ashland.news
July 18, 2024

Playwright who acted with OSF will return to read and sign her first novel

Playwright Catherine Butterfield, a former OSF actor, has published her first novel, "The Serpent and the Rose." She will read from it and sign copies at book talks July 13 and 14 in Medford and Ashland. Deidre Hall photo
July 9, 2024

Catherine Butterfield, who performed with OSF in the ’70s, will visit Village Books in Medford and Bloomsbury in Ashland July 13 and 14

By Jim Flint for Ashland.news

Catherine Butterfield may be a master of the art of pivoting.

More about that in a moment. But first, let it be known that this former Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor will read from her first novel and sign copies at Village Books in Medford and Bloomsbury Books in Ashland. The Medford date is 12:30 p.m. Saturday, July 13, and the Bloomsbury event is at 4 p.m. Sunday, July 14.

At Bloomsbury, she will be joined by actor and director Michael J. Hume for a Q&A.

The book, “The Serpent and the Rose,” is based on the life of the French Queen Marguerite de Valois. Her stories are said to have been the inspiration for Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost.

It has received glowing reviews.

Kirkus Reviews described it as “a sweeping but intimate story that highlights the author’s clear attention to detail.”

Butterfield performs in “Angel Street” at OSF in 1976.

The Historical Fiction Co. said it “is a captivating tale that skillfully weaves together historical, dramatic and personal elements.”

Readers from among the 90 million worldwide on the website Goodreads called it “smart,” “emotionally engaging,” a page-turner,” and “a joy to read.”

Multiple reinventions

Butterfield’s journey from OSF in the late 1970s to publishing her first novel in February was not without its twists and turns. And that’s where the pivoting comes in.

As a young actor, she learned to pivot and move on when failing to get the part after an audition.

Later, wanting to become a playwright but not having the resources to take the necessary time off, she took a job as an understudy on a nine-month national tour. She never got to play the role, but she managed to write her first full-length play in hotel rooms, launching a new career.

When the pandemic hit, the chances of seeing her work performed became even more remote. She shifted again and her first novel was born.

In “The Serpent and the Rose,” Butterfield brings to life a fascinating period in French history, painting a complex and memorable portrait of Queen Marguerite.

The inspiration for the novel came during an artists’ retreat in the town of Nérac, France, in 2022.

“One night we dined out next to the ruins of the castle where Henry IV of France and Marguerite de Valois lived and threw their famous parties in the 16th century,” Butterfield said.

Butterfield, left, performed with Kenned MacIver in “The Rivals” at OSF in 1976.
Inspiring even Shakespeare

“When our host told me that William Shakespeare was inspired to write ‘Love’s Labor’s Lost’ because of the stories he’d heard about them, I was hooked.”

And the research began.

When Butterfield heard that Marguerite’s memoirs had been published, she rushed to read them.

“They were translated from the French and the language was antiquated, but to me she came through loud and clear,” she said.

She read everything she could get her hands on about the French wars of religion and the lives of the people involved, finding much of the information in academic articles and in online databases. But the memoirs provided the most inspiring material.

“She was the first woman to write and publish her memoirs,” Butterfield said.

Further inspiration was to be found in walking around Nérac, especially seeing the Parc de la Garenne, for which Queen Marguerite had designed extensive additions.

The idea of writing a novel was intimidating for Butterfield, even though she was a successful playwright. She worried that she was ill-equipped because her strength, as a playwright, was dialogue.

Her early readers of the novel-in-progress, family and friends, mentioned they missed her ear for dialogue.

For more information …
… about Catherine Butterfield’s work and to view a short video about the novel, go to catherinebutterfield.com. Village Books is located at 2382 W. Main St., Medford, and Bloomsbury Books is at 290 E. Main St., Ashland.

“That was a relief, because it gave me license to put in more dialogue. It is a somewhat atypical novel, I suppose, in that regard.”

Finding relevance today

She thinks readers will find the story has contemporary relevance.

“Women have been dealing with the same issues of oppression since humanity began,” she said. “But also, women have been forever finding ways to rise above it. Marguerite is not only a survivor, she’s a thriver.”

Butterfield is excited about returning to the Rogue Valley.

“I can’t wait to experience Ashland again,” she said. “I understand some of my old running buddies are still here, so I hope to see them, too.”

Butterfield, who resides in Santa Monica, California, was born in Manhattan and grew up primarily in Minnesota and Massachusetts. She says she probably caught the theater bug watching her mother and father act in community theater.

“A high school trip to New York City to see Broadway shows cemented the deal,” she said.

She earned a BFA in theater from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

The decision to audition at OSF was made when visiting her parents in Lake Oswego, a suburb of Portland.

Butterfield says she writes when inspiration strikes: “This novel came to me unannounced, and I really don’t know what’s going to happen next.” Ron West photo
The best advice

“I was living in New York at the time,” she said. “New York was kicking my butt both professionally and personally, so my parents suggested I go to Ashland and audition. Following their advice was one of the best things I ever did.”

After the OSF stint in 1977 and 1978, she worked extensively in regional theater as well as in New York. However, because it was tough in the Big Apple, she thought maybe writing her own material might be an option worth exploring.

An opportunity presented itself at the West Bank Café, a downstairs theater bar run by stand-up comedian Louis Black. He allowed her to present some one-act plays there. They were well received, and her playwriting career began.

 Her first big break was when the Manhattan Theatre Club produced “Joined at the Head” which she wrote and starred in. Her playwriting led to work in film and television as well, writing and producing.

Writing the novel has been an adventure. Publishing it was a delight, especially with longtime friend and actor Jean Smart doing a Q&A with her at the book’s launch. She met Smart when she was at OSF.

Butterfield is adapting the novel for television, with the idea of its being a 10-episode limited series.

Is there another novel in the works?

“I am one of those writers who writes only when inspiration strikes,” she said. “I don’t sit down at 8 a.m. every day and force myself to write 10 pages. This novel came to me unannounced, and I really don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’ll take what I can get.”

Stay tuned.

Reach writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Picture of Jim

Jim

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