The show’s not over till the playhouse caves in! Interview with OCT’s Valerie Rachelle

For those haven’t heard, the Oregon Cabaret Theatre (OCT) is putting on The Play That Goes Wrong, the comedic tragedy of the Rogue Valley Drama Society’s valiant attempt to put on a murder-mystery play– no matter what (or who) falls flat on its face. The Siskiyou reached out to OCT’s Valerie Rachelle for an interview. Alongside being the OCT’s Artistic Director, Rachelle worked as the Theater Director for The Play That Goes Wrong and is an SOU Theatre Department Faculty member teaching Musical Theater. 

We started off the interview with a simple question (some definitions, more so):

What does an Artistic Director do?

“Artistic Directors are in charge of the artistic side of the business, hiring designers, directors, choreographers, and casting. I also oversee the budgets for productions, choose seasons for the theater, the theater’s mission statement, and artistic vision, etc. Alongside that, I work with the Executive and Managing director, who are essentially the business and money people, to support the artistic vision. 

What do Theater Directors do?

“Theater Directors oversee one show. They choose the piece’s vision and work with designers to capture that vision on stage through costuming, lights and sound, props, choreography, projection, etc. As well, they work with actors to perform the show in the world the directors and designers have created.”

How did being the Artistic Director and Theater Director for the show influence production?

“I think the biggest influence of directing the company, where I am also the Artistic Director, is that I have more power to choose where to spend or save money. For example, when I am directing at other companies, I have to ask to change the budget if something unexpected pops up, but at my own theater I can decide ‘let’s not spend money on that, and instead spend it on this…’”

How did rehearsals work? How was designing/planning the show?

“This show is very prescriptive. This show is a little different from others, as there’s less artistic leeway; you have to design that set to do what it needs to do, physically. There are so many details involved in that kind of play. Just like Noises Off or any farce or comedy, what the actors, the scenic, and the physical life of the show are, it’s right there in the script; it’s not like we have a lot of leeways to create something new. Creating those beats and comic timing is what I was mostly doing as a director, more than ‘what does this mean? Is this an emotional breakthrough?’

Depending on the kind of play, that’s the director’s job is to guide the theme. Let’s say [from a director’s perspective] I want the audience to leave the theater wanting to call their mom. Every choice we make as a design team has to go towards that. For this show, I wanted the audience to get that these actors in the play are trying their hardest to get the play going– and that’s where the comedy lies: they never give up, even when everything falls apart.”

Working with comedy can be hard at times, as you have to know the audience, or really make the jokes work.

“This play though, everyone finds funny. There’s not a lot of taste involved in this humor, it’s physical slapstick farce. We watch videos all the time of people slipping and falling or getting hit in the crotch with a soccer ball, and we find as humans– in general, no matter what culture– we find that funny. It’s way more about timing and physical action of the comedy.”

Was the Detective’s interaction with the audience improvised?

“Yes, and it’s written in the script. It says, ‘keep looking for the ledger until the audience responds,’ and the actor gets to choose how they respond. If the audience doesn’t talk to him, he has to figure out a way to find the ledger. In rehearsals, some days we would talk as if we were the audience, and others we would be silent so he could practice how to find the ledger without the audience. It’s done differently every time.”

How has the audience reception been?

“Amazing. We’re selling out every seat. We don’t normally sell out at this time of year, because January and February are usually a quieter time in Ashland, yet we’re selling out every seat.”

For the Techies, were the actors portraying the stage crew actual techies, or were they actors?

“They’re all actors. Elliot, the gentleman who runs out to give the ledger too late, he is an actor, but most of his stuff is stage crew.”

Has the Cabaret’s space limited the show’s design?

“Of course! The designers– The scenic designers, especially– have to be really creative when it comes to designing in that space. So, I have 24 feet across and 20 feet from the back to the front, but I have 32 feet from bottom to top with no fly [rigging] systems. The designers have to be very careful about how they design in that space for sight lines, space, and technical needs. Our set is very ‘V’-shaped, and if you look at the Broadway set, it’s flatter and longer.”

What was your favorite part to work on?

“I really just enjoy rehearsals in general; Working with actors and designers to make the show come to life is really my favorite part of theatre.”

Any tips for aspiring artists wanting to work on a show like The Play That Goes Wrong?

“Plan ahead! It’s such a physically demanding production and takes a lot of preplanning for the set, props, costumes, sound design, etc.

To anyone in the arts, no matter what you do– don’t give up on what fills your spirit. It is possible to be a part of the arts and to feed your family.” The Siskiyou is beyond grateful to Valerie Rachelle for the interview. The Play That Goes Wrong is running at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre through the remainder of February, March, and April 2nd, so there’s plenty of time to catch the show. To the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, break legs and lose ledgers!

Leave a Reply