Actor/director/producer Lyda Woods is preparing for her next production, “Rogues: Tales from the Valley,” based on her satiric mystery, serialized in the Tuesday edition of the Ashland Daily Tidings. It is a take-off on the San Francisco Chronicle’s 1980s “Tales of the City” by Armistead Maupin, which was later turned into a PBS series. A staged reading starts at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 7 and 8, at Paschal Winery and Vineyard. Woods and I got together, on a rainy winter day, at the Black Sheep restaurant in Ashland.
LW: ”Tales of the City” explored San Francisco at a very critical time: San Francisco was becoming a Mecca for alternative life styles. I loved that series, and it always stuck with me.
I would really love to explore the characters that make up the Rogue Valley, and there are so many of them. Each character is not based on any one person, but a mosaic based on experience and imagination. I’m looking at how these characters can transform. I see the Rogue Valley as one organism. I wanted to explore how we are all interconnected and what that means. There are so many micro-cultures, yet we are interdependent. I want to be entertaining and grab the audience.
EH: How many characters are portrayed in the Paschal production?
LW: There are 20 characters played by six actors.
EH: You have a couple of theater groups: Levity Improv Comedy and Gumshoe Gourmet?
LW: I got started writing bigger-than-life character with the murder mystery group, Gumshoe Gourmet. I would get jobs at the Craterian, and they would say, “Well, we would like you to write 50 characters inspired by the Craterian Theater history.” So I created 50 fictional characters, and I did that for three years. I love writing challenges like that.
I’ve written plays for Habitat for Humanity and the Craterian Theater. I’ve produced murder mystery events for Harry and David, The Medford Police Association, the American Cancer Society, Hearts and Vines, Asante’s Children’s Miracle Network, and the Ashland Elks.
I have to say that Ashland Elks were one of the greatest audiences we ever had. We did “Scarlet Ribbons” (our disco “Who-Done-It?”) which they seemed to thoroughly enjoy. They really wanted to participate; they came in fantastic costumes; they were enthusiastic; and there was disco dancing afterwards.
EH: What does a life in theater mean to you?
LW: It explores what it means to be human, and in so many places in our lives, we keep ourselves really reined-in. I think theater and good films allow us to connect, to feel, to explore the heady cocktail of emotion that roils within us, to try to make some sense out of it, and to understand that everybody has the capacity for all kinds of emotions.
Theater is like my church. But sometimes theater doesn’t give you much back. It certainly doesn’t give you much money back, that’s for sure. It gives me community. It gives me a language; it gives me a creative home to work with other people. I like that theater is collaborative, because writing is so solitary, theater gives me a dimension that I really love, which is working with other creative people.