All posts by Evalyn Hansen

I'm a theater buff. I am passionate about theater. I see as many plays as I can as often as I can. I go to lectures, previews, prefaces, backstage tours, dramatic readings, dress rehearsals, post matinee discussions, talks in the park and an occasional cast party. If I'm not there, I would like to be. I have my BA in dramatic arts from UC Berkeley, my MA from San Francisco State and I'm currently studying directing at Southern Oregon University. I volunteer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and recently I understudied a walk-on part in "Trip to Bountiful" at Oregon Stage Works.

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.

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OSF dramaturg: Bringing the vision to the stage

Amrita Ramanan, director of literary development and dramaturgy, is now in her second season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. With a BFA in theater history and dramaturgy from the University of Arizona, Ramadan went on to an extensive career in dramaturgy before coming to Ashland. Her credits include production dramaturg for five seasons at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC. We met at the Pony Espresso Café.

EH: What is dramaturgy?

AR: It’s definitely a recent field for America; it first began as an official title in Europe in the late 1800s. It’s a position where you support the contextualization of the piece of theater, support the approach and concept of a production (based on the playwright and the director’s vision) and translate that contextualization and that research to both a company of actors and designers as well as an audience. Dramaturgy is bridging the content from what happens in the rehearsal room to how an audience experiences it.

I create research packets, work with playwrights on the development of their scripts, attend rehearsals and am a second pair of eyes for the director and/or the playwright — in terms of the accessibility of a production and elements that they want to illuminate.

EH: What makes a great play?

AR: A great play is one that is truly in the voice and vision of the author: That challenges; that engages; that creates a sense of inquiry and curiosity; that gives us a new perspective or way of thinking; that allows for a way to see the world that we haven’t seen before; or gives us a different sense of empathy for characters; and that suspends our disbelief, that we can believe and commit to the world of it; and that stays with us in some way.

Continue reading OSF dramaturg: Bringing the vision to the stage

The art of storytelling in a dystopian setting

Michael J. Hume directs Southern Oregon University’s “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play,” Anne Washburn’s dark musical comedy, now playing in OSF’s Black Swan Theatre. The play envisions a post apocalypse world set in Northern California.

Next year Hume will be in his 26th season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, with roles in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Sense and Sensibility.” We met downstairs at Mix in Ashland.

EH: How did SOU choose: “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play”?

MJH: SOU wanted to celebrate the art of storytelling. We are doing this play, about people telling the story of The Simpsons, in repertory with Mary Zimmerman’s “The Arabian Nights,” about Scheherazade and a thousand and one tales.

EH: Is the play science fiction?

MJH: It’s dystopian fiction as opposed to science fiction; there’s not much science in the play. It’s about surviving and not uncomfortably. “Mr. Burns” begins with very basic storytelling: Folks sitting around a campfire obsessing about The Simpsons “Cape Feare Episode.” The great irony is that: What if these same people were obsessing about “King Lear” or “Moby Dick,” some great classic piece of literature, as opposed to what some people would call trivial or pop culture? I’m not a huge Simpson’s fanatic, but I am a fan. In terms of social commentary, I think it’s brilliant.

I would argue for The Simpsons that they’re smart. That they are a dysfunctional stupid American family is actually very telling — in terms of who we have become. It becomes a new mythology. We have Simpson’s scenes, we have Simpson’s characters: It’s not “The Simpsons on Ice,” or anything like that. It is human beings talking about The Simpsons and eventually putting on Simpson’s plays to make money. Capitalism is all over this. Continue reading The art of storytelling in a dystopian setting

‘If you can touch people’s souls … then you’re doing something’

Actor/director Peter Alzado plays Joe Keller in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” now playing at the Camelot Theatre in Talent. A veteran actor of Broadway, television and film, Alzado spent five years as artistic director of the Actors’ Theatre (now the Camelot Theatre) before founding Oregon Stage Works, where he served as artistic director for 10 years. We met at Pony Espresso one sunny afternoon.

EH: Why is “All My Sons” pertinent today?

