Diane Nichols' play "Tigers in the Entry" appears in Ashland Contemporary Theatre's summer readings, "Moonlighting 2013," Saturday and Sunday at Grizzly Peak Winery. Her play "Tomatoes" was recently produced at Barnstormers Theatre in Grants Pass. Over tea one afternoon, Nichols gave me her perspective on theater as a playwright, director and actress.
DN: It's magical. I think we get to live vicariously through these other characters and experience intense things. It makes us expand. There is something mysterious and wonderful about theater. I love the stories.
EH: Is there something different about theater people?
DN: They are fun to be around. They seem to be very aware, very observant, and soak in feelings and really catch nuances. They seem alive, vital, vibrant and really into life and their craft.
I was a puppeteer for 11 years. It was the same thing with puppeteers. They were delightful. I went to a puppeteer conference. They wrote their own material, made their own puppets, and then they performed. They were hilarious. Their brains were so shimmering with ideas and imagination, and funny voices. And I thought, "Oh, my people!" They had an ice cream buffet for breakfast, and I thought, "This is like heaven; this is awesome."
EH: What is your process as an actress?
DN: I try to get inside the head and the physical body of the character. I think of how that person would move and why. Where do they carry their weight and balance? Some people are more grounded, and some people are more flighty. Then there's the way they speak, where they're from, their background, and what their relationship is with all of the other characters on the stage. I really listen, and listen very carefully, to what the other actors are saying, and I think about how that affects my character. Even when I'm not speaking, I'm thinking as that character on the stage. I'm immersed in the character, and I'm fully present in the play all the time.
EH: How do you like to be directed?
DN: With Russell Lloyd in "A Delicate Balance" (at Barnstormers Theatre), before we even got up onto the stage and started blocking, he devoted so much time to the table talk. We went through the script as a cast, line by line, and really had input together. We shared what we thought each one of those lines meant. That made such a great difference, to have this grounding and understanding of what was going on.
EH: What has to happen for a play to be great?
DN: The story has to be engaging right from the start. The play has to take us to places where we would never go in our real lives. It's different than reading a book, it's so immediate. It's in the moment, and then it's gone. You're changed by a good play. You're transformed sometimes. I've seen plays, and I have carried those stories with me. They have become a part of me. So that I'm more than I was before I saw them. Some plays stick with you and make you think about things differently. You have to care about the characters. There has to be some kind of transformation or shift for them. You have to go on the journey with them.
"Moonlighting 2013," which comprises readings of short plays by Dori Appel, Ron Burch, Archie Koenig, Barbara Lindsay, Diane Nichols, Bob Valine and Lyda Woods, plays at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 6, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 7, at Grizzly Peak Winery, 1500 E. Nevada St., Ashland. Tickets are $10. For information, call 541-646-2971 or visit ashlandcontemporarytheatre.org.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She is interim artistic director of Ashland Contemporary Theatre and directed "Moonlighting 2013." Reach her at email@example.com.