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Community fuels actor’s work

March 24, 2011

Actor finds community, continuity fuels his work

Danforth Comins ’97 is an Old Timer. He is, at least, compared to many other resident actors at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. In his ninth year at the country’s largest resident theater, he has spent a comparative lifetime at the Ashland, Ore., company. The ability to settle-in and become a part of the local community is one of the things he loves about his work with the company.

“I’m unlike so many people in my profession – I get to sleep in the same bed all year ’round,” he said. “It enriches my work. It is reflected in my work.”

For the 2011 OSF season, Comins is performing in two productions: William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in which he’ll play Mark Antony, and a world premiere about the assassination of San Francisco mayor George Moscone called “Ghost Light.”

Both productions will be cast in OSF’s most intimate venue, the New Theatre. It requires a different approach than in the company’s larger stages, such as the 1,100-seat outdoor Elizabethan stage. Whereas Comins has performed – and enjoyed – all of the stages, he finds there is a special appeal to the New Theatre.

“In the New Theatre, a slight twitch of the eye is all you need to communicate what you want,” he said. “In the Bowmer [Theatre], it is that, plus raising an eyebrow. In the outdoor theater, it is a slight twitch of the eye, a raising of the eyebrow, AND a cock of the head.”

Playing a lead role in “Julius Caesar” is a professional full-circle for Comins. After he earned his MFA at the University of Illinois, he came to PLU as a visiting instructor for a year, filling in for one of his mentors who retired. His goal was always to act, however, so after a year and the mounting of “Angels in America” on campus – “the first time a Lutheran college did so,” he said – he left for the Utah Shakespearean Festival. When performing in “Caesar” there, a producer from OSF saw his performance, liked it, and asked him to come to Ashland. He and his wife, PLU grad Shannon Park ’96, a licensed clinical social worker, have been there ever since.

Even though OSF is decidedly in Comins’ comfort zone, it is no easy task. Each season, he’ll perform in two to three productions, totaling about 120 shows a year, sometimes performing in as many as 10 productions a week.

“It’s a grueling schedule,” he said, “but you get used to it. It’s a rhythm. “I would not trade my experience for anything.”

“Julius Caesar” plays in OSF’s New Theatre March 25 through Nov. 6, 2011. “Ghost Light” plays the New Theatre June 28 through Nov. 5, 2011.