'Hidden Agendas'

A series of staged readings by the Oregon Stage Works Playwrights' Unit from June 28-29, "Hidden Agendas," includes "The Other Side" by veteran playwright Bob Valine.

Valine met with early success, collecting numerous awards and fellowships. His play "Black Judas" was produced at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles before he followed the "spiritual path." Now, winding down a long career in teaching, Bob is seeing his plays produced again. Outside on a sunny day, we chatted about his evolution as a playwright.

BV: It's become a passion, now. It's something I really need to do. My early playwriting was instinctive, a lot of anger and revolution. Now it's different. It's exploring who we are and what we're doing here, and exploring human emotions, my own and others.

EH: The OSW Playwrights Unit seems like an exciting group.

BV: They're exceptional. There's so much critique and support over a period of time. Writing for production, having actors and a director, and working in that situation is really wonderful. It's a real gift, to learn about playwriting, and to begin to understand that audience out there. I can get carried away, like any writer, and just love what I'm writing, but to really communicate clearly and deeply is a real challenge.

Theater is a tremendously challenging medium. I've done poetry, and I've written some prose; but with theater, you're there in the moment, in front of an audience, and you cannot drop the ball. You've really got to move, you've really got to be on it. You've got to take them on a journey. You've got to be very clear from the beginning what that journey is; and they have to share the journey with the characters, whatever that may be.

Theater is entertainment number one; it's got to be entertaining. It's a challenge that way. You have actors as your medium, quite wonderful, and they're all different. It's just amazing that you can have one scene, have different actors do it, and it's very different. You have to be aware of all that. And God bless directors who bring order.

I think that Shakespeare was such an actor, so involved in theater. I have a sense that, in his bones, he knew his audience. He certainly knew his actors. He worked with, more or less, the same guys for twenty years. It must have been really solid in that theater. It was really well done.

EH: Why are people so drawn to theater?

BV: It's so communal, coming together and sharing, being together. Our culture has become so removed, so digital, so virtual. In theater we come together with other people, and we feel them, wherever we are. And there are live people in front of us entertaining us; energetically that is such a special thing. It goes back beyond the first fire. It is that kind of tribal celebration, sharing stories, sharing meaning, sharing laughter, sharing our hopes and dreams.

Theater is all over the country. Everywhere you go, there are small theaters. You'd think in this day and age with a television in every room, it wouldn't be such a big deal. People seem to crave that immediacy. It's very beautiful, powerful. I don't know if we'll ever stop coming together. I hope we don't stop. It's the real thing, blood and bones, good stuff.

"Hidden Agendas," staged readings of six new short plays directed by OSW Artistic Director Peter Alzado, will begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, June 28-29, at the Unitarian Center, Fourth and C streets, Ashland. Admission is $10 at the door. In addition to Valine, playwrights include Julie Excell, Catherine Foster, Catherine Noah (city editor of the Daily Tidings and Mail Tribune), Mary Rexford and Molly B. Tinsley.

Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. She directed the Playwrights' Unit's last reading, "Seven Deadly Sins." Reach her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.

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