Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s recent production “Pankhurst: Freedom or Death,” directed by Peggy Rubin, is a theatrical tour de force written and performed by Jeannine Grizzard. Set in England in 1913, the play examines the history and issues involved in the women’s fight for the right to vote, finally granted in 1918. Grizzard had researched a speech by Emmeline Pankhurst (a leader in the suffrage movement). She decided to develop the material while attending a Social Artistry Workshop given by Jean Houston and Peggy Rubin. The challenge was: What project can you come up with to change the world?
EH: How did Emmeline Pankhurst make her mark on history?
JG: She created modern media coverage of activism. Technology had advanced to the point where they could take pictures of a protest and have them published in newspapers the next day. Staging events for the media to cover was her introduction to the twentieth century, which paved the way for Gandhi and Martin Luther King, making big demonstrations and relying specifically on the press. Continue reading Suffragettes pioneered techniques used by Gandhi, King→
Jesai Jayhmes recently performed with Jeannine Grizzard, Diane Nichols and Peter Alzado in Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s dramatic reading of Jane Anderson’s “The Quality of Life.” Jayhmes came to Ashland in August to attend Jean Houston’s Social Artistry training and decided to stay. We chatted over curry at the Namaste Café across from Lithia Park. This is the first in a two-part interview.
JJ:. My experience of Ashland is continually surprising in that the quality of artistic literacy of the population is very high.
EH: How have you made your way in the field of theater?
JJ: One of my passions is training groups. For years, I trained people in acting, improvisation and classical theatre. That translated into something more professionally lucrative which is training people, outside of theater, in their effective communication skills. Those are the ones who will actually value it and pay for it. I’ve worked with a lot of people from all different professions that need to get up and talk about anything. That’s really fun, but I like making shows much better. Continue reading Jesai Jayhmes→
Actress, director and choreographer Vanessa Hopkins will be starring in Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s next production, “Mr. Williams and Miss Wood,” written by Max Wilk and directed by Jeannine Grizzard. It opens Saturday, June 14, at the Ashland Community Center. The play is based on the relationship between Tennessee Williams and his editor Audrey Wood. Hopkins and I visited over lunch at her attractive Ashland cottage.
EH: What forms of theater attract you?
VH: I do like experimental theater. I love avant-garde theater. I’ve done a lot of Brecht and Beckett. It pushes you. The audience isn’t just lulled and just satisfied. They walk away saying, “What was that?” I don’t want to alienate people, either. There is some avant-garde theater that is too extreme, and nobody gets it. It is just for the performer, and it’s just self-indulgent.
Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s current production of Tom Dudzik’s comedy “Greetings,” now playing at the Ashland Community Center, features Levi Anderson as Andy Gorsky, a young man who brings his fiancée home to meet his family only to encounter a surprising situation.
Anderson, a Southern Oregon University graduate, works in film and video as a key grip and cameraman. He is fairly new to acting. We chatted on a snowy day at Downtown Coffee in Talent.
EH: You’ve done some acting?
LA: Only on camera in independent films and videos. My friend Ross Williams has X-RATS productions; they do local commercials and internet videos. We did a 10-minute short film that was released this year called “Self-Inflicted.” That was my first leading role. I played a sadomasochistic character that is always beating himself up. He is struggling, looking for love, so he is trying to find and date a nice girl; but all of the women he meets are weirded out because he’s always covered in bruises and cuts. It’s kind of a dark comedy. Before that, I did slapstick comedy in little web video skits. There’s a recurring one, where I get chased by zombies. In the first skit, I eat this energy bar made for people on the run from zombies. We made a follow-up to that where I find this energy drink made for people on the run from zombies, and then there’s one where I find this rancid old hot dog, and I eat that. Basically the theme is that I get this gastrointestinal discomfort from whatever I’ve eaten or drank. I get away from the zombies with explosive diarrhea. In those videos, I have no lines, I just run and make funny faces and pretend to explode.
Ashland playwright David Hill is conducting a workshop with other Ashland writers to develop plays in the vein of “The Twilight Zone.” Participants are developing psychological thrillers to be presented in a dramatic reading by Ashland Contemporary Theatre on Halloween in the Gresham Room of the Ashland library. Hill was a student of Rod Serling, the originator of the iconic television series “The Twilight Zone.” We got together one afternoon at Boulevard Coffee.
EH: Can you tell me about the genesis of “The Twilight Zone”?
DH: Serling started “The Twilight Zone” because he wrote a television play about racial prejudice that generated a lot of controversy. The network executives made him water it down and change it so that the entire point was lost. He figured that the only way he could say what he felt needed to be said was to disguise it as science fiction. That’s how he got the idea for the television series. He wasn’t that interested in science fiction, but he felt if you’ve got spacemen and monsters in a script, the networks were not going to relate it to a political situation, even though it was.
Diane Nichols’ play “Tigers in the Entry” appears in Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s summer readings, “Moonlighting 2013,” Saturday and Sunday at Grizzly Peak Winery. Her play “Tomatoes” was recently produced at Barnstormers Theatre in Grants Pass. Over tea one afternoon, Nichols gave me her perspective on theater as a playwright, director and actress.
DN: It’s magical. I think we get to live vicariously through these other characters and experience intense things. It makes us expand. There is something mysterious and wonderful about theater. I love the stories.
Peggy Rubin is the director of “Pompadour,” a new play by Molly Best Tinsley now playing with Ashland Contemporary Theatre. The one-woman show stars Jeannine Grizzard, ACT’s artistic director. Peggy and I visited in her lovely Ashland home.
EH: You came here with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival?
PR: Yes, I was an actor here for three summers. In 1957, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was already a legend for people who love Shakespeare, partly because Angus Bowmer was such a glorious human being. He loved having people around who were equally skilled and some more so, in certain ways.