Q&A: Shae Johnson

Shae Johnson stars as Suzy in playwright Roger Bean's "Winter Wonderettes," running through Monday, Dec. 31, at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre.

Johnson studied opera at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music after graduating from Ashland High School. Since returning to Ashland, she's performed in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of "The Music Man" and in OCT's "The Marvelous Wonderettes." She also played Debbie Reynolds in OCT's "What a Glorious Feeling."

Her other role is fronting local jam band The Rogue Suspects. This is what she had to say over coffee at Mix Sweet Shop in Ashland.

SJ: I love live theater. I love being in front of an audience, which is very different from being in front of a camera. A camera just stares at you without any emotion. With an audience, it's very in-the-moment. Every show is different because you have a different audience every night. The goal of the actor is to be able to communicate to the audience, to make them feel what you're feeling and have them relate to what you're feeling onstage. You can see it. Sometimes when you look out into the audience, you can see when there's someone in particular who is understanding what you're doing. As long as there is just one person in the audience who is really loving it, that's enough for me.

EH: What does it take to be an actor?

SJ: You are your instrument. You have to take care of yourself, and you have to be sociable. You have to talk to people. Auditioning is one of the main things you do. If you're not healthy, or if you can't communicate very well, then you're probably not going to go very far. Most actors are fun, very outgoing and very vocal. They like to say everything that they're feeling and thinking.

EH: What is the most important lesson in singing?

SJ: It's about relaxing. A lot of the time, people try too hard when they try to sing or act. You have to learn how to sing, to use your ear and hit the right notes. Then it should be as easy as relaxing into a song and being able to sing just like you talk. And if it's not, you're not doing something right. It's all about breathing. A lot of the time, singers will start breathing high in the chest. If they're stuck there, they can't do anything. It's all about relaxing and breathing lower. You shouldn't have a hard time breathing when you talk. You should be able to breathe without thinking about it. It's the same with singing.

EH: What about enunciation?

SJ: Everybody has a different voice and an individual way of speaking. You have to talk very clearly, as if you were talking to a young child; you wouldn't talk very fast and slur your words. You'd try to be very clear. With a performance, this is the first time (and maybe the only time) they're going to hear what you're saying. If you don't say everything very clearly, they're not going to catch everything.

EH: What kind of music do you perform with The Rogue Suspects?

SJ: As the lead singer of The Rogue Suspects, I do a lot of Aretha Franklin-style songs. I love Motown and bluesy jazz. That's my style. We have a New Year's Eve show at the Red Lion in Medford. It will be just after my last "Winter Wonderettes" appearance. We have a huge fan base in the Rogue Valley. I love it.

OCT presents "Winter Wonderettes" daily at 8 p.m. except: Dec 17, 24 and 25. Saturday and Sunday brunch matinees are at 1 p.m. For tickets and reservations, call 541-488-2902 or see www.oregoncabaret.com.

Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. Reach her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.

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