Community supports theater

A warehouse in an aging, industrial part of Medford is rapidly turning into a community theater and arts center — with emphasis on the word "community."

The Randall Theatre Company is staging its second production, "Scots on the Rocks," a spoof on Shakespeare's Macbeth, in a warehouse behind Pronto Print on West Third and Front streets.

The company received a shot in the arm last month when the Medford Urban Renewal Agency awarded the fledgling theater company a $30,000 grant to upgrade the warehouse.

"The support from the community for the theater is what got us the money," said Robin Downward, artistic director and founder of the Randall Theatre. "I was told we had the highest community response (for MURA funding), mainly through emails and letters."

The grant is being used to upgrade the warehouse interior, one that six months ago was more suitable for housing boxes than theater patrons.

"We needed to upgrade the space to at least a Class B occupancy," Downward explained of the plan for spending MURA funds. "So we're improving the wiring, the doors, the bathrooms and emergency lighting."

For nearby restaurants and stores, a new theater could be just the ticket to more business.

"Although this won't create jobs, it will bring more people to downtown," said Scott Henselman, Medford businessman and a former member of MURA's budget committee.

Downward has received financial help from two other sources. The playwright waived royalty fees for "Scots on the Rocks," and the warehouse rent comes at a bargain price.

"The timing was right, and I knew he was doing it on a shoestring," said Arnie Klott, owner of the warehouse and the adjacent Pronto Print. "It's amazing to watch Robin transform the warehouse. He's got the energy you like to see in a down economy."

Other local theater companies have embraced the Randall Theatre, as well, Downward said.

"Livia Genise and the Camelot Theater have been incredibly supportive, and they're donating their old concession counter," said Downward. "Peter Alzado from (the former) Oregon Stage Works got us the seats from an old movie theater."

Each of the plush donated seats has a cup holder, and Downward encourages patrons to eat and drink during shows. He hopes this will create a more relaxed, intimate theater experience.

During intermission, Downward doubles as the concessions manager. Managing Director Rob Pendell runs the lights and sound. The current production has been staged by a small core group, one that Downward hopes will grow.

"These are all local people, and we're getting as many people who want to be involved, involved," says Downward. "This is theater of the community, by the community, but more important, for the community."

Many of the audience members during opening weekend had a personal connection to the actors.

"My father and my two kids were there and my former mother-in-law played one of the witches," said Sabrina Baugh, whose portrayal of Lady Macbeth as a cross-dresser proved a real crowd pleaser.

Baugh attended nearby Jackson Elementary and McLoughlin Middle School, so she's as local as you can get.

"This is my first production in five years; I've really missed it," said Baugh. "I'm developing my craft here. I'd like to be in Actor's Equity and maybe make my living as an actor."

Playing opposite Baugh in the title role of Macbeth is retired English and theater professor Grant Shepard. At 95 years of age, Shepard is the most experienced and oldest member of the cast.

"In my 20 years in the Rogue Valley, I've been in or directed 33 productions," Shepard recalled.

And though Shepard wasn't involved in community theater during his working career, he's been acting for a long time.

"I was in my first theater production when I was 6, in 1922," Shepard said. "It's my avocation."

For more information, see www.randalltheatre.com.

The final showings of "Scot on the Rocks" are on July 22, 23 and 24.

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org

Share This Story