Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Finding theater in Idaho's mountains

Ogilvie and Arnold launch valley's newest theater company

Jana Arnold, left, and her partner Kathy (K.O.) Ogilvie present their new theater company's first production on Sept. 28. Photo by Chris Pilaro

For the Express

"Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too." This quote, by W.H. Murray, is valley-resident Jana Arnold's favorite. Her partner, Kathy (K.O.) Ogilvie, claims that Arnold would never have left a lucrative television career in Los Angeles to pursue theater in Ketchum if she didn't have complete faith in that quote. And Ogilvie knows what she's talking about. She, too, took a hiatus from her career in Hollywood to rediscover her theatrical roots in Idaho's mountains.

Lucrative careers aside, four years after saying farewell to L.A. these theatrical ladies are the team behind the Wood River Valley's newest theater company, Off Center Stage. Their first production will be staged at the end of the month.

A Cal Arts graduate and equity stage manager, Ogilvie had stage-managed at many of the prestigious theatres in L.A., including a five-year stint at the Mark Taper Forum.

"I got a call from Sun Valley Shakespeare to stage-manage 'The Taming of the Shrew,'" she said. "At the time, I was working for Universal Studios as a special events manager. It was kind of like doing live theater, except the shows were what we called one-offs. One show I did, for example, was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Rocky and Bullwinkle. It lasted 20 minutes. We had an 8-foot chocolate mousse moose.

"You can't just go into the store and say, 'I'd like an 8-foot chocolate moose, please.' I had to be creative at a moment's notice. It was fun but not exactly theater. So I left L.A., came to Sun Valley, and fell in love with it."

Both girls were experiencing a love-hate relationship with L.A. at the time.

"Theater in L.A. was more about money and hiring big stars and less about the theatrical experience," said Oglvie, "It was just about being big."

"In L.A., I was making a good living as a TV actress," said Arnold, "I had a recognizable face. I would show up for guest starring roles, but I wasn't having fun. It didn't seem like acting.

"I was in a quandary. I didn't know at the time that the answer to my quandary was Sun Valley."

The solution, it seems, came quite suddenly. When visiting Oglvie—who by that time was in residence in the valley—Arnold recalls, "I landed at (the) Hailey airport and by Bullion Street I felt I was home.

"Later, Kathy Wygle (of the nexStage Theatre) called me and asked if I would be interested in reading for the show 'Rumors.' I arrived on a rainy day in April 2004, auditioned on a Sunday, and was in rehearsal the following Wednesday. In the process I rediscovered what acting was really about."

To some, both Arnold and Oglvie's decision to leave L.A. might seem rash. Both have impressive resumes—Arnold guest-starred on "Murphy Brown," "L.A. Law" and "E.R.," as well as a recurring role on "Empty Nest"—and were working steadily in Hollywood; indeed, they bring a wealth of talent and experience to the Sun Valley theater scene.

Their move serves to demonstrate the extent of their passion for live theatre and their commitment to the Wood River Valley's talented theatrical community.

"There is something magical here," said Arnold, "We are so impressed by the work in this community. Everyone works together."

To complement the local theater scene, Arnold and Ogilvie have started their own production company. Arnold can barely conceal her excitement for their new project.

"The company is called Off Center Stage," she said. "The shows we are planning are just that ... off center.

"The things we want to do fit the title," Ogilvie added. "We want to do shows that are provocative, edgy."

Their first show is certainly unconventional.

"We are doing Christopher Durang's 'Laughing Wild,'" said Arnold "We couldn't have picked a better show for our first production."

"You might love the show or hate it," added Oglvie. "But either way it's compelling. And as kooky as it is, there's a sincere message. It makes you ask questions about yourself and the world around you."

The process of forming a theater company and staging the first production hasn't been an entirely smooth ride.

"The other day I asked K.O., 'Why are we doing this?'" said Arnold. "Not only will I be consumed by the part I'm playing, but by having our own company, it'll be up to us to sweep the theater and mail out flyers for upcoming shows."

It is obvious that the two are now a long way from the lights and trappings of Hollywood.

Ogilvie answered with the kind of commitment to their new life in the valley that would make W.H Murray proud.

"When I rediscovered theater in Sun Valley, I rediscovered my love for it. It's how I breathe."

"Laughing Wild" premieres on Sept. 28 and runs through Oct. 8 at the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum. See next week's Express for an article on the play.

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