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?

Mixing up the theater lineup to entertain all ages

Shawn Ramagos
Mixing up the theater lineup to entertain all ages

New Camelot Theatre Artistic Director Shawn Ramagos is the director and designer of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — The Musical,” which opens on July 11. Ramagos brings considerable classical theater training and technical expertise to his new position. After studying acting and directing at Northwestern University, Ramagos went on to become a lighting and special effects technician for Disney. He was selected out of 53 candidates as a result of a nationwide search. We met in the board room of the Camelot Theatre.

SR: I think that the people that came before me put the theater in an extremely good place. We’re very lucky that we have the donors and the patrons that really want to see us take it to the next level. For a new artistic director, the fact that our building will be paid off by the middle of July is a great place to start.

As an artistic director of a theater, you have to have your hands in a little bit of everything, so you make sure that the standards that you create for the theater are kept. I think that we’re here to meet the challenge and bring the Camelot Theatre into the next phase of development. Continue reading Mixing up the theater lineup to entertain all ages

ANPF board member knows his Pulitzers

As of July 1, James “Jim” Risser and his fellow Ashland New Plays Festival board members are accepting new plays for ANPF’s 2019 Fall Festival. Risser, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner in National Reporting, served as director of the John S. Knight Fellowships for Professional Journalists and Director of the Graduate Program in Journalism at Stanford University, and on the Pulitzer Prize Board for 10 years in the 1990s. He also played a key role in the selection of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer-winning play “Angels in America.”

EH: What newspaper articles brought you the Pulitzer Prize?

JR: You could call it investigative reporting: stories that exposed corruption in the U.S. grain exporting industry, where people were paying bribes to federal inspectors. As a result, Congress changed the grain inspection laws. Some people went to prison. Some companies paid fines.

The second prize was for a series of articles explaining the kinds of environmental damage that agriculture does: Things like soil erosion, overuse of chemicals, and depletion of water supplies. A lot of land that shouldn’t be plowed or farmed was being used because of the pressure to produce products. Modern agriculture is a great industry but it can sometimes have a huge impact on the environment.

EH: What happened as a result of those articles?

JR: There were Congressional hearings. They passed some new regulations about what lands could be farmed or not farmed. Continue reading ANPF board member knows his Pulitzers

Britt educator brings joy to students lives

DSCN5364In the past four years,the past four years, Kay Hilton, Education & Engagement Director of the Britt Music & Arts Festival, has developed FREE year-round music education programs serving Jackson and Josephine counties. Hilton, an accomplished musician and educator, brings with her expertise, much of it gleaned during 18 years as a performer and music coordinator at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Britt Education and Engagement programs include residencies which bring musicians into schools during the school year; an annual guitar weekend: a three-day exploration of guitar styles; fellowship programs in which students perform with members of the Britt Orchestra, then form chamber ensembles to provide outreach performances in the community; BrittKids Koncerts (mid-morning performances for children in the Britt Performance Garden); and internships and partnerships with educational and like-minded organizations.

I met Hilton one morning at Limestone Coffee Company in Medford.

EH: How does music education affect children?

KH: There is a lot of research about the positive things that music education does for brain development. It helps in a variety of ways. It helps you learn how to read music, which affects different parts of your brain. There’s a new study recently that talks about how the study of music helps you learn languages better, because you’re hearing different tonal qualities and getting used to memorizing what those are. And that can help you recognize different languages and learn languages more quickly. There’s been a lot of research on how it helps with math ability. Continue reading Britt educator brings joy to students lives

Ashland is the place for Theatre