Market research says ‘zombies’ is the answer

Elizabeth and Evan Wilson are currently producing immersive theater, interactive events in which audience members become improvisational actors within their productions. The Wilsons are newly married. She has a theatrical background; he is from the world of music promotion. Their first project “Halloween Lies” will take place in the Lounge at the Ashland Armory on Nov. 4. The Wilsons are also building Escape Rooms which are increasing in popularity in the Rogue Valley. We chatted at Case Coffee Roasters on Lithia Way in Ashland.

EH: How does this medium differ from other theatrical events?

ElW: The difference is that you’re not a spectator. When you get together with your friends, to go to see a play, you couple it with something else (dinner or going out for drinks afterward) that’s when you get to be social. During the performance, you are a spectator.

With this, you are a part of it, you’re actively participating, and you are actively socializing with the people around you. It fills that social need for people to bond together, to interact with each other, rather than sitting in chairs watching events unfold. Continue reading Market research says ‘zombies’ is the answer

Adult-themed puppet show tackles ‘Robopocalypse’

Josh Gross, artistic director of Puppeteers for Fears, has written a new horror musical comedy, “Robopocalypse: the Musical!” which opens Oct. 20 at Pioneer Hall in Ashland. It features live puppets, a live rock band with synthesizer, puppet rap battles, a light show, and multimedia backgrounds. I met Gross at Case Coffee Roasters on Siskiyou Boulevard in Ashland.

JG: A core part of our mission has always been to create new art and new pieces that come from a local voice. No one will have ever seen a puppet show quite like this one. We want to make theater for people who’ve never been given a reason to like theater. They’ve never seen a show that speaks to them, and they’ve never seen it in a place that they feel comfortable. There’s a whole untapped market out there.

EH: What are you saying with this musical?

JG: We should all be very afraid of artificial intelligence. Technology is now progressing faster than our understanding of its implications: It’s, in many cases, operating outside of a moral framework. It’s barreling along so fast, that we don’t know what we’re doing with it. The core of the musical is just a family drama, and how you cope with loss.

EH: How does this relate to politics?

JG: Our politics are not addressing the real threats that we face. We’re dumping money into military defense, and yet we’re actively at cyber war and little to nothing is being done about it. It’s this slow-moving disaster, where the groundwork is being laid, and no one sees the threat until it’s too late to do anything about it. We have integrated technology into our lives, but we aren’t thinking about, “What happens if it fails?” There are serious consequences that are worth serious consideration and careful policy. But I wouldn’t say that that’s the major emphasis of the musical. Continue reading Adult-themed puppet show tackles ‘Robopocalypse’

Theater needs to adapt to new audiences

As the line producer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Amelia Acosta Powell coordinates the creative process of play production with the artistic administration of the theater. Powell came to OSF from the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., where she was the casting director and artistic associate. We met at Starbucks Coffee Company on East Main Street in Ashland.

EH: Do you see the nature of theater changing?

AAP: Theater goes through national and international trends. The American theater is at a major tipping point because we’re seeing artistic leadership change all over the country. The vast majority of artistic leaders have historically been older white men. I’ve been excited to see recent announcements from major theaters announcing women artistic directors, some women of color, even some women who are earlier in their careers than the men who have been running these theaters. I think we’re about to see a real paradigm shift in terms of the priorities of the stories that are told and the values that are espoused in the work.

In terms of ticket sales, we’re seeing a lot more interest in new plays written by a diverse authorship, which is really exciting. In continuing to find a balance of how the classics are honored and celebrated for the beautiful works of literature that they are, OSF has been a leader in innovating with the classics, making every Shakespeare play a new play, to have resonance with contemporary times. Continue reading Theater needs to adapt to new audiences

The vision to produce a theater

Valerie Rachelle and her husband, Rick Robinson, have owned the Oregon Cabaret Theatre for just four years now. In addition to their considerable responsibilities at OCT, they each freelance, directing productions at other theaters throughout the United States. One afternoon, I visited with Rachelle in the restaurant area of the theater.

EH: When you launch a new production, what is your process?

