Robin Downward, artistic director of the Randall Theatre, will be singing and dancing the role of Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly’s iconic role) in “Singing in the Rain,” directed by Livia Ginese, at the Randall Theatre’s Jacksonville location. Now going into its eighth season, with two theatrical venues, the Randall Theatre depends on ticket sales for 95 percent of its revenue. I met with Downward at Mellelo Coffee Roasters in Medford.
Bob Herried is directing the romantic comedy “The Owl and the Pussycat,” opening March 7 at the Randall Theatre in Medford. I first saw Herried as Marco the Magnificent in “Carnival” at the Camelot Theatre in 2004. Herried is a University of Oregon graduate in theater and business. Born and raised in the Rogue Valley, Herried has been performing and directing for 40 years. We met in his office at Addictions Recovery Center in Medford, where he is a drug and alcohol counselor.
EH: When you cast a play, what do you look for in your actors, and how do you relate to them?
BH: It’s the ability to take direction, the ability to change. A lot of times an actor will come in and read a line, and a week later, read it the same way. Rehearsal is the time to explore, to try different intentions, to play with the language and the character instead of trusting the first instinct: an actor who can adapt and move around with the ability to find the nuances. “The Owl and the Pussycat” is a show that has more nuances than anything that I have seen in a long time because the relationship between these two people is unique. These two are as opposite as can be.
Currently playing at the Randall Theatre Company of Medford is “The Odd Couple: The Female Version,” written by Neil Simon and directed by Dianna Warner. Warner, a talented actor and singer, most recently was featured in the Randall’s “Man of La Mancha.” We met for lunch along with Mike, her husband of 40 years, at the Wild Goose in Ashland.
EH: I’ve enjoyed many of your performances through the years, but you also direct?
DW: I taught for 36 years, and for most of those years, I directed students in high school and middle school. I also directed two plays, “Shakespeare in Hollywood” and “Lend Me a Tenor,” at the Camelot Theatre.
Randall Theatre’s recent production of “Man of La Mancha” featured Pam Ward as Don Quixote’s revered strumpet, Aldonza. Ward makes her living recording audio books for numerous clients, including Ashland’s Blackstone Audio. She soon will be performing in “Black Friday,” opening Nov. 8 at the Randall in Medford. We met at Bloomsbury Coffeehouse in Ashland and discussed the art of acting.
PW: People are fascinating animals. Being an actor, you think about the opportunity to create characters, to explore other life stories, other personalities, other corners and wrinkles in another person’s personality. I get to explore little crevices and nooks and crannies in my own personality that I might not have the nerve to explore in real life.
Every time you work with a new character, you bring pieces of your own personality to that character. That’s inevitable. You have to base a character on someone real, and that’s whom you have to work with. But I also find that I bring something back with me. I find something new about myself every time I create a new character. It can be just some interesting little thing that I didn’t know about myself, or it can actually be life changing.
One of the reasons that I am so passionate about the role of Aldonza is that she genuinely changed my life when I did the first productions of “Man of La Mancha” in my 20s; and she changed my life again this year. She tapped back into a state of mind, a level of passion, that I didn’t expect to experience again.
Robin Downward’s Randall Theatre has been producing plays at a breathtaking rate while attracting an untapped audience through a pay-what-you-want policy. Downward also is a gifted actor, performing in his own productions and at other venues such as the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, where he sang and danced as Sherlock Holmes in “Holmes and Watson Save the Empire” and in Cole Porter’s “Let’s Misbehave.” Downward also teaches an acting workshop called Character Creation. We visited at the Randall Theatre in Medford.
EH: What do you cover in your Character Creation class?
RD: A lot of what I do in the Character Creation class, drama therapists do from the standpoint of analyzing yourself as a person, and turning things that you have experienced into positive emotions.
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.
After seeing Robin Downward’s extraordinary performance as Sherlock Holmes in Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s “Holmes & Watson Save the Empire,” I decided to check in with Downward and learn a little about his acting technique. We met at his own Randall Theatre in Medford as he was preparing for the opening of “Scots on the Rocks.” After a tour of the theater, we settled in his spacious and comfortable office.
EH: What is your vision for the Randall Theatre?
RD: The community of Medford needs a good, solid, community-based theater that serves the community through its outreach, not just within its doors. There is theater here; it’s just not accessible to the general public. One of my ideas is called “exterior theater,” theater that happens outside, in the parks or out in the streets. Theater has the opportunity to change people’s lives for the better, but it’s not going to do it if all that is happening is within the walls and the confines of the theater. It has to go into the community to be effective.