By Tamara Vallejos
Beatrice Casagran is putting on a new hat—and a new theater company
It’s been said, in advocacy of diversity in the workplace, that one can’t be what one can’t see. A similar idea can be applied to the arts: A person can’t reasonably be a patron of something they don’t even know exists. It’s for this reason actor, director and teacher Beatrice Casagran co-founded the Inland Empire’s newest theater company, Ophelia’s Jump, alongside her daughter Caitlin Lopez.
“I have a background in straight theater—that is, non-musical theater—and there’s kind of a dearth of it in this area,” explains Casagran. “The idea is that audiences just won’t support it, but I’m hoping that’s not true. I think there’s an audience, but it needs to be tapped and built and people need to be exposed to really great theater beyond the standard fare of mainstream mid-century musicals we seem to get over and over again.”
To kick things off, Ophelia’s Jump opened its inaugural production on Oct. 12, of a play that critics the world over have certainly identified as “really great theater.” Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County, a darkly comedic piece of drama about an Oklahoma family facing its issues, won both the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2008, amongst a slew of other accolades.
Casagran takes on directorial duties for August: Osage County, but she’ll also have a turn on stage, as Barbara, the eldest daughter of the family. Wearing multiple hats goes hand in hand with launching a new endeavor from scratch, but Casagran has her 25-year-old daughter, Lopez, there to support her. Lopez serves as Assistant Director and jumps in when Casagran is on stage.
This current production, at the Grove Theatre in Upland, is the first time August: Osage County is being presented in the area—and Casagran believes it’ll give audiences exactly the type of experience Ophelia’s Jump is aiming for.
“I want to produce theater that challenges audiences, that asks them to engage actively, and leaves them talking about it in the end,” she says. “Osage does all that. It talks to a 21st century audience and really haunts you after you leave.”
Though it’s not that works have to be new to be thought-provoking; Ophelia’s Jump itself is named in reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and one of the most famous female characters in drama. What really happened when Ophelia fell into the water? Did she drown accidentally, or did she kill herself?
“It’s a character whose death, after 400 years, still has people talking,” says Casagran.
After the run of August: Osage County wraps up this weekend with its final three performances, Ophelia’s Jump will continue hammering out plans for its future, which Casagran hopes will include three shows per season. Non-profit status is also in the works, as well as negotiations over continued partnership with the Grove Theatre. But also important to the company is a mission of education, and Casagran is eager to incorporate a teaching component to Ophelia’s Jump that helps pick up the slack from the cutting of arts in schools.
“If we stop having arts programs, I think we’re selling kids short,” she says. Through her background as a middle school drama and English teacher, she’s seen the effects of the arts first hand. “I’ve done a lot of straight theater with kids, and they totally get into it. If you ask somebody else, they’ll say, ‘Oh that’s not going to work, they’re too young.’ But that’s not true. We have a feeling that audiences are just not up to the challenge, and I don’t want to [perpetuate] that.”
Ophelia’s Jump presents August: Osage County at The Grove Theatre, 276 E. Ninth St., Upland, (909) 920-4343; opheliasjump.com. Oct. 12-14, Oct. 19-21. $20.