ACT looks forward to the next scene

In the midst of a temporary leadership change, an ongoing search for permanent production space and a move to expand its board of directors, long-standing Ashland Contemporary Theater is as determined as ever to make this year a successful one.

Evalyn Hansen, who has directed several works for ACT while serving on its board of directors over the past three years, will serve as interim artistic director in place of Jeannine Grizzard, the ACT board recently decided.

Grizzard is stepping away from the position for the remainder of this year to recover from an adrenal-related stress disease, which is forcing her to slow down after three years at the theater's helm.

"I have an adrenal disorder that needs downtime to heal," Grizzard said. "Constantly thinking about the next show was not helping me to heal from the corrective surgery I received for the disorder."

"I need time to not be the one obsessing about the fate of the theater. That's someone else's job right now," she said.

Grizzard announced she was stepping away from her role as artistic director in February.

She will continue serving on the theater's board of directors, reviewing plays for production there, and, health permitting, produce a contemporary Christmas play near the end of the year for ACT, Hansen said.

"The plan is for Jeannine to come back as our artistic director at the end of the year," Hansen said.

Grizzard said if someone had stepped forward willing to take over her former position full time, she likely would not have agreed to come back at the end of this year.

"I wanted the theater to have the opportunity to find somebody to put on four or five events a year, like I did," Grizzard said.

After a series of meetings, "that person did not emerge," she said.

Both Hansen and Grizzard acknowledged that the theater's inability to offer a living wage to its artistic director likely played a role in the dearth of possible replacements.

"In order to find someone who will want to do this for ACT, a living wage needs to be procured," Grizzard said. "We're just not in a position to do that right now ... our money goes toward plays."

Grizzard said as long as ACT can continue producing several shows each of the next few years, it should begin to qualify for support from foundations and grants.

"Even though we're old, we're new at regular producing ... we need a track record we can access for these opportunities," she said. "Machinery is in the works and procedures are under way to increase the theater's income."

Much of that support will have to come from the local level, she said.

ACT will produce a staged reading for local playwrights during the last weekend in June at Ashland Community Center. The theater is accepting submissions of short plays for the reading until May 1, she said. It will be one of at least three events this year, said Hansen, who writes the "Backstage" column for the Daily Tidings.

Additionally, the theater is soliciting new plays for future productions from local playwrights, she said, and is looking for experienced producers, directors and volunteers.

In July, the theater will host an improvisation workshop at the community center, which is where Grizzard's Christmas production is scheduled to be shown in December, Hansen said.

The theater is also considering whether to sponsor an additional full-production play in October, Grizzard said.

In terms of the Ashland Community Center, "right now it's as close as a home gets for us," Hansen said.

Grizzard said ACT has some "promising" leads on a new space to permanently house its productions, but no contracts have been discussed.

ACT produced its plays in the Bellview Grange for several years until the grange ended the relationship in February 2012, citing scheduling conflicts. A new theater company, Theatre Convivio, formed by grange member Richard Heller, will begin producing plays there in August.

With Hansen at the helm, ACT's board of directors has expanded to six members with the additions of Lyda Woods, a local actor and director, and Joe Suste, a Phoenix-based Realtor and playwright.

"I think they make us a stronger board. ... Artistically, we have always had a strong board, but we are looking for members to bring in from the business community," Hansen said.

She said the ACT board has four positions it would like to fill this year. Anyone interested can contact ACT through its website at, or call 541-482-7742.

"It's an exciting time for us," Hansen said. "We're a strong artistic group of people who are very energetic and enthused about the season ahead."

Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Talent. Email him at

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