BACKSTAGE: Acting is mining oneself
Eileen DeSandre and Cil Stengel are playing in “Fragments,” by Jessica Sage, opening March 8 at the Rogue Theater in the Bellview Grange. DeSandre and Stengel are veterans of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where DeSandre performed for 16 years. Stengel is a founding member of the improvisational group The Hamazons. We met at the Rogue Valley Roasting Co.
EH: How do actors train for theater?
ED: There are different kinds of training and different approaches.
EH: How do actors come together to create a play?
ED: You have to get your ego out of the way and be in service to the muse, the playwright, the story, your fellow actors, the ensemble, your character.
CS: I think there is an understanding that we’re doing something that’s deep and that our whole selves are showing up. That’s vulnerable; it’s scary, and exciting. One of the gifts that theater gives us is a platform in which human beings connect and create something together.
ED: We have to dive into the unknown to find the character, take real authentic pieces of ourselves, and fashion this character out of something real. Thank God for masks.
EH: What do you mean by masks?
ED: The mask of the character; the person you are playing is not you. This is a chance to mine yourself deeply, and use parts of yourself (that sometimes you don’t want to bring up) to be in service to the character, the play, the story. It is for the audience.
EH: How does your knowledge of improvisational theater affect your process?
CS: Actors who have improvisational experience bring another level to their acting, which is: seeing the big picture; being completely present in the moment, and being really connected to what you say every time. The more free you can be, and the more spontaneous you can be, the more you can delve right into that moment of what is going on, and really listen. The way that you are responding is influenced by what you’ve heard.
ED: That’s why you have to trust the person who’s giving you stuff, and they have to trust you.
EH: What is it about acting on stage in theater that has kept your interest through the years?
ED: It’s Zen. It’s in the moment. We get one chance, in this one particular performance, to hypnotize this one audience so that the mind slides off the ears and the heart unconsciously opens. And in live theater, you can hear them. You can judge the reaction when the connection is alive. (Sometimes it’s the black hole.) It’s juicy fun.
CS: Acting is a way for me to know myself or explore different parts of myself, through roles that I play. And we’re always changing, so it’s never done. It’s a way for me to connect to other people. I’m playing a part in a bigger picture.
ED: The true name of the talent is communication, a willingness to open oneself up to communicate. How many people in this world today feel that nobody’s hearing them? Their souls are screaming, and nobody’s hearing them. We are the ones who hear, detach, distill and give back, so that it can be heard by others. We try to give voice to the voiceless.
“Fragments” plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, March 8-17. Opening Night, March 8, is a benefit for Planned Parenthood with a champagne reception that costs $25. A preview will begin at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 7; cost is $15. Performances are at the Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, Ashland. Tickets are $18 general and $15 for seniors and students and are available at Paddington Station, the Music Coop and roguetheatercompany.com.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director based in Ashland. To read more interviews with fascinating people, visit her blog: ashlandtheater.net. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.