1004667604 Valerie Rachelle.jpg
Valerie Rachelle

Backstage: The vision to produce a theater

Valerie Rachelle and her husband, Rick Robinson, have owned the Oregon Cabaret Theatre for just four years now. In addition to their considerable responsibilities at OCT, they each freelance, directing productions at other theaters throughout the United States. One afternoon, I visited with Rachelle in the restaurant area of the theater.

EH: When you launch a new production, what is your process?

VR: Obviously, I read the script, listen to the score, and then I basically work with my design team. First, I give them a sentence or two of what I want to tell the audience: I’m always trying to ask a question. I want to make sure that everyone on my team (including the actors) knows what the goal of the show is. Then, when we start creating, from the color of the paint to the buckles on the shoes, we’re all going toward that same goal. I want the audience to walk out of the theater either asking, or thinking, or feeling something really specific.

EH: Tell me about “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”

VR: First of all, Steve Martin is a comic genius. It’s very funny, but it’s also very poignant. The play is about exploring: What is beauty? What is art? And how does that affect our everyday life? You have Einstein who says, “Science is art. It’s beautiful.” And Picasso is saying, “Visual art — painting is art.” And then, they both come together and realize each other’s beauty and the value of each other’s art. It’s kind of esoteric, but the way that Steve Martin puts it: It makes you (the everyday person) not only enjoy it and laugh at it, but also, you are swept up in — not only the dream and the emotion of what human beings can create — but what we can bring to life. And everything that we touch, and feel, and breathe, and see from the stars — to formulas on the page, to math, to art, to music — is all beauty and art, which is really cool.

EH: What do you look for in an actor?

VR: Every year is different, because we’re casting different shows and different roles. So we need talent that is specific for the roles of each show. Auditions are also about me seeing you as a human being, and seeing that you are the kind of collaborator that will not only fit into our world here, but with the personalities of the director and the other cast members. Auditioning is, yes, about talent. Do you fit the role? Can you do the things I need you to do? If you have to play an instrument, can you do that? If you have to do an accent, can you do that? If you have to cartwheel, can you do that? All of that is very important to fit the role, but it’s also very important — Who you are as a human being.

EH: How have you found the Ashland experience?

VR: The way that this feeds our theatrical spirits has been incredible.

Note from EH: The Oregon Cabaret Theatre venue is not only elegant and cozy but pristine. It was originally designed by Craig Hudson, who also designed the restaurant interiors of Martino’s and Hearsay. Rachelle and Robinson have made numerous improvements, not only with comfortable seating, but in lighting, sound and sets. Cheerful volunteers greet and seat you. Preshow dinner music is played on the piano by the brilliant Bill Eckart.

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” by Steve Martin, directed by Rick Robinson, plays Sept. 20 — Nov. 11 at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre at 1st and Hargadine in Ashland. For tickets and information, call the box office at 541-488-2902 or visit theoregoncabaret.com .

Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director based in Ashland. To read more interviews with remarkable people, visit her blog at ashlandtheater.wordpress.com. Email her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.

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