Tag Archives: writer

ANPF board member knows his Pulitzers

As of July 1, James “Jim” Risser and his fellow Ashland New Plays Festival board members are accepting new plays for ANPF’s 2019 Fall Festival. Risser, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner in National Reporting, served as director of the John S. Knight Fellowships for Professional Journalists and Director of the Graduate Program in Journalism at Stanford University, and on the Pulitzer Prize Board for 10 years in the 1990s. He also played a key role in the selection of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer-winning play “Angels in America.”

EH: What newspaper articles brought you the Pulitzer Prize?

JR: You could call it investigative reporting: stories that exposed corruption in the U.S. grain exporting industry, where people were paying bribes to federal inspectors. As a result, Congress changed the grain inspection laws. Some people went to prison. Some companies paid fines.

The second prize was for a series of articles explaining the kinds of environmental damage that agriculture does: Things like soil erosion, overuse of chemicals, and depletion of water supplies. A lot of land that shouldn’t be plowed or farmed was being used because of the pressure to produce products. Modern agriculture is a great industry but it can sometimes have a huge impact on the environment.

EH: What happened as a result of those articles?

JR: There were Congressional hearings. They passed some new regulations about what lands could be farmed or not farmed. Continue reading ANPF board member knows his Pulitzers

Dear Working Actor, What’s the path to acting success?

Jackie Apodaca, a professor of theater at Southern Oregon University, has co-written the book “Answers from ‘The Working Actor’” with actor Michael Kostroff (best known for his five seasons on HBO’s ”The Wire”). Taken from the actor’s trade paper “Backstage,” the book gives a fascinating picture of the complex and confusing world of the acting profession.

Written in the style of advice to the lovelorn, “Answers” consists of years of words of wisdom given to struggling actors who have written to them, signing off with such names as Frustrated, Beyond Confused, Confused Yet Determined, and Lost in La La Land. They offer solid research and techniques to navigate the ins and outs of such a daunting environment. I chatted with Apodaca over lunch at Greenleaf Restaurant in Ashland.

EH: What is your best advice?

JA: There’s no one answer to any question. The only people you can trust are the people that say they “don’t know.” If they say: “This is what you have to do,” they’re lying. In the book I’m constantly saying, “I think this, but some people say this,” or “Here are the 15 different paths you could take.” I try to frame everything in that mind set. Hopefully if people can take away, “Don’t believe anything anyone tells you. It’s going to be different for you.” That’s probably my best piece of advice. Continue reading Dear Working Actor, What’s the path to acting success?

Backstage: Theater allows ‘crossing the great divide of otherness’

Jean Houston, Ph.D., scholar, philosopher, and psychologist, uses theater as a transformative tool in her teaching of “Social Artistry: Aligning the human spirit, potential, and action with the needs of the time.” This is the first part of a two-part interview. Part two will be published on Jan. 8.

EH: What theater’s mission?

JH: Theater has always been the seeding ground for both the reflection of a society and the emergence of a new order of society. Today, there is the need for this huge shake-up. The emergence through emergency hasn’t quite taken place, but it is happening everywhere.

The mission of theater is to reflect the state of being as it is, as it was, and as it yet can be — in a dramatic way, a way in which we see ourselves, played on the stage of the world. We can then take that play back into our own time, or reflect deeply on it. It makes our conscience rise in ways that motion pictures do not do, to the same extent, because you need living beings, you need living presences to really activate conscience. It causes us to dream again, to envision the higher dream. T.S. Eliot said, “Redeem the unread vision of the higher dream .…” I think it also incites us to the higher dream.

EH: What is the essence of a great actor?

JH: Greatness has so many different keys and colors, doesn’t it? It’s a kind of truth. I think, with the great human beings, if they have high craft, if they have deep soulful reflections, and often some kind of spiritual sourcing, you would really see the difference.

When I study human development, I try to help people think in many ways: Think in images; think in words; think with their whole body; think with their intuition — incarnate ideas. Ideas are not simply there to be run through an analytical posture. Ideas are there to be tasted, and smelled, and ground between the teeth. They are there to be incarnated.

And then, when the full person is out there playing the full part — whether it is something that you are writing, or creating, or dreaming, or playing — then it is embodied. It is a full body creation. And I think that’s what you have at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and all the other theaters around.

This is a theater town. You have people who are striving to push the edges of possibility — getting beyond the membrane between here and another there — crossing the great divide of otherness. And that is what theater does.

One of the reasons I live here is to have ensemble players working together. They share the essence of their striving; they share their art in an ongoing learning situation. They become myriad-minded, like Shakespeare, thinking and being in many ways. Theater requires multi-form knowing.

When I sit under the stars at the Elizabethan Theater, with all those people watching — especially a Shakespearean play — even though the language may be strange, there’s some kind of coherence in the audience that is affected by what’s happening on the stage. We go beyond the difficulties of the language, and we become a coherent force, a presence. And there’s a kind of bliss; there’s a kind of ecstasy to it all. And you see everybody getting up and applauding and shouting. It’s glorious. They have been lifted beyond their local selves into some kind of magical being. It happens when an audience becomes coherent in its own ecstasy. I see that here all the time. That’s transformation, really.

To find out about Jean Houston’s upcoming programs visit jeanhouston.org, email theoffice@jeanhouston.org or call 541-488-1200.

