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Recently, The Siskiyou sat down with local artistic director Valerie Rachelle to talk about her career and the Oregon Cabaret Theatre. Valerie is the artistic director for the Oregon Cabaret Theater and owns it with her husband and managing director, Rick Robinson. Valerie and Rick have owned the theater since 2015 and took over the reins directly from the beloved founder Jim Giancarlo.
Valerie first worked for and saw the Oregon Cabaret in 2012 as a guest director for their Winter Wonder Cats production. “So I came in and was here three weeks and loved it,” Valerie said. But she had known the owner Jim since 2006, and it was her friendship with Jim that gave her the opportunity to take over the Oregon Cabaret at the end of 2014. Valerie and Rick were in Los Angeles when they decided to take over the theater from Jim, who was preparing for retirement. One thing that Jim had said to Valerie was, “’I want you to breathe new life into it.’ And that’s what I take with me. I want to honor all of the wonderful things he did and also keep breathing new life into it.” Jim had just started the paperwork process while Rachelle and her husband had sold their house in LA when Jim unexpectedly passed away before the legal work could be finished. But since it was one of Jim’s last wishes for Valerie and her husband to take over the theater, Jim’s family told them to come up to Ashland. Valerie and Rick moved from LA to Ashland in less than two weeks, and in that time they had to “crash-course” in taking over the business, Valerie said.
“’I want you to breathe new life into it.'”
However, before owning the cabaret, Valerie had a few different roles. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting from the California Institute of the Arts. Later, she received a Masters degree in directing from UC Irvine. The reason why Valerie entered the theater industry was that “I was in theater my whole life. I started as a dancer and then did musical theater and singing. I was with the ballet company for a while when I was a child. I toured with a professional company. And my parents were magicians. So it just kind of was the thing I loved,” she said. Over the time of her career, Valerie had different roles, such as actor, singer, dancer, backstage technician, director, choreographer, and production manager. Her favorite position was and is being the director.
“I learned from that job every day… I also feel like in the arts, if you aren’t learning, honing, and getting better at what you do as an artist, then you’re probably not doing the art as well.”
As the artistic director and co-owner, Valerie tackles various roles in the theatre. She said, “we own a theater and a restaurant, that together as a dinner theatre. So we sort of own two businesses. There’s the things that are on the business side with employees, taxes, permits, and licenses…as artistic director, I’m in charge of everything production-oriented. So my team of people is my production manager, my associate artistic director, and my technical director. Then, I do all the hirings for the productions from designers to actors to choreographers. Directors, like me, do all the staffing and oversee the creative process for every show.” Valerie’s husband, Rick, also tackles part of the creative process. He does marketing, publicity, box office staff, restaurant staff, season selection, and play selection. Rick is also a playwright. The Oregon Cabaret “usually does one of his shows a year,” Rachelle said. But with every job, there come a few challenges.
When asked “what is the hardest thing about your job?” Valerie gave two answers. The first was, “the hardest part of my job is keeping the business alive during a pandemic because that is constant. There are constant emergency policy changes… so most of the job is not the fun part, which is just keeping our doors open and keeping our people employed.” Valerie’s second response was towards the technical side of the business. “Non-pandemic wise, the hardest part of the job is keeping up on marketing, ticket sales, and getting the word out,” Valerie said.
Despite the pandemic and the challenges of owning a theater, there are great memories and moments to be made. “The community here loves the Oregon Cabaret Theater and they’re so supportive of us,” Valerie answered in response to her favorite part about the cabaret.
With challenges comes advice. “I think what I tried to tell my students is you can do this if you want to…it is a career. It’s a worthwhile job… so, I wish as a young artist I would have known that I didn’t have to struggle so hard emotionally,” Valerie said. Then, on the note of advice for artistic directors Valerie said, “if you want to be an artistic director, you get both sides of the coin and you need to understand administration and business, and you need to understand all aspects of theater.”
Another question the Siskiyou asked was related to issues that the theater industry faces as a whole and if they’re solvable. Valerie’s response addressed some of the general stigmas surrounding the arts. “I think one of the challenges that we had before was that a lot of people loved that they spent money on movies, but live entertainment in theater form wasn’t as popular…I actually think that the pandemic has shown a lot of people how Necessary the arts are in their lives…I think people started to remember that what we do is worthwhile. And missing going out and gathering wasn’t just about missing eating out in a restaurant. It was about having community with others and theater,” Valerie had said.
“I actually think that the pandemic has shown a lot of people how necessary the arts are in their lives.”
Community is also something that Valerie curates at the theater because of the different opportunities she offers for SOU students. She offers a full-paid acting internship, which is currently active. In this position, the student is expected to understudy the current show, do some office/administrative work with Valerie in the office, and host the usher for the production. Valerie says, “we use a lot of students as electricians, as paints, as wardrobe, which is all the technical side. And those are paid hourly jobs. We also hire a lot of students from SOU for the kitchen, like bartenders, waitstaff, ushers, hosts, and line cooks.”
Last, Valerie had some time to talk about the 2022 season and describe what they are like this year. “They’re gigantic. This is the first year that we have done three shows that have 14 or more cast members. Normally, we do one big show… In the Heights is our next show after Buffalo and that cast is gigantic. It needs a lot of Latinx people to come and do that show. So, I’m really excited about that. And the show after that is The Full Monty which is also a 14 person cast… we’re doing two Christmas shows this year. We’re doing A Christmas Carol at the cabaret, and then we’re doing Berlin’s White Christmas over at OSF in the Thomas Theater and it will be a 16 person tap-dancing extravaganza…we’ve decided to put it all out on the table to get people back in the theater,” Valerie said. Another exciting addition that the Oregon Cabaret has concerns for their accessibility services. Valerie noted, “so we have our listening devices. Now we’re going to have live interpreters sign language at select performances. Then we also have bought a bunch of new little iPad devices for captioning services.”
Currently, the Oregon Cabaret Theater is working on Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo. The play is set in the 50s and is about a touring theater family. More information about this performance and tickets can be found on their website. Opening night is on February 10th, and the play closes in April.
For SOU students, there is a discount. The Oregon Cabaret has a student rush half an hour before the show — 7:30 PM for the evening show and 12:30 PM for the matinee. If there are seats available, the cabaret will sell them to SOU students (with a student ID) for a rush price at either $15 or $20 instead of the normal $43 ticket. If wanting to have a full dinner and dessert experience, then the reservation has to be made in advance. If a dinner reservation is not made and you are there before 7:30/12:30 PM, everything except the entrees can be ordered while desserts are served at intermission.
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Oregon Cabaret 2022 Season