PA: It’s about responsibility to the greater good. Just being responsible to yourself and to your family doesn’t cut it. Individually, we have a responsibility to the world. If we disregard that responsibility, then it wreaks havoc. You’re creating a world of divisiveness, hatred and anger. And it’s a world that doesn’t have basic equality to it. Eventually it wreaks havoc on the people you’re trying most to protect, which is your family and people you love.

EH: How do you develop a play?

PA: To my mind, it’s all about words and action. There are themes: One has to be aware of what those themes are, and how to interpret those themes, so that they are accessible to everybody. What often happens now is, directors are layering things on top of the script that have absolutely nothing to do with the script whatsoever. It’s just coming out of what they think could be creative, but it doesn’t take into consideration the writing. People recognize subliminally (and sometimes consciously) that they are not being told the truth. That “truth” is found in the writing, and if you start layering things on top of the text, people stand up, applaud, say that it’s great, and it meant nothing. It’s an intellectual pretense. That’s not the effect that you want to have in the theater or in any of the arts. Continue reading ‘If you can touch people’s souls … then you’re doing something’

Backstage: Out of many poetic threads, one UNIVERSE

Asia Mark plays the Apprentice Poet in “UniSon,” Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s tribute to the poetry of August Wilson devised by UNIVERSES. While at Western Michigan University, Mark attended Lecoq acting training with the Arts University Bournemouth, England. She also auditioned for UNIVERSES and has been touring with them for the past two years. We met in the Hay-Patton Rehearsal Center on the OSF Campus.

EH: Tell me about UNIVERSES.

AM: UNIVERSES is an interdisciplinary theater company that fuses poetry, music, rhythm and dance; they do a lot of commissioned work. It started off in the NuYorican Poets Café on the Lower East Side of New York City: When you do slam poetry, you only have about three minutes on stage. Four poets combined their poetry, to have more time; they fused their poetry. That’s where the origins of UNIVERSES came from.

EH: What was your process of developing “UniSon”?

AM: It felt like were jumping into a world of poetry — a world of the unknown. It’s heavily written by UNIVERSES, with the support of August Wilson’s poetry. It is a linear play, but there are so many different aspects and poems. None of us knew what the play was, until opening night. We’re still figuring out things about this play, because there is so much to take from it.

Backstage: What makes a good play?

James Pagliasotti

James Pagliasotti, president of the Ashland New Plays Festival Board of Directors, recently served as board vice president of the Schneider Museum of Art. Before moving to Ashland, Pagliasotti served as a trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado. We chatted over coffee at The Growler Guys in Ashland.

EH: What makes a good play?

JP: Like all art, you want something that generates reaction in people; you want something that touches them, for better or for worse. The first thing that I look for is something that people find emotionally or intellectually compelling. I think a bad play is one that people are bored with. If it generates a response, I think it has done its job. Continue reading Backstage: What makes a good play?

Bringing nightmarish ‘Seven Dreams’ to life

Obed Medina is the director of the absurdist comedy, “Seven Dreams of Falling,” by C. Scott Wilkerson, now playing through September at the Collaborative Theatre Project in Medford. The play is a re-imagining of the Icarus myth. The premise of the play is that Icarus (the young Greek fellow who flew way too close to the sun) is now being forced, by his mythological family, to repeat his humiliation over and over, throughout time.

Icaris and the other characters (Daedalus, Theasus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur) are cursed, trapped into promoting and acting out the catastrophe as a yearly ritual, similar to Christmas. The characters desperately try to exploit the event (each to their own advantage) to imprison each other, and to escape. It’s a powerful play. I met Medina at the Collaborative Theatre to talk about “Seven Dreams of Falling.”

OM: It’s a relatively new play. It premiered in 2013 at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. I visualize a lot of lighting, sound, playing with shadows and light — coordinating together silhouettes. It’s the only way to tell the story and bring it to life, because it’s a Greek myth and has all these fantastical elements.

The text is very heady; it’s a thinking person’s play: there is a lot brewing underneath the text. The sound propels you forward and incites emotion. We have a lot of projections and video that will be used. We try to tell the story and bring it to life with the images: there’s interaction, rather than just dressing the set. We’re taking the conventions of theater and turning them on end.

Continue reading Bringing nightmarish ‘Seven Dreams’ to life

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