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. Continue reading The craft of a solo performance

Backstage: Character revealed by movement

Suzanne Seiber is the choreographer for Brava! Opera Theater’s “Hansel and Gretel.” Seiber holds a Master of Arts degree in dance from the University of Oregon with a focus on movement training for actors. She teaches dance and choreographs in numerous settings including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Oregon Cabaret Theatre and Southern Oregon University. We chatted one morning at The Growler Guys in Ashland.

EH: How do you choreograph plays?

SS: A lot of it is character movement. As a theater choreographer you work with, “Who is this?” “What kind of movement is going to show who they are?” “What’s the mood of that particular moment?” and, “What’s going to make it pop?” It’s also about getting into patterns, to give a sense of the time, the place, the character, and then embody the music.

Suzanne Seiber is the choreographer for Brava! Opera Theater’s “Hansel and Gretel.” Seiber holds a Master of Arts degree in dance from the University of Oregon with a focus on movement training for actors. She teaches dance and choreographs in numerous settings including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Oregon Cabaret Theatre and Southern Oregon University. We chatted one morning at The Growler Guys in Ashland.

EH: How do you choreograph plays?

SS: A lot of it is character movement. As a theater choreographer you work with, “Who is this?” “What kind of movement is going to show who they are?” “What’s the mood of that particular moment?” and, “What’s going to make it pop?” It’s also about getting into patterns, to give a sense of the time, the place, the character, and then embody the music.

Continue reading Backstage: Character revealed by movement

Backstage: You can say a lot in a 10-minute play

Mark Saunders’ 10-minute play “Sitcom” will be featured in Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s next offering, “Moonlighting 2018: Home for the Holidays.” Saunders is a former cartoonist and English teacher, who then found work in the computer industry and early retirement. Saunders was introduced to playwriting through stand-up comedy. We met at Boulevard Coffee.

EH: How did you get started in stand-up comedy?

MS: I’m so shy. I thought to get over this I can do one of two things — I can either get into Toastmasters, or take up stand-up comedy. I thought: “Well I like humor, plus I don’t like to eat breakfast with strangers.” So I opted for stand up.

Continue reading Backstage: You can say a lot in a 10-minute play

Backstage: Jazz offers a lot to riff about

Ed Dunsavage, artistic director of the Siskiyou Institute, promotes jazz and jazz studies throughout the Rogue Valley. He is also a guitar instructor at Southern Oregon University. We met at Boulevard Coffee to talk about jazz.

ED: The guitarist Frank Zappa had a great quote: “Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny.” Like classical music, it’s probably in the 2 to 3 percent range of what people listen to. Jazz, as an art form, is recognized worldwide. It’s more appreciated in Europe and Asia than here.

EH: Is there a difference between jazz and classical musicians?

ED: I think there is a difference in terms of attitude, from the classical approach to the jazz approach; they’re different worlds. Classical musicians are amazing sight readers and interpreters of music, but if you ask them, “Can you improvise over these chord changes?” that’s a whole different thing.

Continue reading Backstage: Jazz offers a lot to riff about

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

Ashland is the place for Theatre