Helena de Crespo’s “Shirley Valentine” has found overwhelming success at Oregon Stage Works. However, Helena is more than an actress. Fluent in Spanish and English, she has established theaters in Colombia, Costa Rica and in the United States. She currently is building a theater in Cambodia and organizing a multicultural theatrical experience here in the Rogue Valley. She regularly acts and directs in Portland.
As we dined on Callahan’s garden deck, Helena told me how she happened upon her remarkable career as an international theater director.
EH: You seem to be a person who has had a mission.
HdC: It turned into that, and I don’t know that that was conscious on my part. I was teaching at the University and the National Drama School in Bogota, Colombia. One day this guy came to me from Peace Corps.
Last season at Oregon Stage Works Dennis Klein directed the hilarious and terrifying mystery thriller “Death Trap.” Dennis and I met before a rehearsal of his next production, a free, late-night workshop of Sam Shepard’s “True West.”
EH: How did you come to direct at Oregon Stage Works?
DK: I drove by this theater. I had heard an advertisement on the radio. So I came in. I fell in love with this space because this place has a soul, it has a palpable feel. It is a theater: it has blood, sweat and tears of theater. I felt it. It washed over me. I loved the place, and so I wanted to be part of this. I wanted to share the experience and to help if I could. It’s been an interesting ride.
EH: How does being in theater affect family?
DK: It’s very difficult. It causes a lot of tension because it requires so much time. It’s not just the physical time, it’s the emotional time. It’s stressful on a family. Ask anybody who is married. They are on the edge of divorce all the time because it excludes the other person. It pushes them away, because you are so focused. The people you are working with become the most important people to you for a while. For families, that’s hard. Donna, my wife, has become involved in costuming. It’s something she loves to do. She has now become part of the theater group, which instead of being exclusive has become inclusive.
The extraordinary tour de force performance of Helena de Crespo in “Shirley Valentine” at Oregon Stage Works has made the one-woman-show a phenomenal success. Many who have seen the production see it again and bring their friends.
Helena de Crespo engages her audience in the interior monologue of Shirley Valentine, a woman struggling to reinvent herself at a time in life when the empty nest has become a solitary cage. Shirley Valentine weaves her saucy tales with “a laugh and a joke for everything.”
Helena’s performance reflects her exceptional talent, education and experience, plus her spirit of adventure and pure unadulterated courage. As Helena and I lunched on the deck at Callahan’s Restaurant, she gave me a few insights into her life in the theater.
Playwright Patrick Devon finds his inspiration for his witty dialogue as a dresser backstage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. An invitation from Libby Appel brought Devon to Ashland five years ago.
A graduate of the University of London in art history and theater, Devon workshops his plays with OSF actors at the Black Swan. As we sat in the empty Elizabethan Stage one afternoon, we chatted about his experience of coming to Ashland and writing for theater.
PD: The lure of taking that writing and being able to see it with this quality of actors was just overwhelming. It’s such a good thing to see the whole show go up. Everyone is very kind. The less you put your ego in it, the more those actors will save you. If you have actors on your side, your stuff will go.
I’m usually most comfortable writing backstage at a show. The creative forces are happening all around. I get my ideas when I’m here, and then I go home and sort them out. Actors are so overdeveloped as far as their literary senses that any sort of premise that you might be thinking about — I’ve never once set down one of my premises for a play, where someone has said, “Oh, that’s weird, or that’s dumb.” They’d say, “Hmmm, “I think it needs work.” That’s very kind. Or they say, “What happens? Good premise, it’s not going very far.” And we always have Mr. Shakespeare to say, “Hey, the twin thing. How far can that go?” He certainly stretches it. You can too. He takes unbelievable situations, and we buy it. It’s fascinating.
Claudia Alick has found the key to success with her eclectic selection of performers for the Green Shows, the early-evening performances on the Courtyard Stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. As we lunched at Dragonfly, Claudia told me how she goes about it.
CA: We love for the audience members to write us notes. It’s the only way we know if we are on the right track. We also have an open submission policy. It’s a democratic way to curate a show. It opens me up to acts that I would never get to find out about. Just go online, write us a note, tell us what your act is and you’re in the running. I also encourage people to go to the Green Show group on Facebook. That’s just another way to become part of the conversation.
Claudia Alick is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s community associate producer. She organizes the Green Shows, the free performances that take place every evening on the Courtyard Stage before the regularly scheduled OSF plays.
Under Alick’s direction, the Green Shows have become an eclectic series of performances. She selects artists from the local community and from around the country. We met over lunch at Dragonfly Restaurant.
EH: Is your background in theater?
CA: Yes. I got my undergraduate degree at George Washington University; I was a theater major there. I got my graduate degree at New York University in performance studies, which is an interdisciplinary program that not only looks at the performances that happen on stages, you also study performances that happen everywhere — the performance of tourism or ritual as performance. I found it extremely helpful information for my job.
John Stadelman’s hilarious performance as the obsequious yet self-important Vice Principal Douglas Panch in the “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is truly unique. I was curious as to how he prepared for the role.
John sings with the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers. He performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for six seasons. He has directed theater up and down the West Coast, at Ashland High School and the Oregon Cabaret Theatre.
A Stanford graduate, John graduated from law school at the University of Southern California before pursuing a career in film and theater. John is also a landscape designer; the name of his company is Green Man Gardens.
We met in the Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s elegant restaurant section on a weekday afternoon.