Shae Johnson is now starring as Suzy in Oregon Cabaret Theatre's "Winter Wonderettes." Johnson studied opera at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music after graduating from Ashland High School. Returning to Ashland, she performed in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's "The Music Man" and in OCT's "The Marvelous Wonderettes." She played Debbie Reynolds in Oregon Cabaret Theatre's "What a Glorious Feeling." Johnson is now the lead singer of the Rogue Suspects. We met for coffee at Mix Sweet Shop in Ashland.
SJ: I love live theater; I love being in front of an audience, which is very different from being in front of a camera. A camera just stares at you without any emotion. With an audience, it's very in the moment; every show is different, because you have a different audience every night.
The goal of the actor is to be able to communicate to the audience, to make them feel what you're feeling and have them relate to what you're feeling on stage. You can see it. Sometimes when you look out into the audience, you can see when there's someone in particular who is understanding what you're doing. As long as there is just one person in the audience who is really loving it, that's enough for me.
EH: What does it take to be an actor?
SJ: You are your instrument, you have to take care of yourself, and you have to be sociable. You have to talk to people. Auditioning is one of the main things you do. If you're not healthy, or if you can't communicate very well, then you're probably not going to go very far. Most actors are fun, are very outgoing and are very vocal. They like to say everything that they're feeling and thinking.
EH: What is the most important lesson in singing?
SJ: It's about relaxing. A lot of the time, people try too hard when they try to sing or act. You have to learn how to sing, to use your ear, and hit the right notes. Then it should be as easy as relaxing into a song, and being able to sing just like you talk. And if it's not, you're not doing something right. It's all about breathing. A lot of the time, singers will start breathing high in the chest, and they're stuck up there, and they can't do anything. It's all about relaxing and breathing lower. You shouldn't have a hard time breathing when you talk. You should be able to breathe without thinking about it. It's the same with singing.
EH: What about enunciation?
SJ: Everybody has a different voice and an individual way of speaking. You have to talk very clearly, as if you were talking to a young child; you wouldn't talk very fast and slur your words. You'd try to be very clear. With a performance, this is the first time (and maybe the only time) they're going to hear what you're saying, and if you don't say everything very clearly, they're not going to catch everything.
EH: What kind of music do you perform with the Rogue Suspects?
SJ: As the lead singer of the Rogue Suspects, I do a lot of Aretha Franklin-style songs. I love Motown and bluesy jazz. That's my style. We have a New Year's Eve show at the Red Lion in Medford. It will be just after my last "Winter Wonderettes" show. We have a huge fan base in the Rogue Valley. I love it.
The Oregon Cabaret Theatre presents "Winter Wonderettes" nightly at 8 except Dec. 10, 11, 17, 24 and 25. Saturday and Sunday brunch matinees are at 1 p.m. For information and reservations, call 541-488-2902 or visit www.oregoncabaret.com.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at email@example.com.