by Lorie Lewis Ham
Due to a crazy summer, it has been awhile since we’ve had a local actor or director profile, so this time we have someone who does pretty much everything–Greg Taber is both an actor and director, along with being a major force behind the Woodward Shakespeare Festival, and running his own theatre company.
Born and raised in the Fresno and Easton area, Greg first announced he wanted to be an actor at the tender age of seven. However, he didn’t hit the stage until fourth grade where he played an alien in his class play. He went on to do a couple of other shows in grade and middle school. “Then I hit high school, met Gerry Hoard and his Fantasy Company, played an automated house and a wacky vampire, and found myself hopelessly lost in 14 year old theatre-land. Unfortunately, Gerry changed careers and I didn’t get back to acting for three years, but the bug had certainly bitten.”
Greg attended Fresno State and Fresno City (where he went just to take acting classes), then auditioned for, and was accepted into, the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the University of Southern California. Greg graduated in 1988 with a BFA in Acting. After that, he took a year off and spent some time in Japan, and then went to Fresno Pacific for his teaching credential, and then his Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from National University in 2000.
“For 25 years, I’ve taught high school English,” shared Greg. “For the last 10 years, my work home has been at the East Campus of Central High School where I put seniors through the academic wringer.”
Through the years, Greg has been in several WSF productions, including playing Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, and most recently Macbeth in Macbeth. Greg has also performed in shows at 2nd Space in Fresno, Fresno City College, and with his own company Theatre Ventoux.
Greg and his wife, Lisa, started Theatre Ventoux in 2007 in order to do the kind of theatre that they were interested in doing, work with the people that they were interested in working with, and to have total creative control over and responsibility for the process and the product. During the time Ventoux existed the first time around, they produced shows at the Rogue Festival, Shakespeare, 12 Angry Jurors, and a few others. “We officially ceased production in 2011 when I accepted the position of Executive Producer for the Woodward Shakespeare Festival.”
He first became involved with the Woodward Shakespeare Festival during its first season, mostly due to a friend’s urging, S. Eric Day, one of WSF’s founders. He was in and out for the next several seasons before being asked to lead up a play selection committee in 2010. “Through a series of events, that turned into the Executive Producer role that I currently hold. Details and gossip will have to wait for my memoirs…”
“In all the years I’ve work with the Woodward Shakespeare Festival, most as its President, we have not had a more dedicated, more artistically adept, or singularly talented participant than Greg Taber,” said Thornton Davidson. “Greg understands precisely that at the heart of our mission statement is the goal of maintaining high artistic standards in an environment where most of the labor and all of the funds are donated. And, in all frankness, he’s one of, if not the most, talented of our actors. We are lucky to have his involvement.”
Greg got his first taste of directing at USC as part of the training program there, but his first full-length play to direct was This Flattering Glass, with Theatre Ventoux in 2007. “I wanted to do it because I had a vision of the production and wanted to see if I could bring it to life.”
“Working with Greg Taber is quite an experience,” shared local actor Rene Newlove, who has worked with Greg on many occasions, most recently in WSF’s production of Macbeth. “His direction and acting are superb and he really allows the actors he directs or performs with to explore where their characters can go.
“I have worked with Greg on and off for the past ten years and I have learned so much about the craft of acting, directing, and understanding physical body movement in the space of the stage. Greg focuses on acting with the full body, not just with voice and hand gestures or blocking. There is an organic feel to his productions and a camaraderie that is built within the cast. I enjoy working with Greg as an actor, director, and friend.”
Kate McKnight was Greg’s Lady MacBeth in the same production. “As a director, Greg provided one of the most artistically gratifying experiences I’ve ever had as an actor. His approach is organic; there were times when the roles of director and actor blurred and the entire cast was truly a part of the creation of our production. As a fellow actor, Greg never falters in his quest to give his best work, and he inspired me to do nothing less than the same.”
Greg’s favorite type of shows, whether directing or acting, are dramas, “especially, towards productions that lend themselves to interpretation and manipulation. I like work that is powerful and visceral, if dramatic, and oh-my-god-I-peed, if comical.”
What Greg likes best about being involved in theatre is being around other actors. “They are passionate, vibrant, and amazing creatures and I am thrilled to be numbered among them. They, and the work they do, make the world brighter for me and, aside from my family and students, give me a reason to be more.”
The hardest thing for him is to know there is a problem and not be able to solve it. That, and finding the time to do everything that he wants to do.
One of his favorite stories from being in theatre involves a production of 12 Angry Men that Theatre Ventoux did. “In Ventoux, we talk a great deal about professionalism and doing the best show possible, no matter what, because that’s what people pay for and give up their time for. Low and behold, one matinee performance had a whopping four people in attendance. The cast put on the finest show of the entire run for those four people. They did the Work. They were Pros. And that’s the way it should always be.”
According to Greg, what he feels has helped him grow the most as an actor and director is studying, both in school and out. Whenever and wherever he can. “For years, I wasn’t involved in theatre, but during that time, I read rather voraciously about performance and acting and did a tremendous amount of writing and thinking about it. Most of that turned out to be utter crap, but what was left has served me well. Also, play…the simple ability to enjoy and play in the time and place and moment that I happen to be in.”
His heroes first and foremost are his wife and children, and his sensei, Robert Halliburton. Artistic heroes include Orson Welles, Vanessa Redgrave, Guy Garvey, Gary Oldman, Paul Scofield, Brian Cox, George C. Scott, Michael Parks, Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Peter Gabriel, Paul Giamatti, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston. “Ok, Cumberbatch and Hiddleston are more likely man-crushes, but they have definite hero potential. Life heroes include Alan Watts, Ken Wilber, James P. Carse, and Joseph Campbell.”
To anyone wishing to act, or direct theatre, Greg’s advice is to do study and play. To act and direct. “If you can’t find a show, do one yourself. Read Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work. Then do the work.”
Dream shows to direct he says are many, but some of the top ones include Antigone, The Glass Menagerie, Frankenstein, Death and the Maiden, The Lion in Winter, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, The Tempest, and Titus Andronicus.
Recently, he and his wife decided to resurrect Ventoux for essentially the same reasons that they formed it in the first place. “While WSF is a challenging and creative experience, it doesn’t provide us the opportunity to do as much as we want to do, nor the range of productions that we’d like,” said Greg. “We have met some fantastic people over the last few years and feel it would be such a shame to miss the opportunity to work with them as much as possible.”
As to the future, Greg hopes to continue to steer WSF and now he will also be producing, directing, and acting with Theatre Ventoux. Ventoux has a number of shows planned, including the upcoming production of ‘Night, Mother at Fresno Soap Co. November 28, 29, December 5 and 6.
They may be following that up with an original play by Joshua Taylor sometime in February, and they’ve already started work on a production of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, directed by Lisa Taber, with Kayla Weber, Joshua Taber, Greg, Robert Daniels, Ethan Hardcastle, Broderic Beard, Emily Miller, Joshua Taylor, and Jessica Reedy.
“In the next foreseeable future, we plan to put up productions of Death and the Maiden by Dario Fo, Christopher Durang’s duo de farce Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All/The Actor’s Nightmare, a stripped down re-envisioning of Shakepseare’s The Tempest, and another Shakespeare project that I don’t want to say anything about other than it will be something that I don’t think Fresno has ever seen. It’s exciting, it’s ambitious as hell, but we have the people, they have the talent, and we’re not afraid to fall flat on our faces doing the best work that we can, doing something wonderful. To paraphrase The New Ensemble’s Heather Parrish, we’re ballsy like that.”
Check out more local arts and entertainment articles in KRL’s A & E section.