Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Othello (2008): Sarah Rutan as Desdemona, Peter Macon as Othello and Dan Donohue as Iago. Photo: T. Charles Erickson.
Macbeth photo: B. Trevor Hill at right. Oregon Shakespeare Festival/Jennifer Reiley.
Student Union Building
PO Box 444264
Moscow, ID 83844-4264
1031 N. Academic Way,
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814
Idaho Actors Shine at Ashland
The University of Idaho offers one of the most prestigious drama fellowships in the United States. The late Idaho Theatre Arts Department MFA student and Oregon Shakespeare Festival company member, Rex Rabold, bequeathed an endowed fellowship for a University of Idaho drama major for an expense-paid year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) in Ashland. Operated in conjunction with the festival, the fellowship winner is assured of speaking parts and understudy roles for the season, as well as access to all tutorials and master classes. It is a working experience unique in the United States.
The Rabold Fellow for 2009 is Ian McNeely. His road to the fellowship and to Shakespeare began in northern Idaho. “I always knew that I wanted to entertain people,” he says. His acting training began early through Spokane Children’s Theatre, Lake City Playhouse and Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre.
At Lake City High School, McNeely worked in all levels of their Drama Department. He double-enrolled at North Idaho College and completed high school and his lower division required college courses at the same time. This enabled him to graduate from Lake City at the end of his junior year and to enter the University of Idaho as a theatre major with his required undergraduate classes completed.
“The University of Idaho was a good fit for me,” he states. “It has a strong theatre arts department and it is close to my family in Coeur d’Alene. I learned about the Rex Rabold Fellowship and focused on winning it my junior year.” McNeely won the coveted award and graduated early from Idaho last December to begin his year at the 2009 Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the largest repertory theatre company in the United States with 108 actors in 11 productions.
“I’m learning real acting world skill-sets here,” says McNeely who is Davey in this season’s “The Music Man,” as well as playing the role of a traveling salesman and performing in the production’s chorus/dance ensemble. He also has a role in Clifford Odets’ “Paradise Lost,” and is an understudy for six additional roles in two plays. The youngest adult in the OSF acting company, he knows there is no better place to learn than on the job. “I have discovered a passion for Shakespeare. I could spend the rest of my career exploring his genius.” When asked where he would like to be in five or 10 years into his career, he laughed, “Working!”
Towards that goal, McNeely has joined other OSF actors in SHARES: Shakespearian Actors Requiring Employment Soon. The group brings in directors, casting agents and company directors from all over the United States and arranges auditions and networking opportunities with immediate, as well as long range, results.
B. Trevor Hill, the Rabold Fellow in 2008, also is a member of SHARES. He earned his MFA at Idaho and his bachelor’s degree at Brigham Young University in Rexburg. Graduating from BYU, he auditioned with several graduate drama programs. “The University of Idaho faculty took time to work with me, especially Kelly Quinnett. It was a professional audition, not a cattle call,” says Hill.
One of the great experiences for him has been learning about Rex Rabold. “There are people here at OSF who knew and worked with him. When they talk about his energy, they light up. When I was introduced my first year as a Rabold Fellow, I received a grand ovation. Rex Rabold has been gone 19 years and his influence is still strong.”
Hill’s greatest surprise in joining the OSF was his realization that the caliber of his training at the University of Idaho Theatre Arts Department was so high. He felt prepared to join the professional actors at OSF. Following his Fellowship year, he auditioned and was hired for the 2009 season. He is cast as a servant in the classic comedia delle’arte farce, “Servant of Two Masters,” and plays multiple roles in the current production of “MacBeth,” as well as understudying roles in “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Paradise Lost,” and as Marcellus in “The Music Man.”
Married with three small children, acting is Hill’s life in Ashland, except Mondays. “Monday is my day off,” he says. “It is my one day when I commit to my role as husband and Daddy.” The rest of his life is in the theatre. “I strive to be courageous and bold with each role, to give 100 percent. I’m blessed to support my family and to be able to do what I love.”
Sarah Rutan, the Rabold Fellowship recipient in 2003, is now a permanent member of the OSF acting company – the only Fellow to hold this distinction so far. Her first major role as an actress was as the dog, Sylvia, in “Sylvia” at Grandstreet Theater in Helena, Mont., while she was a student at Carroll College. The Meridian native and Centennial High School graduate learned of the Rex Rabold fellowship offered at the University of Idaho and transferred to the Theatre Arts Department for her last two years of college to qualify for it.
At Idaho, Rutan studied under David Lee-Painter and Nike Imoru. She won the Rabold Fellowship and began her first season at OSF in 2003. “I turned over Juliet’s body in “Romeo and Juliet,” and helped set the table in “Wild Oats” that year,” Rutan recalled in a recent interview in Ashland.
In June of each season, each actor has 15 minutes to re-audition with the festival director for the following season. “I must be able to present, ‘here’s what I’m ready for and here’s what I’m passionate about.’” Rutan explained.
Rutan has been judged ready and passionate since her first year at OSF as a Rabold Fellow. Now in her seventh season with the company, Rutan says, “I’ve been riding a great wave. I’m not a television or film actor. I am addicted to the drug of the live audience. I don’t want be famous,” she declares. “Celebrity is not for me. I want to work and to grow as an actor. I want do what I love and to be anonymous.”
Sarah Rutan love what she does. For the 2009 OSF season, she plays Shakespeare’s Hero in “Much Ado About Nothing,” Libby Michaels in “Paradise Lost” and has understudy roles in “Don Quixote.” Following the Rutan family tradition of work in education, she also is an integral member of the OSF Educational Outreach Program that travels to Northwest schools and works with Elderhostel and alumni programs at OSF. She has done Elizabeth Bennett in a Wisconsin premier production of “Pride and Prejudice” and will be narrating “Midsummer Night’s Dream” with the Oregon Bach Festival. She has passed the rigorous qualifications to join Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.
“My grandmother taught Shakespeare,” states Rutan. “She told me it was a puzzle I’d never solve. I take it as my challenge to spend my life exploring Shakespeare and the English language.” By any standard, Sarah Rutan is well on her way to success.
Ian McNeely, B. Trevor Hill and Sarah Rutan are Rex Rabold Fellows and University of Idaho alumni. They share the unique combination. Look for their names in lights.
A list of other Rex Rabold winners is listed at www.uitheatre.com.