Center Stage: Spotlight on Southern Oregon Acting
Southern Oregon’s array of live theater venues spans from cozily intimate to nationally renowned, and to celebrate the 2020 season the Messenger spotlights three local actors who have made the Rogue Valley stages their home.
Grants Pass actor, Steve Chroninger, deciding to peel free from his high school math nerd moniker, challenged the fear of rejection as a teen by auditioning for his first musical when he started at the tiny campus of Lone Mountain College in San Francisco. “I purposely chose a small college because I wanted to expand who I was, really open up my creative instincts,” he says. “I was so nervous because I didn’t have any skill, no understanding of what you do, but the play had a cast of about 40 people and only 28 auditioned so I got a part, obviously.”
Chroninger fell in love with performing, exploring experimental theater and a variety of dance, even touring Europe in Lenwood Sloan’s musical, Three Black & Three White Refined Jubilee Minstrels, calling it his political rant. Rather than become a “starving artist” though, he became a teacher, hanging up his tap shoes for the next thirty years.
But retiring to Grants Pass, and remembering he could “sing a lick,” he joined Three Rivers Chorale before tamping down his fears once again by auditioning for Scrooge, the Musical at Barnstormers Theater. He got a role on the sold out show and six years and 17 plays later is still going strong, auditioning for roles at his various community theaters.
“I love the challenge, plus I get to work with a lot of wonderful people who become like family,” he says.
If you’re hitting one of the Medford area theaters you’ll likely find Simone Stewart on stage lobbing her facial expressions and playing her pauses perfectly in her favorite genre, comedy.
“People in the profession call improv comedy working without a net, but it keeps me sharp and inventive,” she says.
In elementary school she joined a small band of “big personality” kids to put on plays in front of the school, learning that she loved to perform. Throughout middle and high school she played numerous roles and several leads while she explored film, including her first audition for a KFC commercial.
“The competition was fierce; I learned early that you gotta have thick skin in this business,” Stewart says. “I’d watch kids leave crying but I said I wasn’t going to cry, I would just do better at the next audition.”
She held in there and by graduation hit the pavement with a professional headshot and resume and enough experience to know what type roles she excelled in. The L.A. transplant wondered if she’d find work in tiny Medford until an ad for an audition led her to realize the Rogue Valley was teeming with live theater. She’s since performed in every community theater in Jackson County and serendipity, she says, keeps emptying her bucket list of roles she created as a teen waiting to “get to the right age,” including Camelot Theater’s upcoming production of You Can’t Take It with You.
“When I moved here it was like I found my place, I found my people,” Stewart says.
Veteran actor, Tyrone Wilson of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) has come a long way since hamming it up in his kindergarten’s production of Peter Cottontail.
“My mother said she knew right then that I wanted to be an actor,” he laughs.
Wilson’s family was deeply involved with their local Baptist church and he was “volunteered” regularly to help in duties like the annual holiday pageants, expanding his talents in acting which he pursued throughout his education. A high school production of Godspell gave him his first real taste of stage life.
“Just like that moment in Peter Cottontail there was something about that live connection between the audience and myself; I absolutely fell in love with theater,” says the former New Yorker.
After earning an MFA through Yale School of Drama, Wilson spent time at the Indiana Repertory Theater where he worked under future OSF artistic director, Libby Appel, who helmed a 35th anniversary edition of Lorraine Hansbury’s iconic A Raisin in the Sun.
“It had played on Broadway the month I was born and I’d met Sidney Poitier in New York (1989),” Wilson shares. “It was important to me because the play and the character, Walter Lee Younger (whom he played) and I were each 35 years old; it was a perfect time to perform that production.”
Now in his 26th season with OSF, Wilson enjoys taking aside new actors on the Elizabethan stage and pointing to the stars after lights go out.
“I’ll say look! It’s just you and the heavens!”