Backstage with Evalyn Hansen
"There is a truth to theater that you may not see out on the street."
— Peter Alzado,
Oregon Stage Works
As we sat in the darkened theater on a sunny day, Peter expanded on his vision of theater and the release of the soul.
EH: You have two plays coming up in the next season: "Golden Boy" by Clifford Odets and "Glen Garry Glen Ross" by David Mamet. What attracted you to present those plays?
PA: Both plays deal with the downside of the American economic system. I'm all there with free enterprise, but I think, taken as far as it can go, it becomes cannibalism, and we are seeing that now. There needs to be free market but there also needs to be a recognition that we're all human and we need to treat each other in a fashion that respects that money is not the end of everything: the be-all and end-all. That's what has brought us to the place we are now.
Both plays deal with American business and the world of money and the ferocious and voracious desire to get things. Odets has a muscular quality, a rough-edged quality to his writing that is filled with life and passion. Mamet too, the dialogue, the rhythms in it, the life in it, and the specificity of it, it's just great writing.
For an actor, if the writer has done his or her job well, and the actor doesn't layer things on the text, the "character" will appear. Working that way gives you a certain texture to a performance. That may mean when you are working on a role that it's not going to be a flashy deal. It's not going to be the thing that people walk out of the theater talking about, but it will have a sense of truth to it that supports the play and supports the production.
There is a truth to theater that you may not see out on the street. If you see great performances, those performances may not be, and usually aren't, the pedestrian realness that you find on the street. But there is a truth, a specificity that can happen on stage given the material, given the production that can be extraordinarily exhilarating that may not be "real." It's within the story and it is within a quest for truth, and for an expansive truth, for a truth that somehow inspires us, and bypasses our protective armor, and goes right to the meaning of who we are. And that may not be what's real. It may be something extraordinary and unexpected. And I think that unexpected extraordinariness needs to function in our theater more.
There can be a powerful theatricality to the theater, and if you can underpin that theatricality with a sense of truth you can have something very exciting. I think it has to do with a greater insight into a particular moment, and a willingness to go with that insight, and willingness to expand within that insight, that sense of flight, the big breath, that expansive moment. It transcends everything and it goes right to the heart of the matter. That doesn't mean it needs to be a big moment. It does mean that it needs to be incisive, full and penetrating!
It has to do with offering that force of life within a particular moment. When you see it on stage, the room spins and there's no difference between anybody sitting in that room and that actor and that author. When that happens, you'll go to the theater forever because you want it again. And I think it releases the soul, those moments. And it releases the soul of the actor and the audience. You have to have the writing that allows you to do that.
If you can work with actors who have a sense of that, and want it, and want the taste of it, and aren't afraid of it, because it requires a vulnerability, it requires a leap of faith for those moments of extraordinary insight that are passed on to the audience.