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OCT looks to the future

Businesses are shuttering across the Rogue Valley, and Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland is no exception.

The institution, with a long history serving the community, is helmed by artistic director Valerie Rachelle and managing director Rick Robinson, a dynamic duo who are also husband and wife.

With an unprecedented challenge ahead for Ashland theater companies, I sat down with Rachelle and Robinson to talk about their past, present and future.

JG: Tell us some of your favorite memories of your time at Oregon Cabaret so far.

VR: There are too many to count. For Rick and me, this is our dream job, and I think maybe there have been some moments in the last few years, getting lost in the show-to-show cycle, where we might have taken that for granted. But not anymore. I think in terms of specific memories, I’ll aways remember the opening of Cabaret, the electricity in the building when Galloway came down the stairs as the MC in “Wilkommen.” Great theater is the perfect storm of the right people in the right parts with the right script, and with that show, all of the pieces just came together.

I’ll always remember our first subscriber event, when a lovely man came onstage, and when he took the mic from us, there was a little bit of an “uh-oh, where is this headed,” but he just wanted to thank us for all of our work on the Cabaret, for keeping it going. It meant a lot to us.

The last memory that will stick with me — and this might seem strange, as it’s ostensibly a sad memory — is the last night of “Steel Magnolias” before we closed. We did it one last time, Rick and I did a curtain speech together, we ate leftover desserts as a group, and we said goodbye for now to lot of really wonderful humans. No one was in despair. We’re artists. We’re resilient. This is Ashland — you could burn this town to the ground and we would draw a circle in the ashes and call it a stage.

JG: At this unprecedented time in American history, what do you feel artists can do to keep their creative community alive?

VR: This is a tough one for theater artists. Audiences and person-to-person collaboration is an essential part of our art form. But our current cloistered reality is not permanent. And while we’re bunkered down, we should spend it telling stories; writing new plays and musicals; planning new, relevant versions of existing shows; connecting with other artists online; forming writing groups, or Shakespeare reading groups, or anything so our creative spirits do not ebb.

I think this COVID-19 crisis is a seismic event that will ripple for generations, and in its aftermath we will need great art — to comfort us, to enlighten us, to agitate us, and to cast light into dark spaces.

JG: What can the Cabaret audience and the community at large do at this time to help build a sustainable company for when this is over?

VR: Our theater and many other arts organizations are going to need money to weather this. There are a great many worthy charities and small business that are deserving of people’s largesse during this crisis, but if we want Southern Oregon theater to thrive when this all said and done, we’re going to need your continued patronage. If you’re looking to help the Cabaret specifically, you can go to oregoncabaret.com/theatre-strong for ways to help. One of the things that’s been really heartening is that when we’ve called people regarding our canceled shows, the vast majority of people have taken their refund as a credit toward a future show, rather than just a cash refund. And some have even just donated the cost of the ticket to the company with a message that they believe in us, and look forward to seeing us when we’re open again. For this I’m so thankful, and despite everything, hopeful.

Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a columnist, arts reviewer and cultural commentator. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.