Designer creates spaces for people to have experiences

Craig Hudson
Craig Hudson

Craig Hudson designed the sets and lights for Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s stunning production of “Cabaret.” Hudson founded OCT when he took a peek into an old pink church at First & Hargadine Streets in Ashland. He transformed it into a lush theatrical venue complete with dark green walls, polished wood balconies, and dominated by a spectacular crystal chandelier.

Hudson divides his time between Ashland, where he is the resident set designer at OCT, and his exquisite bed and breakfast in Mexico City called The Red Tree House. He is now in the midst of building a dazzling supper club (to open soon) just below the Cabaret Theatre: The Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden, where we met one afternoon.

CH: This will be the main dining room, but in the evenings, it can turn into a cabaret. It’s going to have a pretty decent lighting system, a good sound system; it will have a grand piano in here. I would love to do piano bar one night a week. I would like to have an after-theater venue. Some things will work, and some things won’t. You think you know what’s going to go on, but you often don’t. Things seldom work out the way you plan them, but they always turn out OK. If you can just let go of the need to control it, in minute detail, it’s OK.

It’s trying to place yourself uniquely in the market. Perhaps it’s defining what you’re doing, articulating that, then marketing it. We’re so close now.

EH: Tell me of the creation of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre.

CH: A friend of mine knew I wanted a theater and a place to put that chandelier. There was a door that had been kicked down in back. We went into this spooky scary place. This was full of old restaurant equipment. There was a room stuffed with old moldy mattresses and blankets. It was great for homeless people because they could break a window and get all of the mattresses that they needed. Kids would play in here. They could jump off of the balcony onto more mattresses. It was a wreck.

The bank had repossessed it. I negotiated with the bank. The building itself was pretty cheap, but fixing it up was expensive. For everything I did, I had to equate to how many months I had to work as an assistant professor (at Southern Oregon University) to pay for it. I’d wonder, “The door hardware is going to cost me six months of work?”

The project in Mexico (the Red Tree House) has given me a chance to be creative in design. There again, I don’t have a client I have to please. I get to create something that’s fun. That’s the part for me. People said, “Craig, you can’t do business that way.” I’d say, “No I’m not a good business person.” I think truthfully I am. But my philosophy of doing business is by putting business second.

EH: You create these fabulous spaces for things to happen.

CH It’s funny because that’s exactly I how I think of myself. I like to crete environment for people to have experiences in. It’s true of everything I do. And it is theatrical in all senses. It’s fun. And believe me, I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to do that.

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