Christopher George Patterson, currently starring in "Ain't Misbehavin'" at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, is also directing OCT's next production, "Backwards in High Heels." Patterson and I recently got together at the Standing Stone Brewing Co. This is the second of a two-part interview.
CGP: We are in preproduction for the next show, "Backwards in High Heels." We'll go into rehearsal in August. It's about Ginger Rogers, who is known for movies and Broadway. It's going to bring people back to old Hollywood. It has a lot of Gershwin tunes in it. It has a lot of that beautiful song and dance that we don't see any more live on stage.
The funny thing about the title is: She used to say that she could do everything that Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire could do, but she had to always do it backwards in high heels. It means so many things, as a woman in that time period, to have the opportunity to be on the big screen and be paid less than men. It's about her life, relationships, the struggles she had in Hollywood, and how she became a star. She had a naiveté, but she was a tough cookie.
EH: What is your process? What do you do when you get a script?
CGP: I usually read it maybe four times. The first time, I just read it to see what it's about. Then I'll read it again. I'll take it part-by-part: What's the tone? What is the music saying? How are you going to make the music tell the tale? How are the transitions happening to keep it interesting? Then you start looking at the practical sense of how it's going to happen. What do I visualize the set looking like? What are the colors of the costumes?
Dance is the vocabulary that you use. Certain shows are Broadway choreography. Some shows are what we call hoofer choreography, taken from the African-American culture. "Backwards in High Heels" bridges both the Broadway and hoofer choreography, because Ginger Rogers was a pretty fierce hoofer.
EH: How would you define a great director?
CGP: A great director has a solid vision, a clear idea of the story they're trying to tell, and is able to communicate that to many different people. You have to be a jack-of-all-trades and yet not excellent at all of them. Sometimes, it's not always having the best idea. You have your designers that have great ideas, but it's being able to take the best of everybody's world and bring it into one.
You have to leave the creative process to the people around you to build it. We artists are a very sensitive and interesting group of people. You almost have to be a good psychologist, because you're dealing with personalities and big personalities at times.
You have to be a ring leader and say, "OK, this is what we're going to try to do." You have to be able to find a home ground for everyone, so that everyone feels a part of the process. As an actor, you have to be able to take chances, take risks, and make mistakes, and to be naked with your emotions. A good director lets you do that.
When I'm directing, I'm looking for people who have a spark, who can take the script to the next level and embody a character or take a dance and breathe life into it.
"Ain't Misbehavin' " plays through Aug. 31. "Backwards in High Heels" opens Sept. 10 and plays through Nov. 9 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 email@example.com.