Anyone familiar with the Astor Street Opry Company (ASOC) knows this hard-working theater group is responsible for bringing the community, and a great portion of those visiting the area, the fun melodrama, “Shanghaied in Astoria”. This humorous and historical musical provides audiences of all ages a great way to enjoy local theater, learn about the area, and have a great time hurling popcorn at the villains.
“IT’S THE HEART AND SOUL of the company and the community. We’ve become bigger than theater. It’s a tradition and an event that belongs to Astoria,” says ASOC’s Production Manager and Events Coordinator Judith Niland.
It is this “backbone” of the ASOC repertoire, running every summer for the last twenty-eight years, that allows ASOC to be a great deal more than just this one production. So, too, is Judith Niland. Her tremendous efforts as manager, publicist, grant writer, event coordinator, facilitator, and artist, make ASOC a far bigger thing than just a community theater. Current ASOC Executive Board President, Chuck Meyers, speaks of her, alone, as having been the ASOC for the last 25 years. She has devoted a large part of her life to keeping the theater arts alive, well, and housed in Astoria. Having lead the capital campaign to acquire the permanent home for ASOC, and having spent the last quarter century developing the management repertoire for the theater, she, now, wishes to teach, share, and pass on the duties and traditions of this outstanding community theater.
“ASOC’s been my life’s work, accidentally, and it was Del Corbett’s life work, too. He’s the one that taught me.”
Recently, after spending time away from the theater to recover from foot surgery, Judith realized she could no longer perform the myriad of tasks, and juggle all the balls required to make the variety of theater at ASOC happen, forever. This wake-up call drew her attention to the need to educate and share the finer points and details of what it takes to run this theater, as a volunteer, with the other ASOC Board and Committee members. She wants to offer the opportunity to other volunteers to become proficient in the many facets of ASOC operations, as well as, allow herself more time for her own artwork. As a trained children’s book and fairy tale illustrator with a college education in Book Arts, her first love is drawing. Arthritis has kept Judith from returning to the book press, but she remains very passionate about pursuing her metaphysical design style and symbolic art.
Her health, while keeping her from some art forms and reducing her relentless participation with ASOC, allowed her the time, while recuperating from surgery, to read more, and, specifically, lead her to more of Seaside playwright, Keyaho Rohlfs’ plays. This inspired the upcoming ASOC Fundraiser, “In New Light”, three one-act plays and one monolgue written by Rohlfs.
“It’s great to remind the community that ASOC has always done other kinds of theater. That’s why we existed, and people forget about that…’Shanghai’s’ always been the vehicle to get there, but never the end result. You have to give those growing beyond the melodrama something else to do. This is a chance to feed some of that. His (Keyaho’s) work comes from a place in his heart and really touches people,” commented Niland of her interest in working with Rohlfs.
“Everyone loves working with him. He’s very centered, intelligent, and strongly spiritual. His stuff works on multiple levels. He doesn’t care if people get it, or not, as long as they walk away thinking.” She continues, “I found his plays to be trips into a real, yet, imaginary world full of odd heartfelt characters, connections, and synchronicities that are similar to how I shape my world. I have studied the metaphysical world ever since I was a teen, and it is something that brings me peace and balance. Life is all about how you feel, and his work helps me remember that, and that is what is real.”
Director of Rohlfs’ one-act play “Centerpiece,” Anne MacGregor, agrees that his work is like poetry that goes in and out of time and emotions, and leaves audience members to ask “What was that?”, “How’d we get there?”, and “That was really interesting, what was it?” She added, “His writing is so superior, he is a channel. Everyone picks up their own thing-it’s amazing. I don’t know what he’s going to do with his work, but I would go on doing it forever. It’s a dream come true for any good director.”
To say that Playwright Keyaho Rohlfs speaks freely about his work and writing process is akin to saying, writing plays is a cakewalk. He draws the comparison of his play writing to pulling stories from an orphanage of abandoned imaginary friends.
“When kids get a certain age they’re told no more imaginary friends. I always wondered what happened to all the imaginary friends- where did they go?”
So, he offers them a place to reside, in exchange for their stories, which he diligently puts to paper in the form of stage productions-one act plays, monologues, and full-length plays.
“The really cool thing about theater is how you can manifest all these imaginary friends, and make it real,” says Rohlf, and explains that he explores the barriers between real and imaginary, looks inside and outside the self to channel the voices he believes are out there, and, if listening closely, can be heard. When asked about the layered, spectral quality of his work, Rohlfs replied, “I think that when we can see the invisible realm, then, we have something to talk about, and when we feel the full force of nature, then we have something to share.”
In his work with Astor Street Opry Company, Rohlfs believes it to be much more than a community theater. “This playhouse is really special; it’s the most community-minded, community theater around. There’s activity here year ‘round, day in and day out for all ages. It has a really big heart.”
