The craft of a solo performance

British actor John Rainer is preparing for his poetry recital honoring the British Poets Laureates, opening at the Ashland Library on Saturday April 6th. Rainer’s recent solo performance “Prufrock’s World” featuring poems by T.S. Eliot played to sold-out audiences. Those of us who were lucky enough to see it were astounded by the brilliance of the poetry and the talent of the man. I chatted with Rainer at the Pony Espresso Café.

EH: What was your theatrical training?

JR: At the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts: speech, scene study, you name it, the usual background. Really, my whole training was in British Regional Theatre. I toured England with various companies, and then did West End shows, the traditional route, which isn’t really traditional anymore. There really isn’t the training ground for young actors, where you really do get a chance to experiment with finding your own techniques. The repertory system, which was such a glorious training ground, isn’t really there anymore.

At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, local actors are making a living. There are actors who choose to stay, have a family, buy a house, and do the whole thing, knowing that they have a company there, which will give them an income. It’s rare. As we all know, it’s incredibly hard to make a living doing theater.

If you love something, do it. With this solo performance stuff, that I now do, it’s nice to take the power, and really craft something that is an exploration of a character, I can lose myself in that character: a literary figure that interests me.

EH: What makes acting in live theater so exciting?

JR: There is nothing like a live experience unfolding before you to move you, to quicken the pulse, stimulate the imagination. For me, being in the theater is a religious experience. There’s nothing like a theater. It’s a thrill for me to sit in one, a greater thrill to be doing something in one. I can never get enough.

British actor John Rainer is preparing for his poetry recital honoring the British Poets Laureates, opening at the Ashland Library on Saturday April 6th. Rainer’s recent solo performance “Prufrock’s World” featuring poems by T.S. Eliot played to sold-out audiences. Those of us who were lucky enough to see it were astounded by the brilliance of the poetry and the talent of the man. I chatted with Rainer at the Pony Espresso Café.

EH: What was your theatrical training?

JR: At the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts: speech, scene study, you name it, the usual background. Really, my whole training was in British Regional Theatre. I toured England with various companies, and then did West End shows, the traditional route, which isn’t really traditional anymore. There really isn’t the training ground for young actors, where you really do get a chance to experiment with finding your own techniques. The repertory system, which was such a glorious training ground, isn’t really there anymore.

At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, local actors are making a living. There are actors who choose to stay, have a family, buy a house, and do the whole thing, knowing that they have a company there, which will give them an income. It’s rare. As we all know, it’s incredibly hard to make a living doing theater.

If you love something, do it. With this solo performance stuff, that I now do, it’s nice to take the power, and really craft something that is an exploration of a character, I can lose myself in that character: a literary figure that interests me.

EH: What makes acting in live theater so exciting?

JR: There is nothing like a live experience unfolding before you to move you, to quicken the pulse, stimulate the imagination. For me, being in the theater is a religious experience. There’s nothing like a theater. It’s a thrill for me to sit in one, a greater thrill to be doing something in one. I can never get enough.

I yearn for the experience, those transformative moments that you can only experience in live theater. There’s nowhere like it: that can transport you; that can take you emotionally to another space; to open your mind to another experience, another revelation; something you can identify with.

It’s the transference of amazing writing through the channel of performance that connects to you. It’s that connection. There’s nothing like the live experience. There’s nothing to equate it with. The transformative power of theater, coupled with great writing, is wonderful.

The thrill, when you portray any great writer, is losing yourself in that world and in that language, and finding within it a new trigger within you, that informs what you’re doing that night to that audience. That breathing moment in time, when you are interpreting that language into your interior being and communicating it that night, and feeling a different tension in that audience, that performance which will never be recaptured. That is why you want to do it again and again. It’s the use of you and all you are in your life’s summation until now. In that moment, channeling those words of that feeling into a connection in a theater, there’s nowhere like it.

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