Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Michele Mais plays Mistress Quickly in “Henry IV, Part 1” and “Henry IV, Part 2.” Next season she will again be playing Mistress Quickly in “Henry V.” Mais, a veteran of Broadway, has also performed with the Cornerstone Theater Company. We met at Hearsay in Ashland.
EH: Do you subscribe to particular style of acting?
MM: I don’t think there’s only one way of dealing with it. You do a little Stanislavsky; sometimes you do outside-in acting, physicality. The choices are: Do you hit the pillow because of some emotional need to hit the pillow? Or, while you’re hitting the pillow, is this emotional need coming out? That’s always the question. Sometimes it’s being in a certain costume or footwear.
EH: Tell me about acting at Cornerstone Theater with Bill Rauch.
MM: We did some weird shows. One of my favorite was when we did the speeches from “Everyman” in the mall. We had the shoppers follow us. We started out with maybe four people trailing along, and by the end of it, there were about 200 people. The audience was on the journey with us. They became “Everyman.”
EH: Are you committed to perform at Daedalus, the AIDS fundraiser, in August?
MM: AIDS took such brilliant wonderful artists. I had so many friends. There was a time in New York when you would go to rehearsals and there would be people — who would just be gone. The disease is not over by any stretch of the imagination. We have got to make sure we wipe that thing out. I’ve got to step up and do it.
EH: How does theater affect society?
MM: You are changing people’s perspective, even if they don’t realize it. Even if they don’t buy it, there’s a part of them that’s been exposed. Whether they choose to open themselves to the possibilities, is another question. I think the arts are one way of expressing discontent and wanting dreams to be fulfilled.
EH: What does it take to be an actor?
MM: I think you have to have some bizarre faith in yourself, or some need to express who you are. Whoever you are is how you act. It is your instrument, and you discover the sweet sounds of your instrument. Discovering yourself is the most exciting part.
A lot of people think it’s very easy. It’s hard being consistent: hitting the mark and getting that laugh every time. Timing is like jumping rope — you’re off a couple of seconds, and you get smacked in the head. That’s where technique comes in. But you can’t get too technical or you take the heart out of it.
There’s something that’s not about you in the work. There is some energy: an awareness, an opening that happens sometimes. You get to where you become a vessel. There is a sense of magic about it.
You’re moving people, and you’re getting them in touch with their heart. And that’s important because we, as a civilization, can get very selfish and very cruel. We need to keep embracing our hearts and love. The arts keep us going and keep us united.
The Daedalus Project is OSF’s annual event to raise money to end the spread of HIV/AIDS. This year’s 30th anniversary event is on Aug. 21.