An artist’s responsibility to say something

Actor/Writer Cynthia Rogan will perform in Camelot Theatre’s next production, “Calendar Girls,” opening Feb. 8. Based on a true story and popular movie, the play tells about the making of a pin-up calendar by photographing ordinary middle-aged women. Rogan, a former blues singer from Mobile, Alabama, writes, acts, and performs improvisational theater in the Rogue Valley. We met at Starbucks on Bartlett Street in Medford.

EH: Tell me about your experience with improvisational theater.

CR: That is some scary stuff. You have to know when to start on something else. If it is not good, it is horrid. When you are in the moment, you don’t always know if it’s not working.

H: What do you do to prepare?

CR: Practicing with the people you’re working with is all you can really do to prepare for it. And even then, you never know what the audience is going to throw at you. The group you’re playing with has to be your net. If someone starts to fall, you catch them, and you give them something else to look at, to keep the members of the troupe going and to keep the audience interested. Improvisation is exhilarating. Continue reading An artist’s responsibility to say something

Lyda Woods

Lyda Woods
Lyda Woods

Actress/writer Lyda Woods recently directed the remarkable series of theatrical pieces, “Ripe Harvest” performed at the Ashland Senior Center in October. Her Gumshoe Gourmet, an entertainment production company, partners with historical sights to stage murder mysteries. Her next production has the intriguing title of: “A Bed, A Baby, A Door, Detroit, and a Bowel Problem.” I met Woods at the Downtowne Coffee House in Talent,

EH: For you, what is the relationship of family to theater?

LW: I think theater gives me insight into my family, my family dynamics, all that kind of stuff. Theater is a way for me to explore my family, through the pieces I write.  And theater, in a sense, becomes my family. I feel very close to the actors I collaborate with and a number of them have become like family members to me. We understand each other in a way that real family members don’t.

Continue reading Lyda Woods

Cabaret duo a delight

Doug Reynolds
Doug Reynolds
Christopher Bange
Christopher Bange

Now playing at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, “The Mystery of Irma Vep” features two outstanding young comedic actors, Douglas Reynolds and Christopher Bange. Both actors are from small towns in the Pacific Northwest; both have bachelor’s degrees in Theater; both have been acting all of their lives, with the occasional waiter or bus-person job when they are not performing.

Christopher primarily does comedic work. He has created several original one- and two-man shows. This summer he will be touring Fringe Festivals in Canada with his solo magic show, “More Bange for Your Buck.”

Douglas, a recent graduate of Southern Oregon University, is also a writer. He worked with Portland Etc. and was an extra in Hollywood before returning to Ashland to play in “The Mystery of Irma Vep.”

We met one Friday afternoon at Martino’s, after a particularly lively Thursday night performance.

Continue reading Cabaret duo a delight

Mark Turnbull Part II

"My children grew up, as I did, in interesting households surrounded by people who encouraged individuality." — Mark Turnbull
Mark Turnbull
Mark Turnbull

EH: Our readers are interested in the dynamics of theater families. Does being in theater enhance family life?

MT: My family and my choice of career are intrinsically intertwined. My parents were in show business. Our family friends were funny vibrant people who interacted with me as an equal. There never was this W.C. Fields, “Go away kid, you bother me,” thing. They were just great alive people. I was surrounded by wonderful people.

Do you remember Minnie Pearl with her straw hat and a price tag on it? I was on a talk-show with her in L.A. (I signed with Reprise Records when I was seventeen.) We were in the green room, and she said to me, “Do you mind if I give you give you some advice? Stay close to your family. In this business, it’s so easy to go wandering off. Stay close to your family.” I’ve remembered that for some 40 years. A lot of the qualities the bonds, the loyalty, the responsibilities, and the camaraderie that make a great society are inherent in embryo in the family, which extends to theater. That’s what makes a great theatrical experience, for the audience especially, when they sense that embrace within the cast members.

When I became a father trying to keep a family together was interesting while doing the theatrical thing. It becomes a very, I’d hate to say, self-centered existence; but it requires that sort of intense focus. As Jack Sheldon said, “The whole day is just preparation for the stage that night. I just put up with it, so that I can get on that stage.” It sort of requires that intense focus. And if you have a partner who doesn’t understand that, and wants your attention, and makes claims on your time (and it isn’t just the time, it’s the concentration), you arrive at the theater scattered. When you have time at the theater, you can sort-of rein-in what has run amok during the day. But it’s certainly easier when you can focus on what you have to do.

When children are involved, the children can keep you occupied and away from memorizing your lines, but that’s a benign distraction. It feeds into the goodness of what can happen on the stage that night. It’s seemingly chaotic, but there is something about it that is heart centered, and one is able to refocus from that. Things that are mind-centered, or that are tearing at your ego, or create chaos in your mind, are hard to reign-in. Children can wear you out physically, but that is all of a joy, and can lead to a good thing on stage.

Financially, that’s another question, the breadwinner aspect, to make enough money in the theater to keep a family; that becomes wearing too. There are as many situations as there are theatrical families.

EH: The whole aspect of family and theater takes a lot of flexibility and sacrifice, but then you give them the gift of talent and your work?

MT: My children grew up, as I did, in interesting households surrounded by people who encouraged individuality. So they have grown-up as distinct individuals. Another secret of family life: parents learn from their children. As Gary Snyder said, “It’s like having this little 2-year-old Zen Master strolling around the house.” It’s really true, there’s so much to learn; it goes both ways. All we can do for our children, really, is to instill character and ultimately let them make their choices from their own hearts and minds.