Christopher George Patterson stars in "Ain't Misbehavin'," featuring the music of Thomas "Fats" Waller and directed by Jim Giancarlo and choreographed by Giancarlo and Patterson. It's playing at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre until Aug 31. Patterson and I chatted one afternoon over tea and lemonade at the Standing Stone Brewing Co. in Ashland. This is the first of a two-part interview.
CGP: The interesting thing about "Ain't Misbehavin'" is that it tells the story through the tapestry of the Harlem Renaissance without digging in too deeply.
EH: What's your process of choreographing a show?
CGP: I'll read the script to see what's supposed to happen. I usually listen to the music over, and over, and over again, and let it talk to me. The music tells you what to do and how to get there through telling the story through the dance. If you know what the story is, all you have to do is fill in the gaps with the steps. It's almost like playing in an orchestra: The score is there, but you create the dynamics, and that's what makes people want to engage in watching it.
You don't want to make the show just stand alone on its dance. The spectacle for me is how the transitions happen, and how you are really telling the story. Choreography is like painting a picture. You have that first layer, then there are other layers that you put into it, so that no one should always be doing the exact same thing. I love to see a collage of things happening, to give you an environment. You start off and add in different elements so that it becomes a moving collage.
Then I'll go into the studio, and play around with the steps, and find the tap vocabulary of what it is. You take it part by part. It takes a while to work on the steps, to figure out what you're actually going to do on the steps. That's the fun part: coming up with it.
The harder part is teaching it and getting it on the stage, because you have to know it so well, that you're actually not thinking about it anymore. To make it not look like work, takes some work. It is all fun in itself. The ability to be creative and do creative work is always fun.
EH: In "Ain't Misbehavin'," you included some Bob Fosse choreography.
CGP: I love Bob Fosse. His style is so interesting, how simplistic it is. One little isolated move says so much. If you move your hand this way it says something, and another way it's completely different. A step has so many different levels. I love that about him. He was all about telling a story through dance.
EH: Do you travel a lot? Tell me a little about your lifestyle.
CGP: I have been traveling and doing shows, and coming here and doing shows for half the year, and a lot of shows in Florida. I just like traveling and seeing the country. You get a chance to work at different places, to see how different places work, and take that with you.
I love what I do. There is no other job that allows you to meet different people, and get together with people that you would probably never meet in your life, and somehow create magic together, and make the perfect two hours.
EH: What makes a great play?
CGP: A great play changes something in your soul. It brings you into another world. You haven't left the theater, but you feel like you went somewhere. It makes you see things from a different perspective and inspires you.
"Ain't Misbehavin'" plays through Aug. 31. Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays (no show July 4), with Sunday brunch matinees 1 p.m., at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, First and Hargadine streets, Ashland. For tickets and information, visit www.oregoncabaret.com or call 541-488-2902.
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.