Bob Jackson Miner plays Avram Cohen in "Rags," continuing through Sunday at the Camelot Theatre in Talent.
Bob Jackson Miner plays Avram Cohen in "Rags," continuing through Sunday at the Camelot Theatre in Talent. Perhaps you saw his remarkable performance in "1776," "Shenandoah" or "Gigi"? A native of El Paso, Texas, Bob studied music and theater at the University of Texas while performing progressive country music in nightclubs. He came to Ashland to perform with the Oregon Cabaret Theatre and stayed. One morning, at his spacious music/video studio in Ashland, we talked about the actor, the audience and the wonderful ride of theater.
BJM: From the moment we start, the audience is absolutely, actively part of the artistic experience in theater. It is a relationship established between the artists on stage and the viewers in the audience. Their emotional input is actually the wave we ride. We can stir up the emotional wave, and we can ride it; but we do not own it. The audience owns it every bit as much as we do. Once they're in, they're like a cast member in the sense of what we co-create. It's different every night because every audience is different.
EH: How do you create your characters?
BJM: I find that I do my best when I have created a thorough back story, so that when I say a line, it's highly informed with emotional imagery in my mind. With "Shenandoah," I created a back story, every detail of this man's life, what happened to shape the choices he made.
I approach a role with: "Who is this character? What does every line mean to me?" I'm always looking for: "What is the truth in this moment for this character?" As the character: "What do I want? What's in my way? How can I get what I want from this situation?"
EH: What attracts us to theater?
BJM: For me it's that every character in the show represents some element of my own psyche, some element of my own subconscious. I get to see myself played out in all of these ways, and it quickens something in my emotional experience so that I feel. As I feel and go on this ride (that is the show), I totally lose consciousness of self. While I'm immersed in the show, I have a reprieve from all problems in my life, and I'm on this emotional ride, and in the moment. The experience of going into the moment through this emotional transition is totally alluring and has a quality of bringing me in touch with myself.
On stage, we are always working to get out of our heads, and into our bodies, and into the moment. We have to memorize the lines and get past that. That's when the real work starts. Beyond that, you have to get into the relationships between the characters. The magic of the scene always happens in your scene partner's eyes, and it always happens now.
It's wonderful to work with people in multiple situations over time because we create a depth of field in our understanding of ourselves in relationship to each other and our understanding of each other.
The actor, who gets into the body and lives the emotion, with the memory already taking care of itself, is part of the ride. Then it's new; it's fresh every single night. That's the art. We have to memorize, and then let go of what we've memorized, and then live, and let the memory go way to the back seat, and let the right brain and the kinesthetic body experience of the moment prevail. We're on that ride with the audience every night.
For tickets and more information on "Rags," call 541-535-5250 or see www.camelottheatre.org.
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.