HARPER-VILLE: Beth Harper is one of my favorite people in the entire world. And she's also a damn good actress and director as well as the Artistic Director and founder of the Portland Actors Conservatory, an accredited conservatory of acting (National Association of Schools of Theatre). This week PAC inaugurates its 25th Anniversary Season with the opening of “You Can’t Take it With You,” directed by Harper. The production features Tim Stapleton (“Fool for Love” at Coho Theatre), Joe Healy (NW Classical Theatre), Jeff Gorham (Re-Theatre Instrument), Dave Bodin (“The Uneasy Chair”), and several other area guest artists as well as second year Conservatory students. In honor of the auspicious ocassion I thought it might be nice to talk to Harper about her school and her new show (that includes Dan Selivonchick pictured above in a photo by Frank Dimarco). And here's what the awesome lady had to say:
Did you ever think you would be celebrating a quarter-century of running your own school?
Beth Harper: I know this is probably going to sound crazy, but no, I never thought about it once. I worked at this business much like an alcoholic in AA: One step at a time, one moment at a time, one obstacle at a time, one day at a time…… as if my life depended on it. I guess when you add up all those minutes, moments and days the end result is 25 years.
How did you make this production different from other productions of this show?
I’m not sure I am trying to make it different. I love ALL that it is and how it does what it does. It is my favorite classic American play of the era (30’s). I just want to do it really, really well. That’s my priority. This is actually my third production of either acting or directing it and oddly enough this production feels like the first time I have ever done it. I just love tearing it down and putting it back together. I always find something new that I didn’t see the first time.
How is different for PAC?
In celebration of our birthday I am also using this opportunity to surround myself with people who have made a difference in my life and the life of the conservatory. My first student ever at the Conservatory, Georgia Cacy, is playing Penny, Tim Stapelton, set designer to the Gods, and a dear, dear friend, is moving from designing to acting, because he is Grandpa in real life (at least in my book) and I just wanted to celebrate our relationship by casting him as "Grandpa." I also wouldn’t have done this show if I couldn’t have had the artistic team I have worked with for 25 years. I call them, “the boys”. Jeff Seats, set design, Jeff Forbes, “Lighting design and Chris Mikolavich, Sound design. I also wanted to celebrate the cultural diversity of the Conservatory by casting a second year student, Natasha Terranova, as an Irish maid and the maids boyfriend, played by alumni Lior Zadok, as a native of India. The Russian Countess is played by an African American (Second year student, Arlena Barnes).
Where do you hope to be in 25 years from now?
Well, I’ll be 80 so I guess I’ll be napping. If you mean the Conservatory in 25 years…… PAC will be on a large campus with two theatres and classroom space galore and student housing and we will have a masters program to add to our already accredited 2 year professional Actor Training Program. Well honestly, the possibilities are endless.
Can we expect to see you in more productions in the future?
Aw, thank you so much for asking. I would love to. Now that the school is on firm ground and I have an amazing and supportive team to help carry the load maybe I will venture out again.. I think I have been in denial about how much I have missed it. Last year when you and I performed in "The Laramie Project , Ten Years Later" project, that was the first time I had been on stage in four years and I thought my heart would break from happiness.
"You Can’t Take It With You” by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, Feb. 17 through March 7, Thurs. through Sat. at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm, Portland Actors Conservatory’s Firehouse Theatre, 1436 SW Montgomery St., Portland, Ore., 97201. For tickets visit online at http://www.actorsconservatory.com or by calling (503) 274- 1717; prices range $13-$25.