Southern Oregon University Theatre Arts Professor Chris Sackett is directing "Avenue Q," a Tony Award-winning musical that opens Thursday, May 16, at SOU's Center Stage Theatre. Sackett and I walked to the Stevenson Union on the SOU campus to discuss "Avenue Q."
CS: It's smart; it's fun. It's rife with political satire and irony; that's part of the attraction of the play. The humor at times is extremely biting; sometimes it is coarse; but it all holds together pretty well. Overall, it's really smart how they've taken this irreverent approach to a deep reverence for the human condition, and how we might pragmatically have a greater scope of tolerance for our fellows.
EH: What's the message of "Avenue Q"?
CS: Get over self-pity; quit thinking about yourself, and get engaged with life.
EH: What is the value of a theater education?
CS: It allows you to think in abstract forms; it allows you to become more familiar with language. The opportunity to read and interpret allows you to see the scope of the evolution of the written word and how human life works.
The primary thing is that you get to work in a collaborative environment. And if you have the capacity to work as a collaborator, in the greater scope of the world, you're a valuable employee.
As it pertains to SOU in particular, a theater arts education gives our students the opportunity to work in an active business model over four years. Here you have a product that you are trying to achieve with collaboration toward the realization of that product. You have to stay in a certain budget amount within that product; it has a strict timeline because there is an opening, and it has to be done by then. You have to promote that product; and then you get to do it all again with the next production. In that kind of environment, if you've got your eyes open, that's a fairly significant view into what life in the real world is about, in terms of fitting into the business system of things.
EH: As a director, what kind of actor do you like to work with?
CS: An actor who has worked at diction and movement, so that the instrument, the body, is one that can take varied coaching and incorporate it into a character that can interact with other characters on stage to become a living representation of the playwright's work.
I look for someone who is willing to try things and not set things too soon, but has the capacity to set them and still keep things vital and exciting.
Some people have innate talent, but it's rare that innate talent gets you to the point where you are a vital member of a creative team.
EH: Why are some of us attracted to theater?
CS: It's hard to do theater by yourself. In general it's a group of people working toward a common goal. Then there's the dynamic that can be created within that collection of people and the sharing of ideas. I don't know that I would go so far as to say it's addictive, but it can be something that you want to feel again. There is an incorporation of a very diverse set of arts, that need to accommodate the others, in order to make a more dynamic overall statement.
"Avenue Q," plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays May 16 through June 1, with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays May 25 through June 2, in the Center Stage Theatre on the SOU campus. For tickets and information, call 541-552-6348.
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.