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.
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.
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.
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.
Ashland Contemporary Theater currently features Alonzo Moore in Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play. A principle dancer with Dancing People Company, Moore is also an actor and choreographer with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Next season, he will be dividing his time between Ashland and his home town in Texas, where he plans to build a community art center. We chatted over Sunday brunch at Larks.
AM: I live in a very rich area in Texas, where the culture and the heritage runs deep. The families have been there together since the 1840s. It used to be cornfields, open land, and cattle. Now it’s all subdivisions and strip malls. The economy is booming down there. It’s all urban.
From an after-school activity stemming out of her ESL classroom in South Medford High School, Victoria Snow Mountain developed an enduring and successful multicultural performance group. I met Snow at El Tapatio Restaurant here in Ashland. As we enjoyed a scrumptious breakfast with her three delightful granddaughters, Snow described the evolution of her remarkable dance troupe, Ballet Folklórico.
EH: How does participating in Ballet Folklórico affect the character of its performers?
VSM: We’ve always seen that performing makes people feel poised and proud of themselves and have more self-assurance. Our vision is a community where the kids are poised and confident. Our mission is to empower kids to dance, and to feel comfortable with their cultural heritage, whatever their cultural heritage may be. We are preserving some of the cultural traditions of Mexico in particular, in the costumes and performances that we do. The majority of our dancers are Latino kids, yet our group is open to all people. Many of our dancers aren’t Latino. We are preserving and transmitting the traditional cultural values of respect, responsibility, and collaboration that are found not only in the Latino culture. Most cultures have that same basis, so it’s for everybody.