Backstage with Evalyn Hansen: Eve Smyth and Kate Sullivan are in their fifth year of a lively partnership as directors of the Ashland Children's Theatre.
"It's not about how great any one person is, you are in this together to create a story for the audience."
— Eve Smyth, actress, director, and writer, Ashland Children's Theatre
I met Eve Smyth and Kate Sullivan at their sunny storefront office of Oregon Stage Works. The ladies are in their fifth year of a lively partnership as directors of the Ashland Children's Theatre. Both Kate and Eve are actresses; they are currently understudies at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Both sport Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater arts, Kate, from the University of Hawaii, and Eve, from San Francisco State University. Eve is the playwright for many of the shows; they view theater as storytelling.
Ashland Children's Theatre is an important part of Oregon Stage Works' programming. It came about when Eve, Kate and artistic director Peter Alzado found they had a similar vision.
During our conversation, Kate and Eve pointed out the tremendous community effort that goes into production of the children's shows from backstage help, to costume construction, to props, to box office and support of all kinds. They have virtually no production budget, so mounting a play becomes a huge team effort.
ES: Theater is such a community art form anyway. It's a joint venture, and then when you do it with children you need even more of that support. The parents are amazing; we put out the call and people show up with things for everybody, not just for their own children. Everybody is trying to serve the story.
The Ashland Children's Theatre is a virtual beehive of activity with a variety of classes for all ages throughout the year, including summer camps. Their spring session offers: Make Believe Explorers — ages 4-6, Creative Improvisation — ages 6-8, Improvisation Fun — ages 9-11, A Scene Study Class, with Peter Alzado — ages 10 — 17, Adult Improvisation and Family Improvisation.
EH: What does acting in theater teach children?
KS: The skills learned in theater are great skills for life. The ethic of being there, no matter what, and being there for the greater good, for the show, is an amazing ethic that I don't know exists everywhere.
ES: There are probably some sports where it is comparable. You show up for the team, it's about the team, it's huge.
KS: The way that they participate for each other and support one another, and really are about the story and the audience, and giving the gift of themselves to this greater effort; it's amazing.
ES: I tell them, "Your job as actors is to tell the story together. And that means even if you don't have lines in a particular scene but you are on stage, you are still helping to tell the story by giving it your focus and energy. It's not about how great any one person is, you are in this together to create a story for the audience."
KS: We do all of our classes on stage.
ES: The last class is always a performance.
ES: There are sound cues and light cues, and the audience comes in. There is the "magic of theater moment," this magical moment for it all to become part of them. The audience's energy pulls them into a place of "groundedness" that sometimes you didn't think was possible, and yet it is.
KS: Some of our young actors participate in our main stage productions; some recent students are performing over at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Next on the horizon for Ashland Children's Theatre (supported by the Sangham Foundation) is a touring company that will visit community centers and schools, along with coordinated workshops.
KS: We never want to turn a child away. There are children who cannot pay for classes but need to be here. We are always trying to make that happen, whether it is gathering scholarship money or getting shows underwritten, so that we can provide that service to all children who need or want to be here.