VR: Obviously, I read the script, listen to the score, and then I basically work with my design team. First, I give them a sentence or two of what I want to tell the audience: I’m always trying to ask a question. I want to make sure that everyone on my team (including the actors) knows what the goal of the show is. Then, when we start creating, from the color of the paint to the buckles on the shoes, we’re all going toward that same goal. I want the audience to walk out of the theater either asking, or thinking, or feeling something really specific.

EH: Tell me about “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”

VR: First of all, Steve Martin is a comic genius. It’s very funny, but it’s also very poignant. The play is about exploring: What is beauty? What is art? And how does that affect our everyday life? You have Einstein who says, “Science is art. It’s beautiful.” And Picasso is saying, “Visual art — painting is art.” And then, they both come together and realize each other’s beauty and the value of each other’s art. It’s kind of esoteric, but the way that Steve Martin puts it: It makes you (the everyday person) not only enjoy it and laugh at it, but also, you are swept up in — not only the dream and the emotion of what human beings can create — but what we can bring to life. And everything that we touch, and feel, and breathe, and see from the stars — to formulas on the page, to math, to art, to music — is all beauty and art, which is really cool. Continue reading The vision to produce a theater

Wolf sees good things happening in theater

Matt Wolf is London theater critic of The International New York Times and London editor of the broadway.com website. He is also theater editor of The Arts Desk website. This is the second of a two-part column.

EH: How do you review a bad play?

MW: As with anything, you’ve got to back it up critically. Just piling a lot of adjectives — such as awful, dreadful, horrible, worst thing I’ve seen since the last worst thing I saw — doesn’t do anyone any favors. And also it turns the reader off. I think you need to explain what it was that didn’t work. Was it the writing? Was it the acting? Was it the direction? Was it the set? Sometimes the audience can be part of it. Usually it comes down to the writing, sometimes not. Sometimes you can have a well-written play very badly served by an actor or set of actors; they just don’t get it. I think you have to call it as you see it. I don’t think there’s much value in pussy-footing around it, and feeling that the reader has to hold the review up to the light to see what the critic really thought.

As a critic, I try never to be mean. It doesn’t mean I like everything (far from it) but sometimes you read critics, and they just seem very sour — as if the fact of going to a bad play was somehow a personal affront. People don’t set out to write a bad play. It’s relatively rare in theater that the motivation for something is opportunistic and cynical. I don’t get offended or wounded by a bad play. I just think, “Oh, it’s a bad play, on to the next.” I have a pretty strong capacity for renewal, which is exciting. Continue reading Wolf sees good things happening in theater

What makes a great play? And a great review?

Matt Wolf is the London theatre critic of The International New York Times. Wolf moved to London in 1983. Since then he has written for most major newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic, with over 20 years as the London-based arts and theater writer for The Associated Press. We lunched at the RADA Café in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. This is the first of a two-part column.

EH: What makes a great play?

MW: A great play for me is something that inhabits its own world and, in so doing, makes you think afresh about your world. So, there’s always a tension between there and here. I like a play that fully constructs a world, and there’s a carry-away from it, that makes me think about my world. I think that most great works of art force a connection, between it and you, that’s very rewarding. A lesser play or mediocre play might seem manufactured, trite, cliché, over-familiar, opportunistic and cynical. But a great play creates a universe that invites you into it. And you leave it feeling refreshed, enlightened, enlivened.

EH: How do you go about writing a review?

MW: The process would be: Am I familiar with the playwright? Have I read the play before? What do I know about the director? What do I know about the actors? What does it say about the play on the website? Have there been any interviews that are useful? Sometimes you want to know what the critics are saying about a play. What do they think the play is? That isn’t necessarily that you’ll agree with them, but it’s interesting to know.

Then you go in, and the experience of the play happens in front of you. And you respond as you see fit. So the process is: How much do you need to know about the play? Do you know as much as you need to know? Are you in a good frame of mind to watch the play? You want to be as “on it” as you could possibly be. Sometimes I see critics at the theater, and they look stressed to be there. But I think that’s a shame. I try to get into some sort of zone, so that I can be the best possible audience member. It doesn’t mean you have to like the play, but I think you owe the play your best attention to the people who make it happen. Continue reading What makes a great play? And a great review?

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