The tale of how a premed student came to direct ‘The Winter’s Tale’

Desdemona Chiang

Desdemona Chiang is directing “The Winter’s Tale” opening June 19 on the Elizabethan Stage at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Born in Taiwan and raised in Southern California, Chiang “fell into” the Dramatic Arts Department at UC Berkeley as stress relief from her pre-medical studies. Then she decided medicine wasn’t her path. We met at Mix.

DC: It was spiritually hard to pursue the sciences in a way that a good doctor has to: to be able to look at someone and treat them as a patient, not as a person. I had a hard time looking at suffering, and having to turn myself off to it, in order to do my job well. Lack of compassion made me feel bad as a person. I’m too sentimental. I know that great doctors are able to be compassionate, have great bedside manner, and at the same time tell you, “I’m sorry, you have stage-four cancer.” I didn’t know how to do that.

I mucked around in Silicon Valley, for a while designing websites and programming. It was cool, innovative, creative and cutting edge. But it didn’t make me happy. We weren’t asking the humanistic questions, the big life questions that we ask in theater around: “Why?” and “What does this all mean?”

And then I decided I wanted to do theater professionally. I was looking at Berkeley Rep, ACT, at The Magic Theatre, and I thought, “There is a world in which people can do this as a job, and not the fringe thing.” I decided grad school was the way to go. I went to The University of Washington at Seattle. Jon Jory (the acclaimed director) was there at the time. He was my mentor for three years. A lot of my approach to rehearsal and to actors has a lot to do with his influence.

EH: Tell me about the world of the play.

DC: We’re taking a note from the original Shakespeare impulse. We’re making our own fairy tale based on certain cultural inspirations from Dynastic China and the Old West, set historically. It’s timeless in the way that, “Once upon a time there was a jealous king.” We place fairy tales in a time. We know they exist out of our time, but we don’t know in what time they do exist.

EH: There is an Oracle in the play?

DC: The Oracle is present in the play, but is not tangible material. You have to believe what you can’t see. There is so much in the play about seeing and not seeing. Once you see something, you have certainty. Once you’re certain of something, what’s the need for faith? That’s what’s so dangerous in religion now. Some say, “We’re certain of this.” Faith is in the space of certainty. That’s where that bridge is to get across. That’s where faith is necessary, “I don’t know but I believe, I hope and I believe.” For me, faith and certainty are opposites.

EH: Is this play tragicomedy?

DC: It’s one of Shakespeare’s Romances. “Cymbeline,” “Pericles,” “The Winter’s Tale” and “The Tempest” are the big four Romances where you start seeing magic. You see magic in “Macbeth,” but that is more of the occult. Here you have resurrection happening: People die and come back. You have the intervention of the Divine. You have playing with time. Nowhere else, in his other plays, does he jump time and generations.

There’s a lot of study around what it means for Shakespeare to be writing these Romances in the later years: That’s to be more spiritual, more existential.

Continue reading The tale of how a premed student came to direct ‘The Winter’s Tale’

Ashland High students learn the magic in storytelling

Betsy Bishop
Betsy Bishop

Betsy Bishop is the theater director and producer behind Ashland High School’s outstanding theatrical productions. Plays are produced in collaboration with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which provides directors and technical assistance.

Bishop spent her early years as a professional actress. She earned a master’s degree in education from Southern Oregon University and began a long teaching career. Now, as a mother of three grown children, she continues, as a full-time teacher, to mastermind this remarkable theater program. I met with Bishop one Saturday morning on the ASH theater stage.

EH: How did your partnership with OSF begin?

BB: When I was asked to teach theater, I had small children, and I had to be home at night. You can’t have a theater program without having shows. I told the kids, “I’m going to teach the classes, but we have to think of a way that other people can do the nighttime work.” My student, Matt Smith, went down to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and talked to Pat Patton (former OSF associate artistic director) and Pat Patton said, “Of course we’ll help the high school.” And that was the beginning of the partnership. Continue reading Ashland High students learn the magic in storytelling

Musical staging of ‘Chess’ coming to Ashland in the fall

Livia Genise
Livia Genise

Livia Genise, former artistic director of Talent’s Camelot Theatre Company, is now directing the musical “Chess” for Ashland Contemporary Theatre. It opens in September.

Genise, a veteran actor of Broadway, off-Broadway, regional theater and Hollywood, first came to Ashland in the 1980s. She raised her children and earned a degree in music from Southern Oregon University before she took on the directorship of Camelot Theatre.

During her 10-year tenure at Camelot, Genise fostered the enormous growth of the organization and mentored a generation of young theater artists.

EH: Tell me about “Chess.” Continue reading Musical staging of ‘Chess’ coming to Ashland in the fall

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