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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Oregon Cabaret Theatre celebrates 30 years!

A Magical Place

Oregon Cabaret Theatre celebrates 30 years!

Story by Lee Juillerat 

Photography provided by Oregon Cabaret Theatre

 

Changes are happening at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, but, fittingly, the new owners are in step with audiences and the theater's tradition of producing high-energy musicals while adding thought-provoking dramas.

“There's so much the Cabaret was doing that has worked,” says artistic director Valerie Rachelle, who bought the downtown Ashland theater with her husband, Rick Robinson. “It's worked for 30 years. We don't want to throw that out the window.” 

“This place is magic. We can do great things here,” agrees Robinson.

The Oregon Cabaret is celebrating its 30th year in the Old Pink Church in Ashland, but the celebration was muted by last summer's unexpected death of its founder, Jim Giancarlo, who guided the company successfully through its first 29 years of existence.

It was a quicker than planned transition. Robinson, 41, and Rachelle, 39, learned in early 2014 that Giancarlo, who served as the theater's artistic director, was retiring and planned to sell the theater. Rachelle, who directed 2012's Winter Wonderettes at the Cabaret, remembers she had jokingly told Giancarlo, “Call me if you ever retire.” Although she and Robinson had reached a verbal agreement to buy the theater, the sale had not been finalized with Giancarlo.

“It wasn't something we planned, and here we are,” says Rachelle, who directed the Cabaret's recent, highly acclaimed production of Cabaret.

Robinson, initially cool to buying the Cabaret, changed his tune after making a weekend visit from Los Angeles. “I wasn't gung ho,” he admits, noting his thoughts changed after meeting Giancarlo and the theater staff. “I came out to visit Jim for a weekend. It (the Cabaret) is such a lovely place. It has an old school charm. My reticence became enthusiasm.”

Giancarlo's death, and the groundswell of mourning that followed, became part of the challenge. 

“You could feel it. You could feel it in the community,” Robinson says of the sense of surprise, grief and loss evoked by Giancarlo's passing. “That responsibility became crystal clear to Val and me.”

The legacy has been honored with a trio of praised productions already offered. The season launched in February with a dazzling Dames at Sea, the same show that opened the Cabaret in August 1986. That was followed by Musical of Musicals (the musical!), and the summer production of Cabaret. The anniversary season's final offering will be A Christmas Carol.

While Rachelle has directed more than 60 plays and musicals as a freelance director—and also developed and premiered 17 original works and received several directing awards—Robinson is better known for his business background. For the past decade Robinson has designed and implemented websites and online projects. But on the creative side he was a founding producer of Lucid by Proxy, a Los Angeles based theater company, and worked as a playwright, actor, screenwriter and film director. He has had eight plays produced in Los Angeles, with one, Asymmetry, published by Samuel French. His plays have been performed in Vancouver, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, the Midwest and Off Broadway.

Robinson was key in doing audience surveys on what plays Cabaret patrons want to see. “For the most part my job is to get people in the building,” he says. While the schedule for next season's productions won't be announced until this fall, he concedes, “We're putting on four shows audiences want to see, and one that says, 'Trust us.' ”

“It was really, really interesting to see what people wanted. To see where our audiences are at,” agrees Rachelle.

While the Cabaret has a reputation as a place people come to escape and be entertained, Robinson and Rachelle emphasize they plan occasional shows, like Cabaret, that will challenge audiences. Robinson says he's studying the possibility of writing a panto, an English-style holiday show that features wacky humor, cross-dressing, puns and area-specific humor—a form of comedy favored by Giancarlo that has delighted past audiences—for some future Christmas offering.

“That's going to be the majority of what we do,” he says of musicals. “We also want to do occasional shows that have weight. We want to produce cool, interesting things. We want people to know we're working very hard. That's what gets us up in the morning.”

“Quality, that's our goal,” echoes Rachelle. “To do shows that have a message and are well done.”

 

For information about the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, visit their website at www.oregoncabaret.com or call 541-488-2902. The Cabaret also offers gourmet dining, which is not included in the ticket price. Reservations are required for dinner or brunch, but are not necessary for starters, desserts and beverages.

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