Chris Butler’s superb performances at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — Othello in “Othello” in 2018, and Griffin in last Season’s “How to Catch Creation” — prompted me to ask him for an interview.
Among other achievements, Butler earned his MFA in theater from the University of California at San Diego, and he played Matan Brody in 21 episodes on “The Good Wife” TV series. We visited over Cobb salads at Standing Stone Brewing Company.
EH: Tell me about your training as an actor.
CB: At UCSD, where I got most of my training, they didn’t subscribe to one particular school. They would give you a sprinkling of everything to see what resonated with you. They weren’t trying to make you a specific type of actor. They would let you bring what you had to the table and try to give you something to help you succeed. I’ve had a little taste of all of it. I approach the character from character background, character history and, “Who is everybody else in the play, and how do they interact with me?” And a little bit about, “Where did my character come from before he started the scene?” I have a personal method, but it doesn’t strictly come from this person or that person.
Continue reading OSF actor Chris Butler on TV and theater
Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor K.T. Vogt is playing the Clown in “All’s Well That Ends Well” and a myriad of other characters in “Hairspray” this season. Vogt has been a member of the OSF acting company for 12 years. She played a hilarious Falstaff in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in 2017.
We visited one afternoon in the Bill Patton Garden on the OSF Campus.
EH: How do you deal with the uncertainty of the acting profession?
KTV: As an actor, you always say “yes,” and forget about it if you want to have a happy life. In my 20-year career in Los Angeles, I heard from the range of, “We don’t even need to see anybody else, you’ve got the part” (and never even get a call back), to feeling like you blew it, (and then getting hired). In one week’s time I heard from different auditions: “You’re too old,” “You’re too young,” “You’re too large,” “You’re too small.” I heard all that, and I was free. I got that message: It’s all arbitrary and illusory. That was my beautiful blessing. So, have a happy life, and when it’s right, it will happen. Continue reading Conversation with OSF actor K.T. Vogt
Resident Artist, Amelia Acosta Powell, shared with me insights into the 2019 Season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
EH: What’s new and exciting for next season?
AAP: They all are. Octovio Solis’ play “Mother Road” which is inspired by “The Grapes of Wrath” is so beautiful. It is a beautiful play, and he’s a beautiful poet. It’s incredibly timely. It is a journey in the American West from California back to Oklahoma, which I think Oregon audiences will appreciate. I’m thrilled about that play.
I’m super excited about Lauren Yee’s “Cambodian Rock Band.” I don’t know how familiar folks are, especially the younger folks that come to OSF, with the Khmer Rouge or the history of Cambodian genocide. The way that Lauren has found to present that story is so exciting because: You can imagine a lot of people wouldn’t want to come watch a play about such a dark topic, but it is funny. There is fantastic music. She has found a way to welcome you in, break down those barriers of feeling uncomfortable, or feeling guilt, or feeling just overwhelming grief about it. A lot of resiliency, a lot of power and agency, which I think is a beautiful way in.
Continue reading Oregon Shakespeare Festival is back
As the line producer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Amelia Acosta Powell coordinates the creative process of play production with the artistic administration of the theater. Powell came to OSF from the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., where she was the casting director and artistic associate. We met at Starbucks Coffee Company on East Main Street in Ashland.
EH: Do you see the nature of theater changing?
AAP: Theater goes through national and international trends. The American theater is at a major tipping point because we’re seeing artistic leadership change all over the country. The vast majority of artistic leaders have historically been older white men. I’ve been excited to see recent announcements from major theaters announcing women artistic directors, some women of color, even some women who are earlier in their careers than the men who have been running these theaters. I think we’re about to see a real paradigm shift in terms of the priorities of the stories that are told and the values that are espoused in the work.
In terms of ticket sales, we’re seeing a lot more interest in new plays written by a diverse authorship, which is really exciting. In continuing to find a balance of how the classics are honored and celebrated for the beautiful works of literature that they are, OSF has been a leader in innovating with the classics, making every Shakespeare play a new play, to have resonance with contemporary times. Continue reading Theater needs to adapt to new audiences
Amrita Ramanan, director of literary development and dramaturgy, is now in her second season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. With a BFA in theater history and dramaturgy from the University of Arizona, Ramadan went on to an extensive career in dramaturgy before coming to Ashland. Her credits include production dramaturg for five seasons at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC. We met at the Pony Espresso Café.
