Backstage with OSF's Judith-Marie Bergan

Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Judith-Marie Bergan is back for another season. Last year she performed in Oscar Wilde's "A Woman of No Importance" at Yale, then she was directed by Libby Appel in Tennessee Williams' "Glass Menagerie" in North Carolina. Judith is delighted that Bill Rauch has invited her back for OSF's 75th season. We met at Starbucks next to the Southern Oregon University campus.

EH: How long have you been with OSF?

JMB: I've been here for 10 years, but there were a couple of years where I did other things: the Guthrie Theater, the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and the Old Globe. But I just love it here. I just vastly respect this company — the range, the fact that they are always reaching to better the theater, to find new things and new projects. I think it is certainly the best regional theater you could work for.

EH: What are you in next season?

JMB: I'm playing Mrs. Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice." I think it's a great adaptation and a phenomenal cast. The other one is "Henry IV Part 1." I'm playing Mistress Quicky. Everyone has to understudy, as well, so it gets to be a pretty thick packet. Once you start, it's a busy time. It's not like just running one show in a regional theater. It's exciting. The first time I ever did two roles was in 2000. I was in "The Man Who Came to Dinner" and "The Trojan Women" and they were so vastly different. I remember running off stage after "The Trojan Women" one night (having done a matinee of "The Man Who Came to Dinner") and saying out loud, "Whoa, I love this." Being able to do very different people in very different types of plays, it's just wonderful.

EH: Is comedy more difficult to play than drama?

JMB: You have to be more on your toes in a way. It's all about being real, but you have to have that sense of inner timing. It's mathematical, as well as from the gut and from the heart and from the words. One basis for comedy is an over-reaction to trivial things. For instance, going crazy over something that's not — whether or not we're going into Afghanistan. That's drama. This would be a boyfriend problem, but treated with the same intensity. Those times when you just "flip out" can be funny in any situation. An audience will identify with the times when they have just lost it.

EH: Why is theater is so compelling to some of us?

JMB: There's the theatricality of it. For instance, the puppets that occur in "Don Quixote" — all of that ability to be just so starkly beautifully and magically theatrical is rather stunning to me. You almost lose your personal engagement in it. In "Paradise Lost" you have that combination of the set that is very real and authentic and a little surreal at the same time. I have such respect for people who have the tools to be able to combine those things.

As an actress, theater feels very real to me. What fascinates me is human behavior in all the forms that it takes — how we all are struggling to get through this world and what is important to us, as individuals and as a people. Both nobility and absolute absurdity are endearing and wonderful and to be celebrated in each person. I think theater allows for that. Here at OSF I feel charged and involved and always wondering how to make the art more truthful and cleaner, but exciting. I find an immense amount of power in theater.

Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She has a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's degree from San Francisco State University. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre, and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.

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