center Square Theatre at Southern Oregon University.
EH: When did you discover that you wanted to do theater?
JE: It was about the time I was a junior in high school, as so many people do. I had always been a pretty imaginative kid. It just was clearly where I was happiest. We hear a lot of people say, “I found my tribe,” but I really did. They laughed at the same things I did; they accepted everybody. It seemed a good match.
When I found Shakespeare, I thought that this is a playwright that uses all shapes and sizes, ages and dispositions of people. The breadth of his characters is just enormous. That’s where I want to live. I was taught that the language is difficult but, “It’s worth it, so get on top of it.” I admired that combination.
The SOU Theatre Arts Department is a good program. There’s integrity to the work. There’s an enormous enrollment. It’s over 200 declared majors, and it’s in a building designed for 60. The students have a great work ethic; they learn if they can’t do the hard work, they’re never going to enjoy it enough to stay with it. They work with great spirit, under difficult conditions.
EH: What makes a good director?
JE: There is the vision of the play, the love of actors, love of language, and patience. There is a true belief that every actor will get “there” in their own way and in their own time. Everyone is so uniquely different. Who responds to humor, and who does not? Who needs exact direction about the structure of the language, and who cannot handle it right now? You have to bide your time. Every actor works differently, and that must be honored.
Directing is a lot like being a doctor: “Do no harm.” You have to be careful with actors. They are risking a lot psychologically in front of the room. You have to have sensitivity to individuality, and not to force it. You have to be careful not to rob them of the joy of doing theater. Directing is also very autobiographical.
EH: What makes great acting?
JE: That’s really individual, too. I think that all good acting is autobiographical in the sense that it’s your stuff; it’s your pain; it’s your humor; it’s your thoughts expressed in the character, language and situation. It is making the material true within you.
When Cyrano gets to the balcony scene and says, “In the cover of darkness, I can finally be myself.” If there’s a person who doesn’t know what that means, they haven’t been paying attention to the ironies of life. There’s a need to become deeper by becoming somebody else. “I put on a mask, and now I can really be me.”
All of us have imagination, and theater, because it’s immediate, sparks it, the laughter, the gasps. I can’t imagine a world without theater. I don’t want to think of it.