In the theater world, they call it a good run.
Craig McIntosh will soon retire after 13 years as Blue Mountain Community College’s chief thespian and 28 years of involvement in the Pendleton theater scene. McIntosh directed 37 plays and musicals as BMCC theater arts instructor and director for College Community Theatre. He performed in 11 CCT productions over the years.
Success didn’t come the way he’d imagined. McIntosh’s life reads like a play about a man who lost his voice and found it again. His personal story stars a young boy who finds acting and gets noticed, hones his talent and heads out into the world as an accomplished mime, actor and director. Then tragedy strikes. Surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his neck leads to disfigurement and a hard-to-understand voice. Devastated, but determined, he continues as a mime until someone gives him a chance to direct college theater.
His first attraction to theater started in junior high. It happened quickly, like falling off a cliff.
Two things happened that year that captivated the 12-year-old. First, his English class read the play “You Can’t Take it With You.” The main character, Grandpa Martin Vandenhof, a salty, old patriarch who teaches his family members valuable life lessons, moved the boy.
“I read it and thought, ‘I want to grow up like Grandpa,’” McIntosh said. “That’s the power of theater. A 12-year-old kid can read a play and want to be like an 80-year-old man.”
Soon after, a teacher encouraged McIntosh and his fellow students to audition for that year’s production of “Teahouse of the August Moon.”
“My buddies and I raised our hands, thinking, ‘Sure, why not?,’” McIntosh said.
He felt relaxed in auditions, figuring he’d get a part in the ensemble. He was flabbergasted to get the lead. He memorized his lines with surprising ease and opened the show with a lengthy monologue, during which audience members laughed in all the right places. McIntosh reveled in the connection.
“I knew immediately I wanted to spend the rest of my life in theater,” he said. “And I did.”
Until then, McIntosh spent most of his after-school time in sports: football, wrestling, track and tennis, as well as clubs and student government. He eventually traded spring sports for spring theater. At a theater workshop at age 15, he discovered mime. French mime Marcel Marceau had gained popularity and McIntosh was enthralled with what Marceau called “the art of silence.”
“I felt like this art form had been invented just for me,” he recalled. “You can do it all without making a sound. It was awesome.”
At age 19, McIntosh traveled the state of Wisconsin with a mime company.
This week, as he shared memories, McIntosh sat behind his desk in his tiny office at BMCC. On the walls around him hung playbills and photos of the actor/director in various productions. In one photo, he mimes during a solo show.
McIntosh met his wife, Debbie, at Portland’s Lewis & Clark College where he concentrated on theater and she studied psychology. Later, as a graduate student at University of California Irvine, he acted, directed and taught. After graduate school, he planned to hit the road as a mime, but mime’s popularity was waning.
“There were a lot of bad mimes around,” he said. “People started hating it. Mime wasn’t going to be my path.”
The next years brought a mash-up of graduate school and doctoral work for Debbie and acting opportunities and a new role as “Mr. Mom” for Craig. The couple eventually ended up in Boardman in 1983 where Debbie worked as a school psychologist and mental health clinician and Craig did mime and improv workshops around the area. He found Eastern Oregon, without the plethora of street corners with mimes performing for spare change, wasn’t jaded to the art form.
In 1984, he started experiencing a disturbing pain that went undiagnosed for more than a year. An MRI finally revealed a tumor deep inside his neck in a salivary gland. A surgeon removed the tumor, but had to clip nerves. McIntosh’s mouth drooped and he couldn’t close his left eyelid. His speech was slurred. A later surgery placed a gold plate in his eyelid to add weight. Another operation helped him speak more clearly, but he would never return to normal. He was able to perform speaking roles for several years after the surgery, but eventually his voice deteriorated.
Throughout the years, he performed mime, which required no speaking.
In the early ’90s, he guest directed plays BMCC’s Bob Clapp Theater and Eastern Oregon University. He was offered the BMCC theater arts instructor job in 2005. He said he will forever be grateful the college took a chance on him.
At BMCC, McIntosh finally got the opportunity to play the part of Grandpa in “You Can’t Take it With You.” Director Bob Clapp called him up in 1991 and offered him the part last-minute.
“I’m losing my Grandpa — would you step in?” McIntosh recalls Clapp saying.
Another thrill was playing King Sextimus the Silent in “Once Upon a Mattress.” The king is unable to speak because of a curse. The part proved perfect for a talented actor with speech problems.
Twenty years after his first BMCC production, McIntosh leaves a long list of actors he has mentored. They describe him as focused, calm, kind and a wizard at casting.
“He put the right people in the right roles, sometime in unexpected ways,” said wheat farmer and actor Don Pinkerton. Take the role of Big Jule in “Guys and Dolls.” The role typically calls for a big, beefy guy to play a gun-packing Chicago gangster with a Brooklyn accent. McIntosh, however, cast Gary Zimmerman, a talented actor, but also the smallest guy onstage.
“It worked perfectly,” Pinkerton said.
In another play, “Midsummer’s Night Dream,” McIntosh cast the part of Puck, typically a small, young sprite, with the oldest, tallest man who auditioned.
Actor and CCT board member Gary Burnett said McIntosh “pulls the best out of his actors.” Actress Colee Mayfield said her love of theater had gotten snuffed out in high school.
“I got it back when I worked with Craig,” she said.
Janette Lemons credits McIntosh for getting things across to his actors “easily and gently.”
“He made me feel confident,” Lemons said.
At a recent CCT Board meeting, McIntosh got an unexpected honor — a lifetime achievement award and a $500 perpetual scholarship in his name that will go to a BMCC student each year.
“I was overwhelmed and totally surprised,” he said. “I’m honored and moved.”
The 66-year-old doesn’t have any idea what retirement will bring, but he’s ready.
“It’s the right time,” he said. “I don’t want to be the guy who stayed too long.”
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or 541-966-0810.