Obed Medina’s direction of Yasmina Reza’s unsettling comedy “God of Carnage” at Peter Wycliffe’s new Thanks For the Memories Theatre was truly phenomenal. Medina, a writer and theater critic, works with Audience Development at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We met for lunch at Martino’s Restaurant.
EH: How did this production happen?
OM: I like to direct. I was looking for projects when Peter Wycliffe approached me about doing the “God of Carnage.” I thought it was an interesting play. I thought it would play best in a small house with people close to the action. I didn’t know if it was going to work. I thought it might be a little too risky, a little too weird for people .…
EH: There is an audience here in Ashland that looks for interesting plays to see. When did you become interested in performing off-beat plays?
OM: When I was in college, someone I didn’t know in one of my classes came up to me and said, “Hey you! Do you want to do a show?” I said: “OK.” It was Tracy Young, who recently directed “A Wrinkle in Time” here at OSF. The show was “Dreamplay” and it was located in a swimming pool in the back yard of a rented house. I don’t know that I fully understood what I was watching, but I thought, “This is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever done.” It was like something clicked. It was weird, but it was also moving. It fit in with my aesthetic. I thought, “This is something I need to be doing.”
EH: What audience is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival trying to attract?
OB: We’re trying to bring in a multicultural and family audience. We also have an educational component, to teach or educate our community.
EH: What is the unique quality of theater that attracts so many of us?
OB: The immediacy, when you are watching a play, you are forced to participate, whether you like it or not. It’s undeniable; when you have live persons on stage portraying characters, there is no way you cannot interact with these characters. And the audience affects the performance; it’s a very symbiotic relationship. You are taking and giving. You are sharing an experience that you will only experience once, ever. A performance is a living breathing beast. That’s what makes it exciting.
EH: Does the relationship foster growth?
OM: There is a growth element more immediately for the actors, because as they’re performing, they are aware of the audience. And the way the audience reacts informs their performance, so they’ll push more. The next night, they’ll say, “Oh the audience helped me develop or discover something new in my character.” And the next night, they’ll have that down, and the audience brings something else in, that informs them of who their character is. You always hear from actors, “It’s a shame that we start learning who are characters are, at the very end of the run.” That’s always the case, because you need the audience. In theater, it’s not a performance until you have an audience.
As a director, I like to have the audience participate one way or another. I like to expose the mechanism of what makes theater work. In “God of Carnage,” because we didn’t have a big group of audience members, we weren’t able to stage it in-the-round. My initial concept was to stage it in-the-round as if they are watching a live boxing event. They’re looking at the actors, but they’re also looking beyond and seeing other audience members, and they’re thinking, “What we’re watching on stage is not necessarily a play, but a reflection of who we are.”