Robin Downward's Randall Theatre has been producing plays at a breathtaking rate while attracting an untapped audience through a pay-what-you-want policy. Downward also is a gifted actor, performing in his own productions and at other venues such as the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, where he sang and danced as Sherlock Holmes in "Holmes and Watson Save the Empire" and in Cole Porter's "Let's Misbehave." Downward also teaches an acting workshop called Character Creation. We visited at the Randall Theatre in Medford.
EH: What do you cover in your Character Creation class?
RD: A lot of what I do in the Character Creation class, drama therapists do from the standpoint of analyzing yourself as a person, and turning things that you have experienced into positive emotions.
If you're not comfortable with yourself and you have all these insecurities, how can you get outside and be a member of society? You create someone else, that you can then be, to get used to being out in public, and then you can be yourself again.
There are internal and external aspects of character creation. The external aspects are your age and your physicality. I heard a story about Dustin Hoffman. The first thing he does when creating a character is to figure out what his hands do; and the character grows physically from there.
From the internal aspects, you are dealing with basic personality traits. I give the class a list of 101 questions to ask yourself about your character. The job is to create a living, breathing person that has a past, present and thoughts about a future. Actors are creating a human being from scratch and from the script in a relatively short period of time. That is not easy to do well. Everything you need to know about the character is in the script, maybe in the text or the subtext, but it is all there.
From the aspect of the many thousands of little intricate things that make up an individual, that same process has to go into an actor creating a character, so that the audience then believes that they are who they are instead of, "Oh, well, they're just acting." That is a big aspect of the class, delving deeper into the text and the subtext and the sub-subtext to get out all of those idiosyncrasies and create everything of "who they are." It gets actors thinking about the characters as human beings rather than just characters in a script, and it translates into much more believable characters.
EH: How is your new pay-what-you-want policy working?
RD: It's great. All of our pay-what-you-want shows are making more money than the previous shows because we're getting more people, and even though they may pay less than we were charging for each ticket, there are more people in the theater, which works for everybody. For those who want to be sure of getting a seat, we also have reserve seating for $12. There is a minimum of a dollar, because some people were taking advantage. It also works from a marketing standpoint because there are more people in the theater, seeing what's going on, and going out and talking about it.
In June, Downward will star in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" at the Camelot Theatre in Talent.
The Randall Theatre's 2013 season includes "The History of America" (by the writers of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)," "The Elephant Man," "Man of La Mancha," "Death of a Salesman" and "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" as well as other offerings. For tickets and information, call 541-632-3258 or visit its website at randalltheatre.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.