It has been a full-circle journey for Terra Russo going from summertime theater camps at the Ross Ragland Theater to a career in Hollywood.
Now she is back in the Klamath Basin ensuring the next generation has the same arts opportunities that led to her improbable career.
Russo was recently hired as the Ross Ragland Theater’s director of development and marketing, a multi-tiered role that encompasses fundraising and relationship-building efforts in the community, as well as marketing of upcoming events and arts-related programs made possible through Klamath Falls’ venerable, historic theater.
Russo’s family moved from Akron, Ohio, to Klamath Falls when she was 6, for job opportunities with what would eventually become Sky Lakes Medical Center. As a child, she took full advantage of the various summer theater camps offered through the Ragland, discovering aspects of production that would serve her well later in her career.
She didn’t have grand aspirations to be in Hollywood, yet somehow the training offered through the Ross Ragland provided the foundation for her to succeed when opportunity knocked.
“Those camps really exposed me to culture and the arts, it gave me confidence and a social aspect to my life,” reflected Russo. “I learned things that I then took on set down in Hollywood. I never thought I would end up in Los Angeles, but I used what I learned at the camps here in my career.”
After graduating from Henley High School, Russo moved to Los Angeles and became a nanny and assistant to a Hollywood costume designer, which exposed her to film studios.
Discovering a passion for the film industry, she attended a prestigious Hollywood makeup school and soon was working on various film sets doing special effects makeup for films such as “Little Nicky,” “Breaking the Fifth,” and “Dahmer.”
“I did a lot of fashion shows and personal makeup for actors, but getting to do special effects for blood and guts stuff was fun,” recalls Russo.
Business savvy dividends
As her career progressed, she had the opportunity to launch her own business and work as a consultant for retail, which taught her a business-savvy perspective intertwined with the arts.
Her husband continues to work in the entertainment industry, and for a time the couple moved to New Orleans to work on a show for MTV; but when Russo found out she was an expecting mother, the decision was made to return home to her roots in the Basin.
Her various stops in the big city are now paying dividends for the Ross Ragland and the Basin arts scene, enriched with a deep understanding of the entertainment industry and how to keep the much-beloved theater viable in its rural off-the-beaten-path setting.
The premier site for live performance in Southern Oregon among theaters with fewer than 1,000 seats, the Ragland combines a nostalgic ambiance of the golden age of Hollywood with modern technology for a best-of-both-worlds experience.
The installation of a high-definition projector, screen and surround-sound audio system last year (known as RDX or “Ragland Digital eXperience”) adds to event opportunities for film screenings and live-streaming. An ample stage and balcony layout offers enough room to get creative with shows; from bands to magicians to acrobats and dance troupes and theater productions.
Russo hopes to further expand event offerings, maximizing live shows alongside the RDX system to provide one-of-a-kind experiences such as Ted Talks matched with related-documentaries, live bands preceding music-based films, history experts introducing a famous film telling the story of how it came to be made and its historic relevance, and outdoors films in coordination with Basin area experts that cater towards recreational activities.
Steeped in history
She would like to grow the community’s education and understanding of its grand theater and unique history, possibly creating a mini-museum in the lobby and did-you-know fact cards. She wants to partner with more local media to increase promotional efforts for upcoming events, and when possible get performing artists proactively involved through interviews and community outreach.
The cost to upkeep the theater is expensive, even as a 501©3 nonprofit, and with the building’s age comes maintenance demands that often preclude upgrade desires.
It is Russo’s role to ensure that the community continues to support the theater’s operations financially and through patronage, from seeking sponsors and donors to promoting its eclectic live events schedule. It is the role of a lifetime for Russo, one in which she has since a child unknowingly been training to perform, and from her firsthand experiences shares an unbridled passion to achieve.
“I get to talk to people in the community about why this place is important, I can tell my personal story and it’s real — the opportunities I had came because of this place,” said Russo.
“The Ross Ragland gave me exposure to something I would not have otherwise had, it created my future. The theater gave me a leg up to put myself out there in the big city where I didn’t know anyone, and I want to make sure that kids here continue to have those opportunities to come into their own.”
Arts and the economy
Beyond exposure of outreach programs catering to youth spearheaded by the Ross Ragland, Russo sees value in an eclectic arts scene as important for recruiting students for Klamath’s two major colleges as well as highly sought-after professionals such as doctors and nurses — for whom deciding factors in determining where to go may come down to schools and social life.
While not the sole voice in determining what events are brought to the Ross Ragland, her perspective in Hollywood is also beneficial in connecting with live performers, promoters and other venues. Her business and promotional background aids in a deeper understanding of matching the local demographics to what shows would be most desirable to hopefully gain the largest audiences.
“We live off our ticket sales and concessions, that’s how we make money as a nonprofit, but to do any of those things the content has to be right,” said Russo. “We want to understand what does the community want and build on that content, so that people are excited to participate in community shows or the next big concert.”
Ultimately Russo and the staff aim to continue to bring quality content to the public, to educate and expose Klamath residents to the arts, and perhaps inspire new passions and a greater perspective after being introduced to something new.
She strongly encourages people to take a chance on shows, even if it may fall outside of their comfort zone, and to take an active role in the theater.
“Our priority is to provide enough content to where people would be curious enough to participate, hope that it leads to people enjoying something they might not normally take in, and walk out feeling better that you did or learned something new,” added Russo.