Q&A: OSF's Michael J. Hume

Going into his 21st season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Michael J. Hume is quite possibly one of the most loved faces on the festival's stage. This chat reveals the man behind the familiar face.

Q: How long have you been acting?

A: Since I was 10. My mother was a playwright and an actress, and that had to have had something to do with it. We grew up in Los Angeles hanging out with Robert Preston and Dana Andrews and all these people in movies because those were her friends. We grew up watching all these actors get drunk on New Year's Eve and try to light pencils instead of cigarettes.

Q: How long have you been with OSF?

A: I've been here a full generation. Next season will by my 21st, and still you look at the playbill, and there's 15 to 20 actors that have been here longer than me. I'm by no means one of the golden oldies.

Q: What is the best part of your job?

A: The best part is doing the work, and I just love rehearsal. I would love to rehearse a play for two months, then put it on for two weeks, then start all over again. And here, with the repertory, you can almost do that.

Q: What is the hardest part of your job?

A: Being an understudy is hard. Sometimes you've got a year to prepare; sometimes you've got 20 minutes. You're always waiting for the shoe to drop; you're always a deer in the headlights. Every thought is: "What's my next line?"

Q: In your experience, what makes good theater good?

A: Good theater is good when every element is unified, when everyone is working on the same page at the same time, trying to tell the same story as clearly as possible, trying to give the audience the same experience. That's when it's outstanding, and you have no idea how hard that is to do.

Q: Do you like directing?

A: I love to direct, but when I started having kids 21 years ago, it kind of went on the back burner because when you direct, it just takes over. The phone calls come at 1 in the morning, you're solving problems, you're lying in bed trying to figure out how to create things. When you're directing, you're working all the time.

Q: Does your directing style include much collaboration?

A: As a director you don't answer all the questions — you ask all the questions. And basically everyone that's working with you helps supply all the answers together. True artistry is accompanied by humility and a desire for collaboration and knowing that you're not the only voice in the room and that there actually might be better ideas than yours.

Q: You're directing Brecht's "Caucasian Chalk Circle" this fall at Southern Oregon University. What can you tell me about it?

A: This is my fourth show up at the college. When they said "Caucasian Chalk Circle," I just started to drool. I love Brecht; I adore Brecht. I think he's really hard, and I've done about six Brecht shows, but I've never directed one. Right now we're adapting it, and we're almost done with the script. With a six-piece orchestra, we've got a cast of 30, so it's big.

Q: How do you like working with the students?

A: Oh, I love it! We can kind of look around and go, "There's no adults here; we can do whatever we want!"

Heather Frink is a freelance writer.

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