Actress, director and choreographer Vanessa Hopkins will be starring in Ashland Contemporary Theatre's next production, "Mr. Williams and Miss Wood," written by Max Wilk and directed by Jeannine Grizzard. It opens Saturday, June 14, at the Ashland Community Center. The play is based on the relationship between Tennessee Williams and his editor Audrey Wood. Hopkins and I visited over lunch at her attractive Ashland cottage.
EH: What forms of theater attract you?
VH: I do like experimental theater. I love avant-garde theater. I've done a lot of Brecht and Beckett. It pushes you. The audience isn't just lulled and just satisfied. They walk away saying, "What was that?" I don't want to alienate people, either. There is some avant-garde theater that is too extreme, and nobody gets it. It is just for the performer, and it's just self-indulgent.
I really like documentary theater, like "Mr. Williams and Miss Wood." It's based on true stories of real people that have lived in history. Most fictional stories are based on true stories. That's what Tennessee Williams did. I know that was his therapy. He was trying to figure it all out.
EH: What makes a great play?
VH: There has to be a level of humor, that kind of paradox, the absurdity of life's conditions. When it has that combination of that depth of emotion, where you're moved and feeling the suffering and the pain of a character, and the next moment, you're laughing. If you can take an audience on that journey, that is great writing and great performing. It has to be relatable and universal in that sense. If the content is accessible, it moves everybody. It is having a message that is not overt, but you walk away thinking about the story and the characters and how it relates to you.
EH: What makes a great director?
VH: A great director not only has experience directing theater, but has life experience, a sense of history and history of the theater, a sense of what's happening now artistically in the theater and film world, and what's happening with the younger generations.
As a young person, I was so passionate about the theater, and it helped me so much to get through stuff; I want it to be available to young people. I want them to be drawn to it as I was. I think a part of drawing them in is speaking their language.
Even though Shakespeare's plays were written hundreds of years ago, if the director has a sense of what is happening currently in the culture, and can bring that element to it, that is a great director.
EH: What is so compelling about the medium of theater?
VH: I feel that when the audience watches a live show the audience connects. When they're watching a film, it's less likely; everyone is having their own private experience. When you see a great piece of theater (yes, in a film, you can sit there and cry and everything), when a person is living in front of you, I think it actually unifies us.
"Mr. Williams and Miss Wood" plays at 8 p.m. June 14, 21 and 26 and 2 p.m. June 15, 22 and 29 at Ashland Community Center, 59 Winburn Way, Ashland; and at 8 p.m. June 27 at Grizzly Peak Winery, 1600 E. Nevada St., Ashland. Tickets are $15 at the door or at Paddington Station in Ashland or Grocery Outlet in Medford and online at www. ashlandcontemporarytheatre.org. Reservation line: 541-646-2971.
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.