ASHLAND, Oregon – Spokane native Dan Donohue is mesmerizing audiences this season as the title character in Shakespeare’s “Richard III” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theater.
The 1984 Lewis and Clark High School graduate is playing to sold-out audiences, many of whom recall his past performances of Shakespeare’s dynamic characters at OSF, including Hamlet, Caliban, Iago and Mark Antony. Donohue grew up on the South Hill, played trumpet in the LC Band and was the school’s drum major.
“I loved the feeling of making people feel good,” he said. “I loved music. Music moved me. I wanted to be able to do the same.”
He tried some stand-up comedy and skits at LC – at the time, the school didn’t have a theater department.
“My family was very supportive of the son who wanted to pursue a profession of performance,” he said. “And, as much as I loved music, I knew that I wasn’t that good.
“I used to go over to Gonzaga and asked to be let into the Crosby collection. I watched old Crosby movies and was fascinated by his talent for drama and by his comic timing. I discovered Spokane’s Craig T. Nelson who had just done ‘Poltergeist.’ He was a working actor. He made a living doing what he loved. I decided to give it a try.”
Donohue graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla as a theater major and continued on to graduate school at Penn State University.
“I learned that I could enjoy acting and not necessarily be famous,” he said. “You don’t have to be famous to love it.”
In 2009, he was one of 10 actors chosen from regional companies in the United States for the inaugural class of the Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program at Ten Chimneys, in the Wisconsin Lake country. Taught by master actor the late Lynn Redgrave, Donohue said the week was built around 10 master classes.
“Lynn quickly asked us all to think of her less like a master teacher and more like a troupe leader. She put us at ease with her beautiful, open spirit and her generosity. She created an atmosphere in which we could all do our best work – and work, as it turned out, that surprised us all in its depth and honesty. That’s not an easy place to get to – especially in front of a small group of strangers. But we all quickly became very close to, and trusting of, each other. We shared a rare experience that week, unlike anything we had experienced before.”
Although best known for his work in Shakespeare, Donohue was Scar in the New York and national tour of “The Lion King.” As veteran of more than 1,800 performances, he said “The Lion King” is not unlike Shakespeare. “Scar has the DNA of all of Shakespeare’s villains.”
Now living in Los Angeles, Donohue can be seen in major repertory theaters across the country and in the occasional films and television – “Shameless,” “The Closer,” “Bad Teacher,” and “Return to Zero” among them. At OSF this season, he is also cast as Mr. Murry in a production of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic “A Wrinkle in Time.”
“I wish I were quicker with my characters,” he said. “I’ve been working on Richard III for a year and a half. Sometimes I’d rather be on the outside, to work with actors, and to dig into the meat of the play. Each role demands that I find the pieces of my character I can relate to and then amplify those pieces.”
When asked what he would like to be doing with his talents in the next 10 years, he replied, “I seem to be tattooed with Shakespeare. I’d like to direct. I loved learning with each character, even with each performance during the run of a show. Acting is learning. I’ll be learning for the rest of my life.”
And, of Spokane? “It was a great place to grow up. My family and friends gave me a foundation of love and trust that I carry with me. It has a real hometown feeling. When I go back to visit – which I do frequently to see my mother and my father – the sense of the Spokane I grew up with is still there.”