Throughout the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2010 season, actress Lisa McCormick captivated audiences as the lovable Amalia Balash in the musical "She Loves Me." Before McCormick left to pursue her career in New York, she took some time to meet with me at Allyson's Kitchen with her uncle and mentor, Robert McCormick.

Throughout the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2010 season, actress Lisa McCormick captivated audiences as the lovable Amalia Balash in the musical "She Loves Me." Before McCormick left to pursue her career in New York, she took some time to meet with me at Allyson's Kitchen with her uncle and mentor, Robert McCormick.

EH: What attracts you to a life in the theater?

LM: From a young age, what drew me to theater were the people, the home that I found among a group of people who were similarly minded, artistically minded. But, as I've gotten older, I've found that what has been carrying me through is having a perspective that I wanted to share, having a story that demands to be told. And it's a different story every time.

I think that there's a line through all of these things. I enjoy women who have a great deal of vulnerability, and in that great strength, who are not afraid to be afraid and move forward.

The deeper my life experience has become, the more I have traveled, the more I've loved and lost, the deeper my experience becomes not only of my life, but also my art. That journey is deepening and continuing to deepen. It's almost like a Chinese finger trap; the further my finger goes in, the harder it is to get out. I'm just stuck, and I'm falling more and more in love with it every day.

RM: Theater is one big organism where there are two hearts. There's the heart of the audience, and the heart of what's on stage. Two hearts pulsing, in a metaphorical way; and the audience is just as important as the actors.

Actors, who have been doing Broadway roles for years, eight times a week, are often asked, "How can you keep it alive?" This simple answer is, "It's the first time they've seen it."

You are performing to people who have never seen it before, and that's where the life occurs. The actors breathe their life from that. And the audience is seeing a group of people out there doing something live, putting their asses on the line, completely vulnerable to making horrible mistakes, and capable of transforming your life by doing something amazing.

But it's live; stuff happens when it's live. There's danger constantly possible and that wonderful edge when you're watching live performances. It's getting drawn to that immediate interaction with other live human beings that's the allure on both sides of the equation. I think audiences must understand they are the life force driving and igniting the actors.

LM: When you have that positive communication between an audience and an actor, it lifts the whole thing up. In their hands is the power, the possibility, with their focus and attention, to help raise those actors to the best performance that they can possibly give.

But to speak particularly to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Bill Rauch, the artistic director, has got a nice sense of the spectrum of the theatrical experience and the demographic of the United States.

I think what draws artists to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is an incredible artistic community, the respect that the actors have here from the administrative staff, and also the demand for our creative input. Here we are encouraged to be active participants in play selection, asked for our advice as to how to make it better, and how to improve the lives of the actors and of people backstage. Because that is a constant conversation, it feeds an artistic garden. It's very nurturing and fertilizing for great art to be grown. And I think the audiences know that; they're coming to see that again and again.

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 evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.