EH: What is dramaturgy?
AR: It’s definitely a recent field for America; it first began as an official title in Europe in the late 1800s. It’s a position where you support the contextualization of the piece of theater, support the approach and concept of a production (based on the playwright and the director’s vision) and translate that contextualization and that research to both a company of actors and designers as well as an audience. Dramaturgy is bridging the content from what happens in the rehearsal room to how an audience experiences it.
I create research packets, work with playwrights on the development of their scripts, attend rehearsals and am a second pair of eyes for the director and/or the playwright — in terms of the accessibility of a production and elements that they want to illuminate.
EH: What makes a great play?
AR: A great play is one that is truly in the voice and vision of the author: That challenges; that engages; that creates a sense of inquiry and curiosity; that gives us a new perspective or way of thinking; that allows for a way to see the world that we haven’t seen before; or gives us a different sense of empathy for characters; and that suspends our disbelief, that we can believe and commit to the world of it; and that stays with us in some way.
Continue reading OSF dramaturg: Bringing the vision to the stage
Michael J. Hume directs Southern Oregon University’s “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play,” Anne Washburn’s dark musical comedy, now playing in OSF’s Black Swan Theatre. The play envisions a post apocalypse world set in Northern California.
Next year Hume will be in his 26th season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with roles in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Sense and Sensibility.” We met downstairs at Mix in Ashland.
EH: How did SOU choose: “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play”?
MJH: SOU wanted to celebrate the art of storytelling. We are doing this play, about people telling the story of The Simpsons, in repertory with Mary Zimmerman’s “The Arabian Nights,” about Scheherazade and a thousand and one tales.
EH: Is the play science fiction?
MJH: It’s dystopian fiction as opposed to science fiction; there’s not much science in the play. It’s about surviving and not uncomfortably. “Mr. Burns” begins with very basic storytelling: Folks sitting around a campfire obsessing about The Simpsons “Cape Feare Episode.” The great irony is that: What if these same people were obsessing about “King Lear” or “Moby Dick,” some great classic piece of literature, as opposed to what some people would call trivial or pop culture? I’m not a huge Simpson’s fanatic, but I am a fan. In terms of social commentary, I think it’s brilliant.
I would argue for The Simpsons that they’re smart. That they are a dysfunctional stupid American family is actually very telling — in terms of who we have become. It becomes a new mythology. We have Simpson’s scenes, we have Simpson’s characters: It’s not “The Simpsons on Ice,” or anything like that. It is human beings talking about The Simpsons and eventually putting on Simpson’s plays to make money. Capitalism is all over this. Continue reading The art of storytelling in a dystopian setting
Asia Mark plays the Apprentice Poet in “UniSon,” Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s tribute to the poetry of August Wilson devised by UNIVERSES. While at Western Michigan University, Mark attended Lecoq acting training with the Arts University Bournemouth, England. She also auditioned for UNIVERSES and has been touring with them for the past two years. We met in the Hay-Patton Rehearsal Center on the OSF Campus.
EH: Tell me about UNIVERSES.
AM: UNIVERSES is an interdisciplinary theater company that fuses poetry, music, rhythm and dance; they do a lot of commissioned work. It started off in the NuYorican Poets Café on the Lower East Side of New York City: When you do slam poetry, you only have about three minutes on stage. Four poets combined their poetry, to have more time; they fused their poetry. That’s where the origins of UNIVERSES came from.
EH: What was your process of developing “UniSon”?
AM: It felt like were jumping into a world of poetry — a world of the unknown. It’s heavily written by UNIVERSES, with the support of August Wilson’s poetry. It is a linear play, but there are so many different aspects and poems. None of us knew what the play was, until opening night. We’re still figuring out things about this play, because there is so much to take from it.