Backstage with Evalyn Hansen: Playwright Patrick Devon finds his inspiration for his witty dialogue as a dresser backstage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Playwright Patrick Devon finds his inspiration for his witty dialogue as a dresser backstage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. An invitation from Libby Appel brought Devon to Ashland five years ago.
A graduate of the University of London in art history and theater, Devon workshops his plays with OSF actors at the Black Swan. As we sat in the empty Elizabethan Stage one afternoon, we chatted about his experience of coming to Ashland and writing for theater.
PD: The lure of taking that writing and being able to see it with this quality of actors was just overwhelming. It's such a good thing to see the whole show go up. Everyone is very kind. The less you put your ego in it, the more those actors will save you. If you have actors on your side, your stuff will go.
I'm usually most comfortable writing backstage at a show. The creative forces are happening all around. I get my ideas when I'm here, and then I go home and sort them out. Actors are so overdeveloped as far as their literary senses that any sort of premise that you might be thinking about — I've never once set down one of my premises for a play, where someone has said, "Oh, that's weird, or that's dumb." They'd say, "Hmmm, "I think it needs work." That's very kind. Or they say, "What happens? Good premise, it's not going very far." And we always have Mr. Shakespeare to say, "Hey, the twin thing. How far can that go?" He certainly stretches it. You can too. He takes unbelievable situations, and we buy it. It's fascinating.
EH: I hear your play "Katinka" has found some popularity in Europe?
PD: "Katinka" is one of those Noel Coward-like plays: funny situation/witty banter. I think we need that kind of thing these days in our society for the way our economy is. That's how screwball comedies were born, through the Depression — escapism and watching fun actors doing fun things and everybody gets a joke. The lead is also an actress of mixed race. I think that's important to show too.
EH: How does theater affect the personal family dynamic?
PD: I think that we're cut from a different cloth. People don't get jobs year after year. A lot of people would say, "Oh, you're away from each other for so many months?" I think we're just used to it. It just is. And since you're hopefully in theater, you shrug your shoulders and say, "It's too bad, but it just is." It must be very difficult with children.
EH: What is it about the theater that draws us all to it?
PD: I had forgotten for so long what it was like to be to be someplace where you are all cut from the same cloth in very different ways. And to constantly be with those people who are sort of like you and suffer from too much imagination. It's like an addiction. And to have these interesting conversations where — we do talk about politics and this and that — but there's so much literature and information and new ideas. Theater people are interested in culture and human nature. Everyone likes stories, and I think that it's the addiction to storytelling and being with other storytellers.
The whole extended family thing is also irresistible, you're so in each other's faces, and the forced intimacy, which we're just so used to; it's just our lives. It's lovely. All those things together, it's addictive.
"Anthology The First Plays" by Patrick Devon is available at the Tudor Guild Gift Shop at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She has a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's degree from San Francisco State University. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre, and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at email@example.com.