Backstage: Theater more important than ever

    Kyle Haden, artistic director of the Ashland New Plays Festival, is distinctly qualified to (as he put it), “help lead” the community-based organization now in its 25th year. After earning his MFA from Columbia University, Haden acted at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for several years, and is still active in its Education Department. Haden taught at Southern Oregon University for three years and is currently on the faculty of Chicago’s Roosevelt University. This is the second of a two-part column. The first was published on Jan. 11.
    EH: What is it about the medium of theater that some of us find so engaging?
    KH: It is an immediate two-way conversation. I actually feel that theater is going to become more important as we progress in the 21st century. Film and TV are one-way communication. People have worked hard to craft a moment: To make it look exactly the way they want; to have the special effects; the explosions; the sounds. It’s fantastic, but it never changes.
    Face-to-face interaction is right there in theater. It’s two-way communication. As an audience member, the things you find funny, the things you find sexy, the things you find scary: You are giving me (the actor) all that information in real time. My performance is being changed by this. The performance that I give on Thursday night is going to be completely different than the performance that I give on Friday night, because there is a completely different group of people in the audience, and they’re going to be affected in a completely different way. The art is the same art, but the art changes all of the time.
    There is something so fantastically human about an audience, watching actual people tell a story in real time. Even though technology is so great, and it allows us to do so many things, there’s still a barrier there. We still can’t quite reach through it and touch a person. Here you can. Theater lets you do that.
    I feel that we’re on the brink of theater becoming even more important because of that. I think that we need to look at how we let people access it, to make sure that it’s not something that only “rich” people can do, only “cultured” people can do. We’ve got to look at ways that people can access it. But I feel that theater is going to be an important part of the 21st century, because it gives us something that other entertainment mediums can’t.
    There are more playwrights out there than ever before who are trying to get their work done, and there is more of an interest in new work. We (at ANPF) are hoping to get to a point where we can be a place where we workshop plays. We are lucky to be in Ashland, with a core group of readers and volunteers who are passionate about theater and love being part of the process of creating new plays.
    We are also in a town with a ton of literate theater-goers who are passionate about plays. I think that there’s an audience for people seeing plays that are in process. I would love to see us get to is where we workshop plays in front of a safe and friendly, knowledgeable audience. I feel that’s a real service that we can do. That’s the long term hope. It’s about the process of creating.
    The Ashland New Plays Festival runs Oct. 19 to 23, 2016. The submission period for ANPF 2017 will begin in June 2016. The ANPF Women’s Invitational runs March 25–27. For tickets and information, visit, or call 541-488-7995.
    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
    Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and was a founding cast member at San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at

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