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Acting fulfills Tyrone Wilson, but so does a nice long walk

After 26 seasons as an actor with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Tyrone Wilson certainly misses all that was part of the OSF experience — his fellow company members, delving into the work, the journey of making a play, the audience.

But he believes that OSF, like Shakespeare’s theater after it was shut down because of the plague, will be back — and back stronger.

“I think the people who are involved in keeping OSF afloat and alive are good people and will make the right decisions,” he said.

Meanwhile, he tries not to let the situation get him down.

“I’ve had acting droughts before,” he said. “When I first got out of grad school at Yale, I didn’t get a lot of jobs, so I had to sustain myself emotionally and economically in other ways during those times.”

There is much that gives him strength during these times.

“I’ve always wanted to have a full life. Yes, getting fulfillment out of theater is important, but also out of things like going on a hike, playing golf with a friend, farming and relationships.”

Wilson, 61, grew up in Port Chester, a village about the size of Ashland, 30 miles northeast of New York City.

He says probably the first “performer” who made an impression on him was the preacher at the Southern Baptist Church his family attended.

“It was one of those shoutin’ Baptist churches,” he said. “That preacher was the most dramatic person I had met. I was very young.”

His first acting experience was in a high school production of “Godspell.” The next year, he played the king in “The King and I.” And he was bitten.

He attended Middlebury College in Vermont, majoring in psychology and minoring in theater. Two years in, when he found himself doing more theater and less psychology, he switched his minor to his major and vice-versa.

Between his junior and senior years, a summer of intensive acting classes at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco convinced him he had made the right decision.

After graduating from Middlebury, he earned an MFA at Yale University.

“One of the most valuable things I learned in grad school is the importance of relationships — between the characters, and also between yourself and the other actors. In the theater, you build a sense of family. You go through a lot together.

“So, when you see an OSF show, you’re watching not just the characters, but also how the actors relate to each other, drawing on their long histories together.”

Wilson says he’s a work in progress.

“Over the years, I’ve grown as a person and gained maturity. That affects my acting style and choices, and has molded me to who I am today.”

Despite all the shutdowns and slowdowns, Wilson has been able to exercise his acting chops in a variety of ways — teaching at SOU, doing a few Zoom productions, and playing a part in a Theater Emory production of “Les Blancs,” streaming Nov. 9-15. Theater Emory is the resident professional theater company at Emory University in Atlanta.

For 10 years, he has taught and directed at the Oregon Conservatory of Performing Arts and, lately, for its online program, TCO.

He has directed at local high schools — in Ashland and Phoenix-Talent. Part of directing in that setting is teaching acting to young people, another rewarding element of the job.

He’s directed OSF actors for the festival’s school visit program.

“I’ve enjoyed immensely directing fellow company members for those visits. It’s both challenging and satisfying,” he said.

He also is director of the Chautauqua Center in Ashland, a theater education program he took over from a friend who ran it as the Siskiyou Center.

His first inkling of OSF was when he was performing at Indiana Repertory Theatre.

“Some of the company members were from OSF, and they told me about the festival and the plays. Later on, I was doing a play in St. Louis, directed by (former OSF artistic director) Libby Appel. Somebody saw me perform and asked me if I was interested in playing Caliban in ‘The Tempest’ and acting in a couple other plays.”

After a few chats and interviews, he was invited to join the company.

What he loves about repertory theater is the variety of work and how difficult it can be.

“Like any muscle, whenever you’re creatively challenged with tougher and more exhausting work, you become stronger.”

Looking back on the plays he’s been in at OSF, “Ruined” is one of his favorites. He is a big fan of its author, Lynn Nottage, who received one her two Pulitzer Prize awards for the play.

But perhaps his most memorable role was as Falstaff in “Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2” in 2017. The part was originally played by G. Valmont Thomas, who died in December of that year. Wilson had a couple of minor roles in the play and was Thomas’s understudy.

“G. Val was suffering from cancer at the time,” Wilson said. “So, I went in when he couldn’t, and then finally took over the role. It was a very personal investment for me.”

He continues to make investments in his craft with a busy schedule of teaching, directing, performing and volunteering.

But he can’t wait for the OSF theaters to reopen. Neither can his fans.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Wilson