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.
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.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Lauren Modica, appears in “Henry IV, Part One” and “Henry IV, Part Two,” where she portrays multiple roles including Peto, the gal pal of Falstaff and Price Hal. Next season she will be playing in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Sense and Sensibility.” Modica is from Portland, where she developed her extensive resume by performing in many of the remarkable theaters there. She was hired after she submitted a video audition to OSF.
LM: Working here is the best education, in terms of who you get to work with and watch and learn from. It’s never an easy path for anyone who wants to act in theater. It’s a hard career to break into. It’s made all the harder if you are at all outside the norm; and I, as a 4-foot, 8-inch woman with dwarfism, who’s half African American, recognize now as an adult what some professors may have been trying to communicate: which is that any little thing makes it so much harder, makes your path so much longer, or more intense in terms of obstacles. But at the time, having some cold hard realities introduced, was so disheartening: Having something that I loved, that I was encouraged to do and explore — and having someone say there’s no way I could possibly make it as a professional actor. I’m very happy that I have the chance to prove them wrong. I’m just grateful for the chance to make a fool of myself, to learn, to grow. Continue reading Backstage: Inviting the audience in→
Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Michele Mais plays Mistress Quickly in “Henry IV, Part 1” and “Henry IV, Part 2.” Next season she will again be playing Mistress Quickly in “Henry V.” Mais, a veteran of Broadway, has also performed with the Cornerstone Theater Company. We met at Hearsay in Ashland.
EH: Do you subscribe to particular style of acting?
MM: I don’t think there’s only one way of dealing with it. You do a little Stanislavsky; sometimes you do outside-in acting, physicality. The choices are: Do you hit the pillow because of some emotional need to hit the pillow? Or, while you’re hitting the pillow, is this emotional need coming out? That’s always the question. Sometimes it’s being in a certain costume or footwear.
EH: Tell me about acting at Cornerstone Theater with Bill Rauch.
MM: We did some weird shows. One of my favorite was when we did the speeches from “Everyman” in the mall. We had the shoppers follow us. We started out with maybe four people trailing along, and by the end of it, there were about 200 people. The audience was on the journey with us. They became “Everyman.” Continue reading Backstage: Acting can open doors to possibilities→
Actor G. Valmont Thomas plays Sir John Falstaff in Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “Henry IV, Part One” and in “Henry IV, Part Two.” Thomas also played Falstaff in OSF’s 2006 production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” This is the second of a two-part column. The first was published on June 12, 2017.
EH: What makes great comedy?
GVT: Comedy should illuminate something about the human condition — in a joyously hilarious way. Nowadays humor has gotten very cruel, actually mean. Some stand-up comedians just vent. If you look at the writing on TV situation comedies that are really popular, there are a lot of mean things said between characters. We are supposed to treat them like they are funny. Some of them are; but most often, they’re not.
EH: Do you prepare for comedy and tragedy differently?
GVT: In comedy, you need less restraint. You have to explore a lot of different ways of doing things to find out what is going to work with the group of people on stage. In tragedy, we’re all going in the same direction. The thing about comedy is that nobody is going in the same direction. The diversity of objectives on stage is clashing. That’s what’s funny — people careening off of one another. Continue reading Backstage: Exploring the difference between comedy and tragedy→