Actor G. Valmont Thomas brilliantly portrays Sir John Falstaff in “Henry IV, Part One,” now playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He will also play Falstaff in “Henry IV, Part Two.” This is Thomas’ 14th season with OSF. A native of the Pacific Northwest, Thomas took time out from his acting career to earn an MFA in Directing for the Theater from Pennsylvania State University. We met at Boulevard Coffee in Ashland. This is the first of a two-part interview. The second will be published on June 26.
EH: Why do people make their life in theater?
GVT: It’s different for everybody, but most theater artists have an altruistic streak. I don’t find what we do that much different from psychology, psychiatry or religion, because we are dealing with these four questions: “Who am I? What the heck am I doing here? What am I supposed to do when I’m here?” and “How do I know when I’m doing it right?” Those are the things that we deal with everyday. I believe that I’m helping the world deal with itself. A lot of theater people feel that they can help heal. We feel that we are the agents of healing. And right now, it’s very prevalent among us.
EH: As far as politics go?
GVT: As far as this country goes. Our country is very sick, and nobody has the prescription. So many people are making money off of the sickness that they don’t want our country to get well. It’s these runaway judgments (on television and such) that people make about each other. I think that’s gone haywire. I think that we’re back now to where people are feeling that they can judge which race, which economic strata or religion is best. That’s what fuels hatred: “If I judge you, I can get rid of you.”
There are many people in the Rogue Valley that do not enjoy the fact that there are other races here than white. During my first two years here, I was pulled over eight times driving from here to Medford. In my second season, I went down to the Ashland police station, introduced myself, and said, “If you see me out late at night, I’m probably going home.”
EH: What are elements of a great play?
GVT: Truth about the human condition. The truth of a play makes it great. There are truths in “Othello,” about human beings, which people don’t want to look at. Very often great plays are about things that we don’t like about ourselves.
What makes a play good is — for the largest percentage of people — being able to watch the play and imagine some moment or person in their lives — so that they have a way into the story.
EH: How does an actor grow?
GVT: If you want to know your character (that you’re putting on stage) you’ve got to spend some time getting to know yourself. One of the reasons I like doing theater is that I learn a lot about different people. And my empathetic profile has gotten wider and wider, because with every person I see, I can say, “OK. What could be the story there?” I have so many possibilities in my head. I like using people that I see in my life. There are people who are mysteries to me.
William Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part One,” directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, plays through Oct. 28. “Henry IV, Part Two,” directed by Carl Cofield, opens July 8 and runs through Oct. 29, in the Thomas Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. For tickets and information, call 800-219-8161 or visit osfashland.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 cast member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.