Valerie Rachelle met Jim Giancarlo eight years ago at the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts. As Artistic Director of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, Giancarlo was auditioning students; Rachelle was directing and choreographing for PCPA’s Theatrefest. He invited her to guest direct for OCT, but Rachelle had to decline—she would turn eight months pregnant during rehearsals for the show in question. Circumstances for her OCT debut finally clicked late in 2012 with The Winter Wonderettes.
In the meantime, after twenty-nine years at the helm of OCT, Giancarlo had begun to consider retirement. The opportunity to work with Rachelle on Wonderettes sparked his conviction that here was an artist with abundant talent and energy, who shared his original vision of cabaret as an “elegant, classy party.” He let her know he was ready to pass the torch.
When Rachelle first proposed taking over the Cabaret to her husband, Rick Robinson, it seemed out of the question. Price tag aside, how could the couple find the time? Robinson, himself a director and a playwright, also held a day-job as a technical writer. Then out of the blue, the day job disappeared leaving Robinson free to pursue his avocation unencumbered. The couple made an offer on the theatre, and it was accepted last July. The assumption was that Rachelle and Robinson would ease into operations some time in 2015. In August, to the shock and grief of everyone who knew him, Jim Giancarlo died.
What followed was a blur of sorrow and mind-boggling logistics. Rachelle was already slated to direct the OCT’s holiday play, It’s a Wonderful Life. But now the couple and their seven-year-old daughter would need to relocate permanently to Ashland as soon as possible; houses had to be sold and bought; the 2015 season had to be selected; and with the dust hanging in the air from the sudden upheaval, they still wished to implement certain new ideas for enriching the Cabaret experience.
When I spoke to Rachelle in early November, everything was under control.
Warm, accessible, and enthusiastic, she clearly took the crazy challenges of theatre in stride. It turns out she grew up in Eugene, the daughter of touring illusionists. She began ballet lessons at three and danced with the Eugene Ballet Company. She also studied voice before rounding out her talents by majoring in acting at California Institute of the Arts, then earning an MFA in Directing from UC Irvine. She met Robinson, who holds a BA in Theatre from UC Davis, in 1997, when they were both acting in summer repertory. Together this superlatively talented pair founded Lucid by Proxy, a small but acclaimed LA theatre company committed to staging new work (14 plays in eight years). Robinson’s plays have been produced nationwide and published by Samuel French. He is currently crafting a new adaptation of The Christmas Carol for OCT 2015 and hopes to enrich each season with one world premier.
The rest of the 2015 lineup sparkles with highlights, from the opening Dames at Sea, which will commemorate the Cabaret’s first production thirty years ago, to The 39 Steps, the award-winning comedy, whose recent Broadway run extended to 771 performances. For the big summer show, think Kit Kat Club. The interior of the pink church will be transformed, and the largest cast ever (10) will take the stage as the Cabaret presents Cabaret!
All shows except Dames will feature live music, and live music will accompany the pre-show dinner hour as well. Sprinkled throughout the year, a series of One Night Only Wednesdays will showcase an ambitious variety of shows, from familiar talent like the beloved Christopher George Patterson and our Rogue Suspects as well as performers from New York, Seattle, and LA.
Speaking of live music, a cooperative of local musicians is bringing to melodious life a concept that has gained enormous traction in cities around the country: the house concert. Tamara Marston and Cyd Smith were noting the dwindling of public venues in the valley for live performance when they realized that private homes or gardens offered a delightful alternative. In an intimate, comfortable setting without the noise and distractions of a restaurant or winery, artists and audiences of 20 to 30 can focus fully on the music—whether folk, classical, jazz, or world.
Last month, I nestled into a living room sofa, wine glass in hand, as guitarist, singer, and raconteur Mark Turnbull captivated his audience with original songs and stories from his life. The son of an old-style hoofer, Turnbull came of age during the resurgence of folk musicians and naturally rebelled against his father’s criteria for performance—“Is it entertainment? Are there enough jokes?” For Turnbull, the important question became, “What’s it got to say?” Turnbull’s diverse repertory succeeded in fusing this apparent either/or into a resounding both. The program ranged from a philosophical tribute to Now, that elusive edge between nostalgia and desire, to a comic ballad on the childhood perils of sliding down Cardboard Hill. After almost an hour of music, we took a break for snacks and conversation with fellow listeners, before enjoying the second half. Recommended contribution for this splendid evening was $20.
The new website www.roguevalleyhouseconcerts posts a schedule of future events. Most intriguing is the dream-come-true possibility of holding an amazing evening like this in one’s home, for either a gathering of personal friends or a wider audience. The cooperative makes the process ultra easy, shepherding would-be hosts through the logistics, offering volunteers to evaluate the space, help with rearranging furniture, and provide extra chairs.
We often talk about the importance of supporting the arts. Rogue Valley House Concerts points a way to directly support our artists.