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Theatre talk: public interviews on private thoughts

If you’ve ever wondered about the inner motivations of some of your favorite Oregon Shakespeare Festival artists, now’s your chance to find out.

The nonprofit Ashland New Plays Festival has three public interviews remaining this summer in its eighth year of Theatre Talk — an event that features interviews with OSF artists about what makes them artists.

This year’s event features a rare treat. Playwright Octavio Solis, the next interviewee, is only the second playwright ever to be featured at the event, according to organizer John Rose.

The talks start at 7:30 p.m. at Carpenter Hall, 44 S. Pioneer St., Ashland, and last about an hour, with a half hour for questions.

Gray McKee, chair of the ANPF playwrighting committee, said Rose’s sessions are like “eavesdropping on a private conversation in somebody’s living room.”

“If you talk to John, you recognize that he’s an exceptionally bright guy,” McKee said. “We had no idea the rapport he could develop with these people in private and that that would play well in public.”

Rose interviews the guests ahead of time to figure out the best questions to ask at the event.

Solis said he’s already had an hour-long phone conversation with Rose and a meeting that lasted more than an hour. His session will be Monday, July 8.

“It became more of a conversation and less of an interview, and now he’s armed with enough material to ask the deep-tissues questions,” Solis said. “I’m curiously looking forward to this. I hate to talk about myself, but I love to chat.”

Solis has produced many plays at OSF and around the country. His most recent is “Mother Road,” which is having its world premiere this summer at OSF and will run through the end of the season.

Solis was commissioned to write an undetermined piece through the National Steinbeck Center and undertook a two-week road trip along the “Mother Road” in honor of the 75th anniversary of “The Grapes of Wrath.” Along the way, Solis and two other artists interviewed about 80 people with various connections to the story and its history. He said he had no idea what he would write.

“I thought I might write a long poem,” Solis said.

But one young man who grew up in the Arvin Migrant Center, a location in the book, inspired Solis to write an entire play about the “intersection of those seeking to put food in the mouths of their families as they fled the Dust Bowl and those from Central America on the same mission, both during the Great Depression and today.”

Actors to be interviewed include Amy Kim Waschke, who will be featured Monday, Aug. 12. Waschke has played various roles with OSF, including Emilia in “Othello,” Hermione in “The Winter’s Tale” and Huang and Thuy in “Vietgone.” This year she plays Lady M. in the “Scottish Play.”

Erica Sullivan will be interviewed Monday, Sept. 23. Her roles at OSF have included Rosalind in “As You Like it,” Maud Lilly in “Fingersmith,” and Mavis in “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.” This year she plays Jaques in “As You Like It.”

Jessica Ko was interviewed June 3. She has performed in “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo,” “Henry V,” and “Snow in Midsummer.” This year she plays Rosalind in “As You Like It.”

“I try to pick people I’m interested in first of all, and people who impress me, also people that are playing roles that are interesting,” Rose said.

The event was inspired by the James Lipton T.V. show “Inside the Actors Studio.”

Rose explained the series as “an exploration of who they are as artists and how they go about creating the art that they do.”

McKee said Rose has a skill of asking the right questions and getting to the meat of the artistic process.

“John has a knack of thinking of a question on the spot that you would think of in the car on the way home,” McKee said.

“We get very specific about different performances they’ve done and research into performances that weren’t at OSF,” Rose said. “The end result is an insight into who they are as artists and their artistic energy.”

He said the events help bridge the disconnect between the performer and the audience.

“I think that information is not easily gleaned, and I think it’s greatly beneficial to the audience in increasing their appreciation of the theater, which many people are here for,” Rose said. “I think what it does is allow the audience to see into these performers as people, the same way you would interview any artist. It allows them to connect with them and understand what they do on stage, how it comes about, who they are and where they come from, and it allows us to appreciate the performances with a much greater depth.”

McKee and Rose agreed that the talks, which happen once a month from June to September, help give ANPF a year-round presence beyond its main October festival.

Each talk costs $10 at the door (cash or check). A three-show discount pass can be purchased for $24 at ashlandnewplays.org.

Rose said because it’s the Ashland New Plays Festival, they try to focus on new work and expose how that work came about when possible, such as with “Mother Road.”

Solis said the rawness that makes him an artist is made up of all the “things that enrage me and make me fall in love all over again and knowing what to say about it.”

“These are times you can’t be neutral,” Solis said. “You have to take a stand. I’m trying to say that America is changing but we needn’t be afraid of those changes. There’s room at the table for everyone.”

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Theatre Talk organizer John Rose interviews Oregon Shakespeare Festival actress Jessica Ko in front of a live audience.{ }This year Ko plays Rosalind in “As You Like It.” Photo courtesy of the Ashland New Plays Festival.{ }