Southern Oregon University Theatre Arts Professor Chris Sackett is directing “Avenue Q,” a Tony Award-winning musical that opens Thursday, May 16, at SOU’s Center Stage Theatre. Sackett and I walked to the Stevenson Union on the SOU campus to discuss “Avenue Q.”
CS: It’s smart; it’s fun. It’s rife with political satire and irony; that’s part of the attraction of the play. The humor at times is extremely biting; sometimes it is coarse; but it all holds together pretty well. Overall, it’s really smart how they’ve taken this irreverent approach to a deep reverence for the human condition, and how we might pragmatically have a greater scope of tolerance for our fellows.
EH: What’s the message of “Avenue Q”?
CS: Get over self-pity; quit thinking about yourself, and get engaged with life.
Southern Oregon University associate professor David McCandless is directing the premiere of his play “Invisible Threads,” which opens Thursday in SOU’s Center Stage Theatre. We chatted in his office in the Theatre Arts Department.
DM: The premise is, a mysterious figure recruits some down-on-their-luck actors to apply their thespian skills to rescue some people from real-life crises. It preys upon that ethic angst that a lot of actors have: that they’re not contributing to the world; that they’re not really doing anything to help people; and that they’re just indulging themselves.
It explores the thin border between illusion and reality. It has to do with that theater and life continuum. It’s meant to be an examination of role-playing and identity, and the joys and the limits of theater.
Actor, director and associate professor Jackie Apodaca directed Jose Rivera’s “Marisol,” which is playing this week at Southern Oregon University’s Center Stage Theatre. The production’s sensational staging, ensemble acting and stage movement blend bizarre and beautiful elements to create a compelling theatrical experience. Jackie and I met over breakfast at Greenleaf Restaurant in Ashland.
EH: What is unique about the theater experience?
JA: It is the live experience of it. Everyone is experiencing the exact same moment and will have the shared experience. There is something exciting about that fleeting and momentary experience. And you experience it as the actor, as the director, as the stage manager, as the run-crew, and as the audience. The experience is so close and intimate between the audience and the performers in that way.
Whereas in film, everyone experienced something, and then someone took it away, changed everything about it, and brought it back and showed you what it was. Film seems more intimate in that you see the actor’s face close up, but it has gone through so many processes before you got to see it. Did you really get to see what they did? Probably not.
I worked with filmmakers when I taught in the Film and Media Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I loved that, but film is completely the medium of the director and the editor. We would change the actor’s performance in the editing room. And we would talk about how we could make them seem to be doing different things. There is so much that can be controlled outside of the actor and outside of the moment. In post-production, the moment is gone and completely changed.
Dennis Smith, Theatre Arts professor emeritus at Southern Oregon University, is the director of “Lucky Stiff,” a hilarious musical comedy currently playing on campus. Smith and I chatted in his small shared office at SOU.
DS: I’m semi-retired now. I was in charge of the Performance Program for about 26 years. When I was hired in 1985, we had about 45 Theatre Arts majors. Now we’ve got in the neighborhood of 250.
We are still in the same building that was designed for 60 students. The faculty has more than doubled, and the student body has quadrupled. Classes are taught in hallways. They will use restrooms as rehearsal space. We’re busting at the seams.
EH: What does a degree in theater prepare you for?
DS: If you graduate in theater, and you don’t make it in theater, you should probably go into the Diplomatic Corps. One thing that theater does teach you is how to work cooperatively.
Rogue Community College Theater Arts Instructor, Ron Danko, is directing the musical “Working”, which opens May 11, at the newly constructed Rogue Performance Hall on the Medford Campus. Danko has been visiting local construction sites and picking-up palates and spools to create the “no budget” set.
RD: The set’s a little grungy, but that’s what “Working” is. This play fits the times. It’s more apropos right now with what’s happening. It speaks on behalf of the people who work. It’s a diverse cast of thirty-five characters.
EH: What are the qualities that you look for in casting?
RD: Truthfulness, honesty, naturalness. With this show I don’t want them to come across as actors in the show. I want them to tell the story. The stories are all interesting, so you don’t have to embellish them.
I met Shakespeare scholar, Mike Jensen, and his wife, Cydne, while we were dining family-style at the exquisite new restaurant, Blue, Greek on Granite. Jensen recently lectured at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival about OSF’s radio show, which aired between 1951 and 1984. He will be co-teaching a class on Shakespeare and Modern Culture with Geoff Ridden at Southern Oregon University this fall. This is an on-line interview.
EH: Shakespeare and popular culture, what’s the latest?
MJ: A Manga (a Japanese comic published as a paperback book) has just been released called Romeo X Juliet that sets the R&J story in a future repressive state with Juliet as a Zorro figure leading the rebellion; and I’m investigating the Japanese animated TV series that originated it.
Rogue Community College’s theater director, Ron Danko, is launching an exciting project, titled ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets and a Will to Boot’. We met to read sonnets in his office at Rogue Community College.
EH: What is your task with this material? What do you want to do with it?
RD: I want people to realize that the sonnets do speak, just as Shakespeare’s plays speak, to an audience today, regardless of how educated you are. They talk to us with the deepest most complex emotions, in terms of relationships and what happens in relationships, and the understanding of love. Think about it. How many actors who have done Shakespeare and theater, have really looked at the sonnets? They don’t.