Director-actor Ron Danko and musician-music Historian David Gordon have formed The Madrone Theatre Company to produce a new adaptation of the “Spoon River Anthology,” opening Oct. 7 in the Rogue Community College Performance Hall in Medford.
Published in 1915, Edgar Lee Masters “Spoon River Anthology” portrayed small town rural America through poetic portraits of numerous characters who somehow spoke from beyond the grave. Danko pulled 50 out of 240 vignettes and invited David Gordon to weave music into the production. I met Danko and Gordon one afternoon in Rogue Community College’s pristine black-box theater.
EH: How would you describe the “Spoon River Anthology”?
DG: It’s like a haiku or a miniature painting. It somehow condenses life down into its absolute minimal number of words or strokes. These are vignettes about life by people who are done with living. They don’t have to put on pretenses or lie any more. They can be totally honest about their successes and their failures. They admit their failures. To me, the mastery of it is that (sometimes in just a few dozen words) each one creates this little reality that has emotion in it.
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.
Two years ago Francisco Severiano of Mexico was a passenger on an Ashland bus when a young adult woman started kicking his chair, saying she “hates Mexicans” and telling him to “go back to Mexico.” At the time, Francisco did not speak English. He had to endure the humiliation in silence.
The incident became the story of a short play for Literacy Theater titled “The Mean Girl on the Bus,” which has been performed several times for local audiences. Literacy Theater is an interactive theatrical experience created to help communities solve problems surrounding cultural and literacy issues. The skit is serious in its presentation of situations. It always ends abruptly at a point of crisis; the actors then stay in character and answer questions from the audience.
Literacy Theater is sponsored by the Rogue Community College Adult Basic Skills Program and INTERCAMBIO.Oregon, an organization dedicated to supporting intercultural arts. The volunteer actors are community members including students and teachers. I got together with four Literacy Theater actors who are students in English as a Second Language and Adult Basic Skills classes at Rogue Community College. They include: Simone Dias of Brazil, Shu Yang of China, Jesus Castro of Guadalajara, Mexico, and Severiano of Mexico City. We met in an ESL classroom on the Rogue Community College Riverside Campus in Medford.
Gina Scaccia recently produced “Cartoonespeare,” a musical CD and an animated DVD interpreting Shakespeare’s sonnets.
The music is extraordinary; the styles vary from lyrical melodies, to monk-like chants, to country, folk, rap and blues. The musical concepts make Shakespeare’s language accessible to the most modern of audiences.
“Cartoonespeare” originated with “Love’s Not Time’s Fool,” which were wonderfully diverse theatrical interpretations of Shakespeare’s sonnets performed last spring at Rogue Community College, adapted and directed by Ron Danko and produced by John Cole.
Scaccia received her music degree from Southern Oregon University this year. Most recently she composed and performed the music for “Larry’s Best Friend” at Ashland Contemporary Theatre. We visited over tea one afternoon.
“Lately I’ve been very busy,” said Dennis Nicomede who recently delivered stunning performances playing numerous characters in “Love’s Not Time’s Fool” at Rogue Community College. Dennis has just written the narration for “Spotlight on the Mills Brothers” at the Camelot Theatre, and is soon to portray John Smith in “Breaking the Code” at the Ashland Contemporary Theatre. I visited Dennis and his wife, Jeanne, in their charming home in Talent.
EH: Tell me about “Breaking the Code.”
DN: It’s about Alan Turing, the mathematician that broke the German enigma code. That’s a play I’d refer to as a drama, something that has some real emotional value to it.
“Love’s Not Time’s Fool” features Jennifer Phillips acting and singing in many of the forty-eight Shakespeare sonnets in music, song, and drama, opening Friday May 14, at Rogue Community College in Medford, directed by Ron Danko and produced by Jon Cole.
After studying at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, Jennifer came to RCC and performed as Countess Aurelia in the “Madwoman of Chaillot”. Last year she played a delightful Portia in RCC’s “Merchant of Venice”. Jennifer plans study drama at Portland State University next fall. We visited in the drama office of RCC’s “Off the Crate” Warehouse where the production was busily being mounted.
EH: Do you think theater is effective communication?
JP: If people are open-minded, there’s a message pretty much behind everything that’s done. Ron Danko and Jon Cole always have some point that they’re especially trying to get across.
EH: What was their point with the “Merchant of Venice”?
JP: It was a wake-up call to people. “Merchant of Venice” had a lot do with racial tensions in the world and hypocrisy and the way that people present themselves and don’t live up to their own values and morals. Everybody’s got good, and everybody’s got bad. You can’t just stand there and judge people.
EH: Of all the plays that you have done here, what was your best experience?
JP: “Madwoman of Chaillot”; the camaraderie within the cast was beyond compare. There was love among the cast, and the message was love. It was a beautiful experience.
EH: What is it about theater that is so exciting?
JP: There’s a truth of spirit in theater. We live in a world where we walk around with walls up all of the time. We’re afraid of what people will think of us, we’re afraid to be ourselves. We’re afraid to express any aspect of our being, really. We just keep ourselves closed off at all time. It’s a self-defense mechanism, and necessary in the brutal world that we live in. But you get into a theater, and it’s a space of trust. It’s a space where you can let those walls down and express your true being. You can be true to emotions without the repercussions of judgment. It’s a safe place. It’s a haven.
EH: Some people think that acting is dangerous.
JP: You’re vulnerable, it’s true. But if you don’t risk anything, you never grow. If you let yourself go with whatever emotion you need to be feeling or with the purpose you’re trying to express, then the potential is limitless: to the audience, what they can get from it, and to yourself, how you can grow from the experience.
EH: Why did you change your Major from Math to Drama?
JP: I grew up believing that you should follow your dreams. I’m not a materialistic person, but I need to be able to survive. Even if I work at a coffee shop the rest of my life, I still could do what I love. That’s the real happiness in life; so drama has become my intended major.
EH: How does theater affect your family?
JP: I come from a family that is very supportive. I’m a much happier person when I’m involved in something. They see the change in me. It brings such light to my being. They’re my biggest fans.
“LOVE’S NOT TIME’S FOOL” plays Friday – Sunday, May 14 – 16 & 21 – 23, Friday & Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. & 7 p.m. $10 for Adults, $5 for students. For tickets and information call 245-7637.