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OSF actor Miriam Laube to relocate to New York City, movie in the works

Veteran OSF actor Miriam Laube, above, and husband Rex Young are relocating to New York City. Photo by Cynthia Smalley.

After 16 seasons with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Miriam Laube is pulling up stakes and moving to New York City with husband and veteran OSF actor Rex Young.

They are selling their Ashland home and moving back east in October. They plan to refurbish an apartment they own. They rented it out during their OSF years.

Laube will tackle a new project before the move, however. In August she will begin work on “What If,” a film directed by Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor Billy Porter.

“It’s about a high school senior boy who falls in love with a transgender girl at his school,” Laube said. “I play his mom.”

When the boy posts online about his crush, the internet encourages him to go for it. The film, part of the relaunching of Orion Pictures, will feature rising star Yasmin Finney, a 17-year-old Black trans woman from Manchester, England.

Laube hopes to return to OSF in the future.

“One of the greatest blessings of our lives,” she said, “was to be part of a company of artisans where the work is bigger than the sum of its parts.”

For last 10 years before the pandemic, Laube and Young also hosted coffees for OSF premiere members and helped host producer weekends.

“I’ll miss interviewing fellow artists,” she said, “and curating experiences for OSF patrons.”

She counts several roles among her favorites at OSF.

Her role as Witch in 2014’s “Into the Woods” is particularly memorable for two reasons.

“Amanda Dehnert directed,” she said. “I loved all of her plays, but this one stood out. And it was extra special to be on stage with Catherine Coulson.” Coulson played Stepmother, Milky White and Giant in the production. She died from complications of cancer the following year.

Another favorite was playing the courtesan Vasantasena in “The Clay Cart.” Her performance was reviewed as “radiant and charismatic” by the Oregonian. The 2008 play was directed by Bill Rauch in his first season as OSF artistic director. And Laube regards her two associate directing assignments under Rauch as gratifying collaborative experiences.

It is a mutual admiration relationship. In a previous interview, Rauch said of Laube, “as a collaborator, she has an uncanny ability to see the bigger picture. She is a total theater artist.”

A third OSF role on her list is Olivia in 2010’s “Twelfth Night.” Her husband played the stereotypical fool Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a favorite role for many noted Shakespearean actors.

The two shows for which Laube served as associate director with Rauch were “Oklahoma” and “The Pirates of Penzance.” She finds satisfaction from both disciplines.

“As an actor, you’re more focused on knowing what instrument you are,” she said. “As a director, you’re like the conductor of an orchestra. I really enjoy conducting.”

One of her most challenging roles was as Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” directed by Rauch in 2015.

“I learned something about architecture and scale,” she said.

The first scene takes place in a bedroom suite. It is an intimate scene, yet “public” in the context of the staging and reflecting the times. It is a story told mostly from Antony’s point of view in a patriarchal society in which women were subservient to men.

“When rehearsed in the Great Hall, it felt intimate,” Laube said. “But on stage the bed felt like a symbol. It allowed the audience to make judgments: ‘Oh, she’s a whore.’ It was one I wish I had double the rehearsal time.”

Laube grew up in McKeesport, part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. Her dad was from Germany and her mom from India.

When she was 5 years old, a theater moved in across the street. A piano studio where she took lessons was just down the street from the theater. I was a magic artistic triangle.

The first show she saw at the McKeesport Little Theater was “Man of La Mancha.”

“I remember the sensation of being inside the music,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on in the show, but I remember the feeling, the energy.”

These days she recaptures that sensation within the language of Shakespeare and Sondheim.

“You say those words and they have a sort of fire, a taste — they feel good in your mouth,” she said.

When she was a kid, she performed in productions such as “South Pacific” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” When she was 14, she played the title role in “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

In an ironic twist, while attending high school she was cast in “Man of La Mancha” as Aldonza, with whom the character Don Quixote falls in love.

As much as she enjoyed music and theater, she attended Boston College to study economics. The second day of school, she found out that the school was going to do “West Side Story.” She made her way down to the theater and never left. She was cast as Maria later that year, and changed her major in her junior year. She earned her MFA at the University of Minnesota.

After graduation she went straight to the Guthrie in Minneapolis and worked in repertory theater. She studied under master directors Garland Wright and Dominque Serrand.

“In ‘Nagamandala’ I was trying to add too many flourishes to my lines. Wright taught me to ‘just say the words.’ I learned you have to trust and honor the playwright’s words.”

In a play directed by Serrand, the stage was covered in sod. Serrand told her to not just see the grass, but to smell the grass. ”It was a lesson about being in the moment,” Laube said.

Later she auditioned for Milwaukee Rep, where she met Rex. A couple years later, on a drive up to Ashland to surprise his family for Christmas, he stopped at the lake near Mt. Shasta, got out of the car, dropped to one knee and proposed.

In addition to her work for OSF, Laube was in the Bollywood musical “Bombay Dreams” on Broadway in 2004, worked for several regional theater companies, and even did a stint as assistant to the senior vice president of labor relations for the NFL.

Her first OSF role was in 1996 as Yazmin in David Edgars’ “Pentecost.” She was cast in Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens” twice, in 1997 and again in 2016, a rarity because it’s so infrequently performed.

Laube recently got involved as a senior producer for Play On Podcasts, which creates audio productions of Play On’s Shakespeare “translations.” It is funded by the Hitz Foundation and hosted by Next Chapter Podcasts.

The translations are not a literal explanation of what’s going on. “Our mission is to create performable companion pieces,” said Lue Douthit, Play On creative director and former OSF production dramaturg. “They are new plays in that way.”

The plays are performed with original music and feature the voices of many noted artists, some of whom are OSF actors. “I’m really proud to be a part of these,” Laube said.

To listen to “Macbeth” and “Pericles” (episode 7 came out last week), and learn more about the podcasts, go to ncpodcasts.com/playonpodcast.

Laube is looking forward to the next chapter of her life, bittersweet as the transition might be. She said the most difficult part of moving on is learning to let go, “not to hold on too tight.”

But the bottom line is that she considers herself to be pretty lucky.

“I get to do what I love with the person I love.”

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.