“We Are Not Going Anywhere!” The Randall Theater Perseveres
Location, location, location. When the Randall Theater reopens for its tenth season in downtown Medford this year, it will be cause for celebration for patrons and staff alike. Although smaller than the Oregon Shakespeare Festival or Collier’s Craterian, its staff and volunteers have just as much heart and vision. And they have given it their all to be in central Medford offering affordable “down-home” theater to Rogue Valley residents.
Executive director, Robin Downward, has had to overcome tremendous obstacles in life and theater both; like the loss of his brother, three temporary locations, seismic studies, occupancy permit applications, architect’s plans, cancelled shows, and retrofitting.
Instead of a partridge and a pear tree this holiday season, they ended up with A Christmas Carol that only 30 patrons saw despite soaring ticket sales. Expecting income from their holiday production to get them through the winter, they came up short. Sometimes, even the good ones get coal in their stockings. But a ticket-holder won’t hear Downward complain. Instead he speaks of adversity: “We put our heads down. We run and if there is a wall, we go through it!”
Besides facing adversity, family is front and center at the Randall which is named after Downward’s brother—a multi-talented actor, artist, builder, and overall creative dynamo. Their magic hat logo is also in honor of him. At only 18, he left this world, but provides continual inspiration to Downward.
“The one thing I remember most is how he was soft spoken and humble and never talked about how good he was,” recalls Downward. “I did not realize until about 5 years ago that a lot of what I learned was from him.”
What he learned was: “Theater is the industry that has the most ego, but should have the least” to encourage community. Randall Theatre does not project the image of pristine untouchable surroundings (especially during retrofitting) or a squeaky-clean lobby. They aim for “down home.” To sit comfortably, see and hear what is happening, and be wowed by the talent. “When you attend, you have become part of the family,” he says. “It should be a theater experience you can enjoy and feel loved, appreciated and respected.”
For example, at every show there is a “best seat in the house” raffle. If you are lucky enough to win these dual recliner seats, you get free concessions and a bottle of wine. Not too shabby. Especially when tickets are between $20 and $22, and there is a “pay what you can” program if you show up 30 minutes before the doors open.
But why was the new location so critical? Downward explains that their first spot lacked in providing the “wow” factor. So, many of their 7th season productions were well attended in Jacksonville, but they chose to find a more central and dynamic location. A 1916 historic building with a cool, eclectic look, art deco exterior, and brick wall interior became available. And it is modular with a capacity for any desired configuration.
The theater hosted its first production in its new space in October, but like a cliff-hanger, issues emerged, and a “to be continued” saga began. Downward appreciates Medford’s willingness to let him open A Christmas Carol with limited seating. Yet, he and his wife, Debbie, choreographer and actress, look forward to their 10th season opener: A Comedy of Tenors, which will hopefully open in March.
The best way to describe Downward is in his own words: “I have both the Peter Pan and Disney syndrome—I don’t want to grow up, and I like to think big.” He asks readers, “To keep the arts going in downtown Medford, consider donating, or if a construction company wants to assist on a relaxed timeline, call us at 541-632-3258.”
20 S. Fir Street, Medford