When "1776" opens at the Camelot Theatre, it will begin with a drum solo by Steve Sutfin, Camelot's resident drummer and photographer. A professional musician, Sutfin toured internationally, finding a home base in Ashland. Steve's iconic photos have graced Camelot's programs and the pages of local newspapers. We met at the Whistle Stop in Talent.

When "1776" opens at the Camelot Theatre, it will begin with a drum solo by Steve Sutfin, Camelot's resident drummer and photographer. A professional musician, Sutfin toured internationally, finding a home base in Ashland. Steve's iconic photos have graced Camelot's programs and the pages of local newspapers. We met at the Whistle Stop in Talent.

EH: When did you become a photographer?

SS: As a professional musician, I took up photography so I could starve in a second art form.

EH: You contribute your time and talent to the Camelot Theatre. Why?

SS: I believe in the theater. I love playing music in the theater. I've been in bands for 45 years, playing rock 'n' roll and blues and traveling. I got tired of it. I found I liked hanging around with actors better than I did with musicians. They're a little bit more intellectual and witty. Musicians are fun, I am one. It was a natural evolution for me. It's something I want to do. I like theater.

Theater people work so hard for so little. In the theater, each show provides a diversity of music; I thrive on that. It allows me to use the skills I have and to develop more. I love the skill challenge, the music and the people. I like the work ethic. I appreciate the work that's put in to get the product. It's absolutely a labor of love. You couldn't do it any other way.

Community theater has to have a family feeling. It's about personalities that fit together and enjoy coming up with the whole package, with as little stress as possible. That's the fun of it. That's how we've made the Camelot Theatre for the last 10 years. It's been successful because of the passion involved. There's no room for egos. You always read about prima donnas, but nobody likes to work with them, because there's no time for that. You haven't got time to dink around with people who aren't having a good time. This is community theater, and just like communities, it's about the people involved.

The diversity of music feeds my soul. It's a lot of reading, starting, stopping and paying attention. If I don't have something to strive for, I fall asleep. I always want something challenging that I can't do. It makes me work.

We've done a lot of Sondheim, which is probably about as challenging as you can get. Everybody was struggling with it, but it was a real growth experience. "Gypsy" was a lot of fun, because that was stripper music (I could kind of rock out there) and a lot of variety. Even the spotlights are just great songs. That's what surprises me, and that's why I like it. It stretches my skill level and my thought processes. It's just all good to me. We're all having a good time now; I hope I can do it for a lot longer.

EH: It's seems Camelot Theatre has retained people over time. Is there a magic to that?

SS: It comes back to Livia (Genise, the artistic director). To me, it is the house that Livia built; it's her style. She's great. I'd follow her into fire. She gives all of the actors room. Being in community theater, you have some people who are good, medium and new. She works with all of them, because that's what community theater is. That is what makes people stay, because it is a safe place to be honest and learn and grow.

"1776" plays June 20 through July 22. For information and reservations, call 541-535-5250 or visit 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 evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.