Southern Oregon University associate professor David McCandless is directing the premiere of his play "Invisible Threads," which opens Thursday in SOU's Center Stage Theatre. We chatted in his office in the Theatre Arts Department.
DM: The premise is, a mysterious figure recruits some down-on-their-luck actors to apply their thespian skills to rescue some people from real-life crises. It preys upon that ethic angst that a lot of actors have: that they're not contributing to the world; that they're not really doing anything to help people; and that they're just indulging themselves.
It explores the thin border between illusion and reality. It has to do with that theater and life continuum. It's meant to be an examination of role-playing and identity, and the joys and the limits of theater.
EH: What makes a great play?
DM: It needs to be compact — that sense of organization. A sense that you're being propelled forward to the next part of a sequence of meaningful actions that are going to lead you somewhere, that connectedness.
Drama is based on conflict. The obstacle the characters are struggling with needs to be significant, emblematic of the human experience, interesting, and important. In comedy, often what happens is the obstacle is significant to them — it may not be to us — and maybe that's the difference? In drama, our perception of the predicament is congruent with the perception of the characters. They think it's significant, and we do, too. In comedy there is an incongruity or a disconnect. The characters think it's significant, but we see that it isn't.
EH: Are you an actor?
DM: No. I've acted, never professionally. Actors go through so much, and I think to have gone through that is very helpful in terms of being patient and supportive and appreciative. I think that people who direct should have some experience of being in the position of the actor and know what it's like to feel that the director thinks you're terrible. I know what it's like to feel stuck or frustrated, or the director is ignoring you, or the director's picking on you. I probably should put myself through it again, just so that I can be reminded of just how lonely it can be at times.
EH: You wrote a book about Shakespeare?
DM: It's called "Gender and Performance in Shakespeare's Problem Comedies." I make use of contemporary productions to talk about what is interesting in relationship to gender in the plays.
It has to do with the ways masculinity and femininity are constructed and performed. For example, in "Troilus and Cressida," there's an awful lot of imagery that suggests that notion of warriors and the bond that exists between them. The way they often express both their fascination with their foe, and their determination to kill them, is often eroticized.
EH: When do you think a concept serves a Shakespeare play?
DM: I think if a concept is born of a strong idea or a strong passion about the play, the results often can be revelatory both in terms of what's revealed about the text and the ways in which theatrical expression is employed. Innovations in theatrical expression or bold, risky choices can be wonderful.
McCandless' book is available at Amazon.com. Performances of "Invisible Threads" are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, Feb. 28 through March 9, and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 9-10. Tickets can be purchased over the phone by calling 541-552-6348 or online at sou.edu/performingarts. For more information, visit sou.edu/theatre.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.