Curtain Call: Craterian’s McCandless says theater fosters empathy and understanding – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News


Craterian Theater Executive Director Stephen McCandless (in costume) feels the groove as he kicks up his heels while filming a music video for the opening of the annual Gingerbread Jubilee party. Photo by Jim Craven for Craterian

Ashland High oboe student Clara Dyson took second place in the Young Artist competition, winning a $500 scholarship. RGBS Photo

Ashland High bassoon student James Dyson won third place in the Young Artists Competition and a $300 scholarship. RGBS photo

SOU music major Travis Muñoz will conduct Leonard Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide” at the Rogue Valley Symphonic Band concert on May 21. RGBS Photo

South Medford High School student Asher Howell composed “Honor and Glory” for wind band. It will be performed by RVSB at their concert on May 21. RGBS photo

The winner of the 2022 Concerto Competition, Ellie McGary, a senior from North Medford High School, will perform a solo with the Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon. RGBS Photo

Executive Performance Director, Stephen McCandless. Courtesy picture

Stephen and Cailey McCandless at the Craterian Theatre. Photo of MT file

Stephen McCandless, executive performance director at the Craterian Theater in Medford, never had big plans to become a theater manager.

“My only goal has been to do what I do well and to be of service,” he said. “I never aspired to any particular position or rank. I just responded to the opportunities.

He describes his career as a succession of stages, each one accompanied by an increase in management responsibilities.

McCandless was born in Eugene and the family moved to Medford when he was six. His father was a founding partner of Protectors Insurance and his mother was a surgical nurse at Rogue Valley Medical Center (now Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center).

“Nothing explains how my brother David and I ended up in the theater. He is a professor in the theater department at SOU,” he said.

Good theater always makes a great impression on him and he has had the privilege of seeing many of them. A production of “Godspell” he worked on in high school that he also saw presented to Eugene made him realize how powerful theater can be.

“Also, while in high school, I saw a production of ‘Comedy of Errors’ at OSF that was set in a circus motif,” he said. “It was completely goofy and I’ve never forgotten it.”

Lynn Sjolund was an important early mentor to McCandless and was instrumental in his liquidation at Craterian.

“I staged and sound directed several shows for Lynn Sjolund when I was a student at Medford Senior High,” McCandless said.

Years later, Sjolund was acting executive director of Craterian when McCandless and his wife, Cam, decided to return to Rogue Valley. The old friend and mentor encouraged McCandless to apply for the job.

“At the time, I was operations manager for Holzmueller Productions in San Francisco,” McCandless said. “We have provided management, design and production services and equipment to Bay Area movie theaters and corporate clients such as Sony, IBM and ATT.”

After nearly 15 years in the Bay Area and starting a family, the couple decided to move to a smaller community to raise their two daughters, Cailey and Meghan. They visited his parents here once a year and while on a holiday trip he saw an article in the Mail Tribune about the Craterian being refurbished.

The article mentioned that Sjolund was acting manager, which led to a discussion with him which resulted in McCandless applying for the position.

“They did a national search and I was chosen as a finalist,” he said.

This was followed by interviews with the fundraising consultant and the search committee, meetings with OSF’s Bill Patton and the Craterian board, and finally a dinner with other community stakeholders.

“I remember being exhausted when I left. Eventually I was offered the job, but it all started with Lynn. I wouldn’t be here without him. »

The Craterian opened in 1924 and functioned primarily as a movie theater. Later it could not compete with modern multiplexes, saw less and less use, and fell into disrepair; a common story across the country.

“It was a wreck when a movement started to turn it into a modern performing arts center,” McCandless said. “It is where it is today thanks to the vision and tenacity of a group of community leaders who saw the benefits of having such a facility in downtown Medford.”

After booking more than 800 shows to date at the Craterian, McCandless is struggling to name a favorite. One of the highlights, however, is “Hairspray”.

“It was a big, glitzy, Broadway-quality production of one of my favorite musicals,” he said. “The finale alone was worth the price of admission.”

Other memorable productions were “Peer Gynt”, “Ragtime” and “Moby Dick”.

“The National Theater for the Deaf presented ‘Peer Gynt’ and sign language was incorporated into the performance,” he said. “We then had a reception in the lobby for our local deaf community and the cast, and it was like a party with the sound muted. It was moving and amazing to watch.

With countless national companies performing at the Craterian, McCandless has met many luminaries along the way.

“I most enjoyed meeting Bernadette Peters, arguably one of Broadway’s biggest stars,” he said. “We featured her twice, and on her first visit, I was sitting in the auditorium doing a sound check and she came down from the stage, knelt down in front of me and sang a song. It was a moment!

The Craterian brought Peters back as the centerpiece of a celebration for philanthropist Jim Collier when they added his name to the marquee.

“We asked her to attend a private reception in Jim’s honor and she couldn’t have been more kind or thoughtful to him.”

There are also memorable moments when local productions take the stage at the Craterian. It’s easy for him to choose his favourites.

“It’s still the last Teen Musical Theater of Oregon or Next Show we did,” he said. TMTO features local teens and Next Show features local adult productions.

“If I had to choose one of TMTO’s most memorable shows, I’d say ‘Tarzan’ because it turned out to be a turning point for the company,” he said. “It was the first time we had actors fly on stage.

“We put all of Craterian’s production resources and expertise at the disposal of some of the most talented teenagers in the valley. The results were stellar and put the company on the map. The community found that TMTO’s shows transcended the expectations of teen theater.

While the pandemic has presented financial challenges for nonprofit theater, finding qualified stage crews is just as difficult post-pandemic as it was pre-COVID.

“We hire up to 60 people for a day to load, direct and hit a show,” he said. “We can’t book shows if we can’t get the teams we need.”

Work has its satisfactions. McCandless describes show business as a “soul” business in that productions are chosen to edify and enlighten as well as entertain audiences.

“It’s satisfying to know that we’ve touched a number of lives in each audience,” he said. “My greatest satisfaction, however, is TMTO, as we provide a space for teens that is inclusive and nurturing, creating the next generation of theater artists and audiences.”

He considers the crater important to the community because of its economic value and multipliers.

“Typically, for every dollar spent on theater, two to three more are spent in the community. But theater is more than a means of subsistence. It’s about life.

While theater at its best is about openness, emotion and uplifting the spirit, it is also about self-discovery and empathy, he said.

“If we want to survive as a species, we need to better understand our commonalities and not be threatened by our differences. I know of no other human endeavor that promotes these ideals as well as theater,” he said.

Upcoming events this weekend at the Craterian are “Heart by Heart” at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday May 14 and Henry Rollins at 7 p.m. on Sunday May 15.

Heart by Heart features the original rhythm section of Seattle rock band Heart, bassist Steve Fossen and drummer Michael Derosier. They were the driving force behind the band’s classic hits.

Rollins – singer, poet and monologue – became one of the most recognizable faces of the 1980s punk scene as the lead singer of Los Angeles-based hardcore band Black Flag. His visit to Craterian is a stop on his “Good to See You 2022” tour.

For tickets, prices, and information on upcoming concerts and shows, visit

Contact Ashland writer Jim Flint at [email protected]


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