Paul Mason Barnes is the director of "Our Town," now playing at Southern Oregon University with Oregon Shakespeare Festival veteran James Edmondson as the Stage Manager. The production runs through Nov. 24 at SOU's Center Stage Theatre. A nationally known theater director, Barnes has a website (paulbarnesdirector.com) that contains stunning production photos with insightful reflections on each production. We met at Noble Coffee in Ashland.
EH: It seems that your directing talents are very much in demand.
PB: I'm fortunate that I work pretty steadily, and that's great. It's a collaborative field. Directors are always the persons on whose shoulders things ultimately rest; but you're only as good as your team, and I've been fortunate to work with really good people, a lot of them many times.
I love working with designers. I love the communication process, how they can take my ideas and bring them to life, the contribution they make, and also the way they can get me to look at a script in a way I might not have considered it, because they bring their own unique perspective and ideas to the table.
EH: What is good acting?
PB: The best acting is a marriage of technical skill and emotional accessibility. Somebody who is comfortable enough and open enough that their internal emotional life is available, but they can shape it because they've got the skill to do so. Actors need to be risk-takers. But they need to be given a playground in which they can safely feel vulnerable and open, willing to make mistakes, and willing to engage in an ongoing collaboration.
EH: What makes a great director?
PB: A great director is somebody with really good communication skills, a knack for casting, but an appreciation for good writing and a willingness to be humble enough to put the play first. I think we live in an era that is very director-centric, and not playwright-centric.
I think my job is to be the conduit from the playwright to the audience, working with a lot of collaborators along the way. When I work on a play by Shakespeare, I think my job is to keep up with him, and find out what I've got to learn from him, so that I can share the glory of his work with people who want to come and hear the play.
EH: Do you think that Shakespeare wrote all of those plays?
PB: I have no tolerance for the Oxfordians. I think it's, first of all, a waste of time. Secondly, why couldn't he write the plays? Thirdly, what great art ever came out of the upper class? A little, yes. But, mostly it comes from the striving classes. I figure, Beethoven wrote all of those symphonies; Mozart wrote all of those concertos; Shakespeare wrote all of those plays; and why not? People quibble about his education, but he had a great education in Stratford, and then he had a great education in the world. When you get to those wonderful small character parts, he knew those people. He knew them in the taverns, in the pubs, in the village. You can tell that he knew them and loved them.
EH: What is so exciting about live theater?
PB: For me the theater is the meeting place of the human imagination, what the playwright, the director, the designers and the actors have imagined, and what the audience gets to imagine. It's a very exciting, combustible experience because the imagination is so much more powerful than anything tangible.
"Our Town," by Thornton Wilder, continues at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 21-23, and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 23-24. For tickets and information, call 541-552-6348 or visit sou.edu/performingarts.
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.