ASHLAND, Ore. -- Theater artists working in Los Angeles can expect scant rewards: nominal pay, minimal recognition, and every now and then another gig because someone liked their work onstage. Typically, though, that new job is another low-paying theater assignment.
That is, until one of your colleagues takes over one of the largest professional theaters in the country, with a budget of more than $25 million and hundreds of roles to fill onstage and behind the scenes. This is exactly what happened in 2007, when Bill Rauch left downtown-L.A.-based Cornerstone Theater Company to become artistic director of the venerable Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Rauch promptly began to make changes to diversify the acting company and the audience, to commission new work on contemporary themes — and to bring in some of his favorite colleagues from the L.A. trenches.
Indeed, on a recent week in the sleepy, sunny southern Oregon town of Ashland (pop. 21,000), you couldn't turn around without running into a familiar face from the L.A. theater world.
Tracy Young, the savvy writer-director who generated some of the best work at the Actors’ Gang in the 1990s and early aughts ("Hysteria," "Euphoria," "Dreamplay"), was in town to direct early readings of "The Imaginary Invalid," which will bow next season in a commedia adaptation by herself and Oded Gross; the pair had a hit here last year with their irreverent take on "The Servant of Two Masters." Ken Roht, director-choreographer of the annual 99-Cents holiday show at the Bootleg Theatre, was in town to lend his dance-making skills to Young’s work, as he has to several shows in Ashland, including the currently running "American Night: The Ballad of Juan José."
That last play, which Reed Johnson wrote about in the Monday Calendar section, is written by and features members of the L.A.-based Chicano comedy trio Culture Clash (and it was hard to miss the sight of bearded, long-haired, heavily tattooed Clash member Richard Montoya around this mostly white town).
Also appearing in "American Night" is another former Actors’ Gangster: the actress Kate Mulligan, one of Young’s longtime muses, first hired in Ashland in 2007 along with her husband, actor Brent Hinkley.