Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s July production, “Local Produce 2,” featured veteran actress Katherine Ross. Ross graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1955 and recently earned a master’s in psychology from Southern Oregon University. She currently co-facilitates grief groups at WinterSpring Center in Medford. Katherine freely admits to being an octogenarian. We lunched on the patio at Blue: Greek on Granite in Ashland.
EH: What is it about theater that is so magnetic?
KR: It’s make-believe. People love make-believe. That is why I love Ashland. You can be walking down any street, and get into little playlets with people, just on the spur of the moment. That happens all the time in this town. It’s a great town to be in.
Next Stage Repertory Company, housed in Medford’s Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, is the brainchild of Artistic Director Doug Warner, formerly the producing director of Camelot Theatre; Peter Alzado, former artistic director of Oregon Stage Works; Kate Sullivan, co-director of Ashland Children’s Theatre; and Stephen McCandless, executive director of the Craterian.
The new theater opened with a three-day run of Lanford Wilson’s “Talley’s Folly” this month and will offer three more shows for its first season.
I chatted with Warner one afternoon in the spacious lobby of the Craterian.
EH: What is it about theater that we find so stimulating?
DW: I think it is storytelling. What happens in the process of telling stories and hearing stories told is that you identify with the characters. With good stories, you identify with what the characters are going through. And by the end of the story, you’ve got some clues about your own life that you can apply. When I direct or act, I approach it from that angle. It’s never about the surface structure of the story; it’s always about the psychological underpinnings. “Death of a Salesman” (which I did years ago) was called, “Inside Willie’s Head.” That was the original name. Of course that is not a great title, but it does tell you that the fathers of modern theater, people like Arthur Miller, thought of the stage as a psychological space.
A great way to go in putting a story together is breaking down the psychology and then presenting it. Then the audience is actually getting something that’s deeper than just entertainment. They’re getting something of value that they can actually walk away with, something tangible. There’s nothing wrong with a good belly laugh or good, solid entertainment; but theater can be more than that. It can be something that you can savor, and use, and hopefully could improve the quality of your life.
Great stories are compressed, bigger than life, concentrated. There’s usually some big change that takes place. In directing I try to make sure that every actor is aware of where they are in the beginning of the play and where they are at the end. If you set it up right, the audience can also go through a change. Theater is unusual in that sense. Hopefully theater can offer more than straight entertainment.
On the other hand, I think theater has gotten a little too full of itself — a little too pretentious. It tends to attract post-graduate-educated people instead of the face of the community. We’re trying to overcome that by making sure that you will be entertained. First and foremost, you should be entertained.
Right now Medford might be on the edge of a cultural awakening or reawakening in the downtown area. It’s pretty exciting to be part of that. Hopefully we offer something a little bit different than what we see in Ashland and around the Rogue Valley.