"Laughter is the shortest distance between two people."
— Victor Borge
They inhabit the stage for our delight. They teach our kids and our teens to work together, to make humor a priority. They import and showcase the talents of others for the mutual delight of all concerned.
In this stressful time of shifting cultural sands, they invite us to laugh and take life a little more lightly. They are the comediennes of the Rogue Valley.
"When an audience laughs together, they are together, and so are the performers on stage," says Eve Smyth, a Bay Area import who has found her comedy home in Ashland. After training with Bay Area Theater Sports in San Francisco and creating and running her own theater that specialized in black comedy, Smyth found her way to the Rogue Valley, where she hooked up with The Hamazons.
The Hamazons have been the valley's resident women's improvisational company since 1999. Smyth joined "The Hams" in 2003 and has continued to perform with them ever since.
Smyth also spreads the comedy gospel in classes for children and adults through Oregon Stage Works. She teaches comedy and performance, and also writes comedic plays for both her students and herself, including her one-woman show, "What Big Teeth You Have, or Little Red Fights Back."
"Improvisational comedy teaches us that we can make mistakes and go on and laugh about it," she says.
Ashland resident Kyndra Laughery, another Hamazon, also shares comedy with kids. She is the artistic director of Teen Theater, an Ashland-based, all-teen performance company that exists under the umbrella of The Lotus Rising Project.
"In my family we laughed. It's how we dealt with tension," she says.
Laughery, who grew up in Grants Pass, began her stage career in high school. She later studied with Bobbi Kidder, one of the original Hamazons, at Rogue Community College. Marriage and kids led her away from the theater for 10 years. Then, one night, she saw a Hamazon show on a local cable-access channel, and that was that.
"Those were my people. I realized that there was a place for me where I could go be silly and play improv games and make people laugh."
Laughery brings her love of laughter into the Teen Theater shows, where she is able to help teen actors find a way to use humor in a manner that is both uplifting and educational.
The teens create and co-write their own shows about pertinent topics, such as diversity, gender orientation and peer pressure. Then they take those shows into schools and conferences, where they share their humor and insight.
"They get people to laugh at the things that can hold them back," says Laughery.
Kris Vandehey, another Rogue Valley funny woman, chose to become a stand-up comedian in her 40s. She currently performs and tours, as well as being director of comedy at Wild River Pub and Publick House in Grants Pass.
Vandehey started out as a humorist who wrote pieces about being a mom. Then she attended a comedy clinic.
"I was a writer who fell in love with the immediate gratification of the stage. My comedy is observational "… It deals with marriage, family and being a wife and mother. For example, did you know that 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce ... 49 while driving."
During her onstage act, Vandehey talks about the decision to begin doing comedy during her midlife crisis.
"It was less work than having an affair," she quips.
Vandehey was on the road as a comedian six different times in 2009, as well as performing at local events like Relay for Life and stints at Horizon Village. She also performs and MCs at Wild River.
Vandehey feels strongly about the benefits of humor.
"If you can find humor in your darkest hour, you can survive anything. I think that laughter prolongs life."
For information about classes at Oregon Stage Works, call 541-482-2334.