Valerie Rachelle is now in her second year as artistic director of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre. Her husband, Rick Robinson, the managing director of OCT, is also a playwright and film director. Rachelle, who received her MA in directing from the University of California at Irvine, also enjoys a successful freelance career as a director and choreographer. Rachelle and Robinson bought OCT in 2014. One afternoon, I met Rachelle in the Cabaret Theatre.
EH: How did you get involved in theater?
VR: I started dancing when I was 3, and singing soon after that. My very first professional production was when I was 7. I was in “Annie” with a theater company at the Hult Center in Eugene. I was with the Eugene Ballet. I was a ballerina and a singer. My parents were professional magicians.
Christopher George Patterson stars in “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” featuring the music of Thomas “Fats” Waller and directed by Jim Giancarlo and choreographed by Giancarlo and Patterson. It’s playing at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre until Aug 31. Patterson and I chatted one afternoon over tea and lemonade at the Standing Stone Brewing Co. in Ashland. This is the first of a two-part interview.
CGP: The interesting thing about “Ain’t Misbehavin'” is that it tells the story through the tapestry of the Harlem Renaissance without digging in too deeply.
EH: What’s your process of choreographing a show?
CGP: I’ll read the script to see what’s supposed to happen. I usually listen to the music over, and over, and over again, and let it talk to me. The music tells you what to do and how to get there through telling the story through the dance. If you know what the story is, all you have to do is fill in the gaps with the steps. It’s almost like playing in an orchestra: The score is there, but you create the dynamics, and that’s what makes people want to engage in watching it.
“Double Trouble,” directed by Jim Giancarlo at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, features stellar performances by John Keating and Galen Schloming. These young actors play songwriters who are hired to compose music for a Hollywood movie and find themselves confined to a sound studio in a madcap situation. They are invaded by numerous iconic Hollywood characters, also portrayed by Keating and Schloming. One Sunday afternoon, we visited between shows in the balcony of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre.
EH: How many characters do you play?
JK: We both play five characters.
EH: How do you play a woman? How is it different from playing a man?
GS: There is a sensuality that informs the character. The pacing is a little slower and the gestures are a little more fluid. You spend enough time in heels, and it takes you a lot of the way there.
Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s stunning production of “The Wizard of Panto-Land” was written, directed and choreographed by Artistic Director Jim Giancarlo. Based on “The Wizard of Oz,” it glitters with sumptuous scenery, dazzling costumes and extraordinary acting talent. Giancarlo and I visited over coffee in the theater’s posh restaurant overlooking the pop-out storybook stage.
EH: How was this theater formed?
JG: The whole thing started on this production of “Grease” at the Britt Festivals years ago. Paul Barnes was the director, I was the choreographer, Craig Hudson was the set designer. We founded this theater the following year. You look back on it, 28 years later, and it seems a little mythic. But at the time, you just put one foot in front of the other, like everything in life. It’s only in retrospect that you see a pattern or understand the journey, like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” That’s a journey.
Michael J. Hume, along with Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner, wrote “Dogpark: The Musical” now playing at Oregon Cabaret Theatre. The trio has written other musicals, including “Holmes and Watson Save the Empire,” which Hume directed. He is currently in rehearsal for “The Heart of Robin Hood” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We chatted one afternoon about the process of writing musicals with friends.
MH: It was like “Singing in the Rain.” Malcolm would be on the piano; we could just sit there writing songs and creating riffs. Then I’d come home and write, and we’d send computer stuff back and forth.
EH: It’s nice that you can collaborate; writing alone can be daunting.
Robin Downward’s Randall Theatre has been producing plays at a breathtaking rate while attracting an untapped audience through a pay-what-you-want policy. Downward also is a gifted actor, performing in his own productions and at other venues such as the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, where he sang and danced as Sherlock Holmes in “Holmes and Watson Save the Empire” and in Cole Porter’s “Let’s Misbehave.” Downward also teaches an acting workshop called Character Creation. We visited at the Randall Theatre in Medford.
EH: What do you cover in your Character Creation class?
RD: A lot of what I do in the Character Creation class, drama therapists do from the standpoint of analyzing yourself as a person, and turning things that you have experienced into positive emotions.
Shae Johnson is now starring as Suzy in Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s “Winter Wonderettes.” Johnson studied opera at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music after graduating from Ashland High School. Returning to Ashland, she performed in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “The Music Man” and in OCT’s “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” She played Debbie Reynolds in Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s “What a Glorious Feeling.” Johnson is now the lead singer of the Rogue Suspects. We met for coffee at Mix Sweet Shop in Ashland.
SJ: I love live theater; I love being in front of an audience, which is very different from being in front of a camera. A camera just stares at you without any emotion. With an audience, it’s very in the moment; every show is different, because you have a different audience every night.
The goal of the actor is to be able to communicate to the audience, to make them feel what you’re feeling and have them relate to what you’re feeling on stage. You can see it. Sometimes when you look out into the audience, you can see when there’s someone in particular who is understanding what you’re doing. As long as there is just one person in the audience who is really loving it, that’s enough for me.