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Quills & Queues: A conversation with Peter Alzado

Peter Alzado is a prominent theater artist with a long history of work in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere. More recently, he has impressed Ashland audiences with his work as Mark Rothko in Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s production of “RED” and as Joe Keller in Camelot Theatre’s production of “All My Sons.” I caught up with Alzado to talk about his current and future plans as well as to get his take on the current state of theater.

JG: Peter, tell us a little about your theater background and what brought you to Ashland.

PA: In New York, I worked on Broadway and Off Broadway, at The Public, Stratford, La MaMa Plexus, soaps and on other projects. I was in Los Angeles and collaborated on varied projects, and was represented by the Irv Schechter Company. When our son and then our daughter arrived on the scene, the romantic notion to build a house in the mountains east of Ashland for my family seemed more appealing, as did the idea of a theater in town for me. I imagined I could train a company of interested, passionate actors in a technique I derived from my work with Mira Rostova, Joel Zwick, Stella Adler, Warren Robertson and Michael Moriarty and do the kind of projects that were important to me. I figured, if I am going to build a theater, I had better learn something about directing. So a three-year Donal Harrington Fellowship at The University of Montana served to help the solidify the dream.

JG: What is your feeling on the state of theater now?

PA: I feel that a primary responsibility for any theater is the non-literal rendering of material that lends itself to the development of a discerning audience. It is hard to get to that place of discernment without material that offers a challenge to one’s sensibilities — either in language, or in theme, or both. By non-literal, I mean abstracting and interpreting the writing for its meaning, not for its information. An audience will get what they get from a particular production or a particular performance. They will always get

the story. They won’t necessarily know what it is that they are not getting. The point, I think, is to offer a visceral understanding of the human being in the story. It seems to me that the theater meets its highest calling when it is in service to the writer. That being the case, anything that veers away from the author’s intentions from the themes being dealt with — in the acting or in the directing — is in danger of tearing the fabric of the play and of pulling the audience out of the world that the author, through blood, sweat and tears, has created for them.

JG: What sort of creative collaboration(s) would you like to see in Ashland, particularly?

PA: It would be a wonder and serve the local theaters well if, along with their production schedule, the local companies got together and involved themselves in an in-depth exploration of what gives the theater its power, exclusive of other mediums. Stripping away the superficiality and searching for what it is that can create the extraordinary power of words in action. That is, making the word flesh. Then, employing, practically, in production, what it is that has been discovered in that collaborative search for the power of live performance.

JG: What upcoming projects are you working on or interested in?

PA: I am again interested in looking at material that deals with some of the turmoil taking place in people’s lives and in the world right now. I also have an interest in dealing with the phrase “we know nothing.” We shall see where that leads me. If the not-for-profit theater didn’t have six or seven income streams — and were reliant on ticket sales only — would their approach to production and to the acting and directing be different? As Jackson Pollock said, “You’ve got to deny, ignore and destroy a hell of a lot to get at truth.”

Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.

Peter Alzado