From billboards to top billing : Don Aday

Like a lot of Eugene transplants, Don Aday came for a visit and never left. That was in 1969, when he helped his brother James move to Eugene from Texas. Four decades later, Aday still retains vestiges of a Texas accent—but that’s just one in a range of voices that makes him a distinctive presence in area theaters.

 

Whether a hard-boiled detective in a Damon Runyon story, the head angel in It’s A Wonderful Life or the wizard in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Aday has played dozens of characters for Radio Redux.

 

“Don has a rich, warm voice that is perfect for a wide range of characters,” says Radio Redux founder Fred Crafts. “He digs deep into his roles to find their essence, and then he delivers a three-dimensional character that resonates with the audience. His attention to detail is truly impressive. He is a mainstay in our company.”

 

Aday’s interest in vocal characterization came early.

 

“I grew up in movie houses,” he says of his Texas childhood. “My father was a district manager for four theaters and three drive-ins in Midland. I used to go to movies ALL the time. The actor in me was charmed by everything I saw.”

 

It wasn’t so much the plots that captured his attention, though.

 

“From as far back as I recall, I took an interest in mimicry of voices and sounds and characters I’d see on TV and in movies. I just had a knack for accents and dialects and imagining people.”

His decision to become an actor gelled during a play in junior high school.

 

“I distinctly recall the moment,” he says. “I had a role in a comedy and went on stage and started saying my lines and the audience started laughing heartily and a light went on in my head and I thought, “Wow!, this is exciting, this is fun. “
 

Until then he’d been more interested in football and basketball. But in high school, “I decided to go into theater, and I did everything—on stage, backstage, directed a few shows, went to speech contests, did monologues for contests. I took acting classes and built stage sets and did all that while I studied art.”

In college, acting took a back seat to art. After college, his first professional job as an artist was drawing with pencil and pen the work that was then hand painted onto billboards. He launched a successful free-lance career in graphic arts and design, illustration and photography.

 

During the 1990s, he went back to school and studied video and audio production and script writing. Later he volunteered at Maude Kerns Art Center, which then hired him to hang all their exhibits for several years. During all this, he kept acting on the back burner.

He credits brother James for reintroducing him to the theater after James got involved with the New Mime Circus in the 1970s. Don shot photos of their shows and became their publicity artist.

Don Aday, with Carol Philips, performs in Garish Summit during a Radio Redux performance live on KLCC-FM.

Eventually he started acting with them, “which was a great joy for me. It was very different from stage acting but there were similarities. While some of the troupe did perform as mimes, it wasn’t mime in the truest sense of the word, which is why it was called New Mime. We created our own performance material, working out skits through rehearsals and improv.”

 

The troupe performed in venues ranging from city parks and schools, to festivals, the Oregon Country Fair, and even the state prison. “The inmates really loved us,” he says.

 

After that, Aday honed his voice and acting skills in roles with other groups before Radio Redux came on the scene.

One of his earliest Radio Redux roles came in the troupe’s salad days when it performed at the Pleasant Hill Community Theater. Aday played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, which Radio Redux performed several years running as a fundraiser for PHCT.

 

One of his favorite Radio Redux roles more recently was the High Lama in Lost Horizon. “I was very happy to get that role, which was quite challenging,” he recalls. “He had to be so different from everyone else because he’s the high lama, he’s been there for 200 years.”

 

With Achilles Massahos, Aday also periodically stages Bob and Ray’s Slow Talkers as a Radio Redux performance at community fundraisers.

 

“At first it was like, ‘How will people sit still to listen to that?’ but that was the charm of it,” Aday says of Slow Talkers. “Right away I discovered that people are listening. Some people would start fidgeting, wondering

Aday (left) performs in A Christmas Carol with Fred Crafts during a fundraiser at the Pleasant Hill Community Theater.

‘Where’s this going, what the heck are they doing?’ For me it was like ‘How can I possibly talk this slowly?’ It does drive people crazy, but it turns out great every time. Working with Achilles is marvelous—when you have a good match like that, it’s a real gem.”

Another gem, says Aday, is performing in the Soreng Theater at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts. While Radio Redux “had a wonderful relationship with the audience at the Wildish [Theatre in Springfield], we outgrew it and had to move on. The Hult Center is expansive, it’s pretty easy to play in because the acoustics are so marvelous, and we really enjoy working with the staff. And 200 more people come to see each of our shows [than the seating at the Wildish accommodated] and everybody enjoys themselves. It’s a phenomenon, isn’t it?”

 

P.S. If you’re ever watching Don Aday on stage then notice him in the audience simultaneously, don’t be alarmed. When he moved his elder brother James to Eugene, Don had help from his other brother, Ron, who’s younger than Don … by 14 minutes.

— By Marti Gerdes

A Radio Redux performance draws a crowd of kids to the Hult Center Lobby for a special performance. Aday performs at left in center stage with Kim Donahey and Steve Wehmeier among other Radio Redux cast members.