And no stranger to the Astor Street Opry Company he is. In the three years of ASOC’s New Works Festival, an original script writing contest that solicits, celebrates, and produces selected one-acts plays and monologues submitted from all over the country, Rohlfs submissions have been selected and performed every year. This festival was initiated in 2010, for which his monologue, “Tallulah” was accepted and produced. The festival performance was directed by ASOC Production Committee Chair, Anne MacGregor, who performs the role in the reprisal of “Tallulah” for the May Celebration fundraiser.
In 2011, his one-act play, “Centerpiece” was a final selection, performed by Patricia Shannon, Bill Dodge, and Ann Bronson. In this year’s festival, his comedic monologue submission, “Captive”, was produced. Performed by Aly Hansen and Kirk House with direction by Del Corbett, this funny, sweet and talent-filled piece is about a teenage girl who appears center stage, singing, dancing, juggling and believing she is being held captive by a crazy bunch of community theater people. Rohlfs participation in the ASOC New Works Festival for the past three years has brought critical acclaim to the ASOC. In the name of creating a new slot for original stage productions, ASOC has chosen Keyaho’s two previously performed stage pieces, along with two new one-act plays to perform in a showcase of his work. His beautiful use of language offers an astonishing depth of emotions, as well as an alluring sense of human nature. This May Celebration of “In New Light” offers a unique opportunity to enjoy poetic and eloquently written theater concerning relevant issues of our time. This is a fundraiser to kick-off the phase three of ASOC’s capital campaign to build indoor restroom facilities and an office.
In New Light: 4 One Acts in a Night
The four performances of “In New Light: An Evening of Original Artwork from Playwright Keyaho Rohlfs” will reprise two pieces previously produced for ASOC’s New Works Festival (Centerpiece and Tallulah) and include two new one-act pieces. Included in the showcase is “Centerpiece” with Tom Brownson performing the lead role, originally performed by Bill Dodge in the 2011 production. This one-act play finds an elderly, homeless couple who have fallen on hard times, brought about by the current economic meltdown. They seek shelter and comfort in the warmth of stage lights, reflecting, reminiscing, and celebrating their lives together. Anne MacGregor directs this repeat performance, again. She also performs the monologue, “Tallulah”, an elderly woman’s poetic monologue about an adventuresome life, well-lived, joined by the playwright’s very own jazz saxophone accompaniment.
Premiering in this showcase production are two new one-act plays, “Signing Out” and “Mahpiya”. “Signing Out” portrays a road weary musician returning to his hometown to visit his father in a nursing home. Here, he gets help from a plucky nurse, and makes some unexpected choices. In “Mahpiya”(A Native American word meaning “Sky”) several stories combine, as a girl surrounded by devastation, manifests her identity in a spiritual journey, spanning generations; this tale includes an interesting amphibian.
Directed by Keyaho Rohlfs and Anne MacGregor, the cast includes: Anne MacGregor, Patricia Shannon, Tom Brownson, Ann Bronson, Markus Brown, Barry Sears, Mark Erickson, Elias Enyart, Avery Hartzel, Tiffany Simmons, Brian Allen, Jane Hill, Julie House, Anabel Knight and William Grammer.
In November 2007, Astor Street Opry Company acquired a permanent home in Astoria. By July 2008, the first production on the new stage of “Shanghaied in Astoria” was up and running. Where the cost to purchase a theater space was covered through a designated capital grant and donated funds, the additional $125,000 needed to make the building a safe and a comfortable public space was not. In Fall 2010, the ASOC Board secured a mortgage with Clatsop Community Bank to help where grant monies were being discontinued due to economic cutbacks. After years as a vagabond theater troupe, being set back with every move, ASOC was finally housed in its own stable and improved theater building. Now able to settle and to grow, the theater added more family programming and an original script writing contest.
“We’re still getting used to using the building-during the daytime, at night, rehearsing at dark. That’s what we (ASOC) have to do now to maintain a theater, and keep it going financially. We have to have something playing all the time, said Niland. Niland, whose efforts and countless hours made the theater purchase a reality, is now squeezing in a new fundraiser into the very full ASOC theatrical calendar. Two weekends in May between “The Real Lewis and Clark Story: or How the Finns Discovered Astoria” and the start of “Junior Shanghaied” offers a time slot for some alternative theater options to raise funds for the third phase of the ASOC Capital Campaign which will make possible the construction of public restrooms and an office.
The Astor Street Opry Company (ASOC) presents a special performance fundraiser, “In New Light”, featuring four original pieces by Seaside playwright Keyaho Rohlfs. Three one act plays and a monologue will be presented on May 18th, 19th, 25th and 26th at 7:30 pm at the ASOC Playhouse located on 129 West Bond Street in Astoria, Oregon; doors open at 7:00 pm. This is a kick-off for ASOC Capital Campaign Phase Three “Pennies for Potties (or Big Buck for Bathrooms) Drive”. This evenings is a celebration of live and local entertainment with a special silent auction of original art and the unveiling of the“Yakko~Eino” Fundraiser Thermometer and the “Toilet Seat Pennies Toss” collection jar. Tickets for this fundraiser are only $8 for singles and $12 per couple and can be purchased by calling 503-325-6104 or online at www.astorstreetoprycompany.com.