Camelot Theatre’s next production features Shirley Patton and Steven Dominguez in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Driving Miss Daisy.” The play explores the growth of a friendship between an elderly white Southern lady, Miss Daisy, and her African-American chauffeur, Hoke Colburn, during the 1960s and ’70s.
Patton came to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at the invitation of Angus Bowmer in 1958. Her career as an OSF actor spanned 30 years. Before coming to Ashland, Dominguez spent 20 years as a professional actor in New York City. One afternoon, the three of us chatted at Boulevard Coffee.
Camelot Theatre Company’s musical “Jekyll & Hyde” opens this week and features exquisite choreography by Renee Hewitt. An exceptional actress, dancer and singer, Hewitt has played numerous iconic roles throughout her career. We met in the Excalibur Room at the Camelot.
EH: Why have you spent your life in theater?
RH: It’s my passion. That’s the only way I can explain it. If I were to have to live without it, I don’t know what I would do. It’s how I express my soul; it’s how I express the deepest parts of me. I’m finding out now, that not only can I do that by being on stage, I can actually do that through choreography. I’m more anxious, more nervous, and more excited about this opening than I am when I’m a performer.
Daniel Stephens plays Poole in “Jekyll and Hyde,” the provocative musical opening June 21 at Camelot Theatre in Talent. A freelance choreographer and teacher, Stephens is equipped with a bachelor’s degree in theater arts and a master’s in dance. Until 1997, he spent nine seasons with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as a dancer, choreographer and actor. Stephens has performed in 10 shows at Camelot.
EH: What is the difference in performing in the old Camelot Theatre building versus the new facility?
DS: I think the main difference is that you don’t have to go outside the building to get to the other side of the stage. One winter, we did “Brigadoon” and I was running between scenes, in the snow, in soft shoes and a kilt.
Peter Quince played Roger Sherman in “1776” last summer at the Camelot Theatre. He later played Charlie in David Ives’ “Mere Mortals” at Ashland Contemporary Theatre. Now Quince is launching his own musical comedy, collaborating with composer David Gabriel, called “Divine Lunacy.” Quince and I met at Noble Coffee.
EH: You’re working on a new musical?
PQ: “Divine Lunacy” was done as a sketch comedy review in 2006 with two sold-out performances at the Black Swan Theatre. It was wildly and enthusiastically received. People thought it was both hilarious and thought-provoking. It deals with the whole notion of the line between divine inspiration and out-and-out lunacy. As any artist probably knows, you may cross that line over and over again. If you come back, it’s OK. If you stay across that line, it could be a problem, and you have to be locked-up, or at least helped in some way.
Where is the line? How easy is it to cross? What’s the role of the artist in society? Many prominent artists in the last decade have been praised and lionized. Artists are encouraged to let themselves go over that line. Suddenly they have gone over the line, and they’re really troubled. “Divine Lunacy” talks about all of that in the context of a strong, heartwarming and funny show.
Mental illness has become extraordinarily prevalent. There are some estimates that one out of four people, at some point in their lives, are on psychiatric medication. It’s a huge issue in our society, but it’s not often dealt with openly, and certainly not with comedy and music, which is a gentler way to open people’s hearts and minds, making them feel and think, by making them laugh and care. “Divine Lunacy” shows what it’s like to be in the midst of crises or bouts of incredible creativity.
When is it, the divine spark? And when is it the infernal fire? It starts the same way, and it looks the same. We need that divine spark. We need to make it come to life, but it can consume as well as it can illuminate.
Peter Wickliffe portrays the young Woody Guthrie in the Camelot Theatre’s production of “Woody Guthrie’s American Song,” a musical tribute to a consummate American artist. Peter and I sat down one afternoon to chat about performing musical theater and about his next project, which is to direct his own adaptation of “Dracula” at the Randall Theatre in Medford.
PW: I love to sing. There’s so much that can be learned from songs and singing. Deeper messages sometimes are conveyed through song.
While I’m on stage, I’m having a good time with the people on stage and with the audience. Even in shows where you’re not acknowledging the audience, you can still feel them, when they’re with you, when they’re following along, when you’re breaking their heart, when you’re making them laugh. You can feel that you’re entertaining them.
Things will happen, things will go wrong, things will get mixed up; somebody will drop a line, but you’re all in it together. You’ve got to roll with the punches, and you’ve got to figure out how to keep things going forward, keep creating that story, and stay on the same flow, without getting flustered and letting it affect your performance or what you’re ultimately there to do: entertain.
Whenever I’m on stage, I’m not thinking about anything that is related to my life, or the hardships I’m going through, or the work that I have to do, or any of that. There is such a connection with the audience, your troubles just melt away, and you’re just there together.
The Camelot Theatre Company’s current production of “Woody Guthrie’s American Song” is a profound evening of music and theater. Tami Marston, along with the rest of the outstanding cast, makes the delivery of Peter Glazer’s exuberant and complex script and score seem effortless. Marston and I met for lunch at The Grotto in Talent to talk about Woody Guthrie’s legacy.
EH: What makes Woody Guthrie unique among folk singers?
TM: Woody never wrote about himself. He was a voice for the disenfranchised. When he made music, it was either to make them feel better or to give voice to what they were feeling and were too angry, or too sad, or too scared to say. He wanted to write songs that made people feel empowered and that they were worth something, that their lives had meaning. His perceptions were so acute. They were simple songs, they were honest, and he captured people’s emotions. Woody charted a new course as a troubadour.
He used familiar melodies, folk songs of the oral tradition and of unknown authorships. The oral tradition of music in America came from the Pilgrims, from old English ballads and work songs from the days of slavery. They were easy to sing and they captured people’s emotions. He wrote his own words. They are simple songs but the words are honest and real. He was a very modest man. He really did feel that he was just being a mirror to other people. That seemed to be his function in life.
There’s a passage that Woody wrote, “There’s a feeling in music, and it takes you back down the road you have traveled, and it makes you travel it again.”
If it had not been for Woody Guthrie, there would not have been the folk music revival of the 1960s. He was chronicling his times as he was traveling with his instrument among the people. He ended up in New York, in the place where there was a bohemian presence. And people became aware of his music even though it was not prevalent yet. What happened with the folk boom was people were picking up songs of Woody’s and the groups he played with. Those were the roots of the folk music revival. He was a unique man in a unique time. He was a true troubadour, a balladeer. He was a real man of the rails who managed to end up in an urban center and have an influence.
Michael Wing, Camelot Theatre’s resident musical director, is acting in the musical “1776,” directed by Artistic Director Livia Genise and playing through July 22 in Talent. Wing plays Stephen Hopkins, a member of the Second Continental Congress, the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Wing and I met to chat about music, theater, “1776” and the founding fathers.
MW: “1776” plays to the brilliance of these men to come up with the Declaration of Independence. There was such a compromise that had to be done (with the whole issue of slavery) for them to agree that they would stand together, fight Great Britain and seek their independence.
The Constitution would not have had a leg to stand on, had there not been a well-written declaration that explained what we were as a nation. Later they added the Bill of Rights. In years since, they have added 27 amendments; that’s not many. The fact is that this is a darn good piece of work because people have been able to respond to it and make it work as the blueprint for government. Continue reading Michael Wing→