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Oregon Cabaret Theatre rolls with the punches

Oregon Cabaret Theatre is opening for theater and dining. I chatted with Artistic Director Valerie Rachelle one recent morning on Zoom.

VR: We are opening July 16. We got the green light from the state of Oregon and the governor’s office, that live theater can happen here. They have guidelines that we are going to follow. Since we have restaurant seating, it’s a lot easier for us to have parties together that can then socially distance from everyone else. I’m so glad that we have our beautiful, lovely, large theater of 6,100 square feet, because we can really distance people. The third row of the audience is now our front row. The patrons are 12 feet in all directions from the stage, and then six feet around each other to separate the parties. The restaurant will be functioning.

We have permission from the state that actors don’t have to wear masks on stage during the show, but we are going to ask that the audience members do wear their masks while the actors are on stage.

EH: You’ve changed plays from “The Full Monty” to “The Odd Couple”?

VR: For safety, yes, because “The Full Monty” is a 15-person cast, with one child; and one character is a bit older. There’s kissing; there’s intimacy; there’s dancing. There’s a moment where all five men have to cram into one bathroom stall for five minutes. It’s funny, but very close, so it’s not a show we could be safe with. We knew we needed to make a change, so we decided on something with no singing (because singing is not as safe), that was a well-known title, that was a comedy, that people have enjoyed and know, and that has never been done at the Cabaret.

EH: Tell us about your casting.

VR: We knew that we had the cast here in town. We wanted to make sure we were employing as many actors as we could who were in “The Full Monty.” We’re trying to employ local people and keep it safe. My designers, the staff, the actors are all local. No one is traveling in from out of town, for safety.

My husband, Rick Robinson, our managing director, will be playing Oscar Madison. Steven Kline will play Felix Ungar; he’s a comic genius. Galloway Stevens is directing; he’s one of our audience favorites.

The audience experience will be the same old Cabaret, but you’ll have a lot more space. The house will now be 44 audience members per show instead of a 140. We’ve been cleaning and doing a lot of changes in the theater seating to prepare for opening.

Most of our audience is local, that is an upside. I understand why the Oregon Shakespeare Festival had to cancel. They bring in 150,000 tourists a year from all over the United States. That’s dangerous. We’re different. We’re tiny and local. We have restaurant seating, so we are able to accommodate safety rules much easier. That’s why we are able to open our doors in July.

EH: Are you going virtual?

VR: We’ve been keeping an online presence. We’ve been doing YouTube videos and Facebook posts through this whole thing. Galloway Stevens has been running what we call Cab Gab. He has been interviewing actors who are favorites from past seasons to see how they’re doing.

Everything changes. The state’s rules and regulations change daily. We’re trying to roll with the punches and do the best that we can to stay alive.

EH: What’s next?

VR: We’re doing Poirot, “Murder on the Links.”

“The Odd Couple” runs through Sept. 6. For tickets and information, call the OCT temporary box office at 541-631-1955.

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

Galloway Stevens as Sweeney Todd and Valerie Rachelle as Mrs. Lovett in Oregon Cabaret Theatre's 2019 production of "Sweeney Todd." Photo by Bryon Devore