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→
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’→
Actor G. Valmont Thomas plays Sir John Falstaff in Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s “Henry IV, Part One” and in “Henry IV, Part Two.” Thomas also played Falstaff in OSF’s 2006 production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” This is the second of a two-part column. The first was published on June 12, 2017.
EH: What makes great comedy?
GVT: Comedy should illuminate something about the human condition — in a joyously hilarious way. Nowadays humor has gotten very cruel, actually mean. Some stand-up comedians just vent. If you look at the writing on TV situation comedies that are really popular, there are a lot of mean things said between characters. We are supposed to treat them like they are funny. Some of them are; but most often, they’re not.
EH: Do you prepare for comedy and tragedy differently?
GVT: In comedy, you need less restraint. You have to explore a lot of different ways of doing things to find out what is going to work with the group of people on stage. In tragedy, we’re all going in the same direction. The thing about comedy is that nobody is going in the same direction. The diversity of objectives on stage is clashing. That’s what’s funny — people careening off of one another. Continue reading Backstage: Exploring the difference between comedy and tragedy→
Actor G. Valmont Thomas brilliantly portrays Sir John Falstaff in “Henry IV, Part One,” now playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He will also play Falstaff in “Henry IV, Part Two.” This is Thomas’ 14th season with OSF. A native of the Pacific Northwest, Thomas took time out from his acting career to earn an MFA in Directing for the Theater from Pennsylvania State University. We met at Boulevard Coffee in Ashland. This is the first of a two-part interview. The second will be published on June 26.
EH: Why do people make their life in theater?
GVT: It’s different for everybody, but most theater artists have an altruistic streak. I don’t find what we do that much different from psychology, psychiatry or religion, because we are dealing with these four questions: “Who am I? What the heck am I doing here? What am I supposed to do when I’m here?” and “How do I know when I’m doing it right?” Those are the things that we deal with everyday. I believe that I’m helping the world deal with itself. A lot of theater people feel that they can help heal. We feel that we are the agents of healing. And right now, it’s very prevalent among us. Continue reading The four questions actors deal with→
Jeremy Johnson has been with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for eight seasons. He was a superb Sky Masterson in OSF’s 2015 production of “Guys and Dolls.” This season he will be portraying Doctor Caius in “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” and M. D’Arque in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” This is the second of a two-part interview. The first was published on March 6.
EH: Is there a common quality that all actors share?
JJ: The vast majority of actors I have met have been very warm: outgoing, even if a little shy. There’s that stereotype that actors need a lot of approval, and I’m sure that’s true sometimes. But actors have also been, in my experience, unbelievably generous and open-hearted.
EH: Do you have a theory of acting or method?
JJ: I went to Northwestern University. I studied with David Downs. He would focus on: How can you be clear and understood and believed on stage from a purely technical point of view? How do you build a character physically? If you start with a role, and you say, “Who is this person?” How do you go about creating that character in a meaningful believable way?
Actor Jeremy Johnson of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival directed Steven Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” now playing at Ashland High School. With a talented cast of 22, a full orchestra, and a towering revolving set, the production is a fantastic musical delight.
For decades the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has contributed to Ashland High School productions, with company members making time to direct, design and choreograph shows
Johnson discovered acting at age 10 and decided to become a professional actor early on. He majored in theater at Northwestern University and acted in New York and Los Angeles before coming to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival 10 years ago. Johnson played Sky Masterson in OSF’s production of “Guys and Dolls” in 2015. We met near the fireplace at Mix. This is the first part of a two-part interview. The second will be published on March 20.
EH: Tell me about “Sweeney Todd.”
JJ: It is a classic of musical theater, a 1979 Tony Award Winner with eight Tony Awards. It is a masterwork of construction and composition. And it is endlessly satisfying in its complexity: In the questions that it raises, and how it seeks to answer them. It is also just a lot of fun. Continue reading OSF actor directs ‘Sweeney Todd’ at AHS→
Peter Alzado and Jessica Sage, as co-producing artistic directors, are re-launching Oregon Stage Works as the lead — and only — actors in a production of “Annapurna.” Directed by Liisa Ivary, the play opens Friday, Oct. 28, at Temple Emek Shalom in Ashland.
Oregon Stage Works, with Alzado as its artistic director, closed its doors in 2010 after six seasons in its charming black box theater on A Street in Ashland. Sometimes thought of as an off-Broadway theater, it produced plays ranging from Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” to Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.”
While relying mainly on volunteer actors and crew, the theater focused on developing the actors and the text to stage creative and challenging theatrical works while providing the community with affordable high quality theater.
Alzado recently directed and performed in the highly acclaimed production of “Red” at Ashland Contemporary Theatre. Last spring, Sage directed Ashland High School’s winning production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”