MANZANITA - How can you not like Megan Cole? The honest, hardworking and charismatic actor brings the best out of people, whether on a national television show or helping those who are most in need.
Cole has spent the last 25 years on the stage, performing frequently with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and was the originator of the central role of a terminal cancer patient in Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Wit," which made its debut in Seattle in 1995.
And on TV she can be seen in the re-runs of "Seinfeld," "ER," "Star Trek," "The Practice" and "Judging Amy."
"Acting for me has always been about ordering chaos, which helps me make sense of the events of my life," Cole explained. "Chaos unordered remains chaos; chaos ordered transcends itself and becomes something we can use to live better and to help others to live better. In this way art is a healing agent."
Cole noted that from the healing agent comes the opportunity to study the human condition and to discover the nuances that bond everyone together, yet which make every individual life unique.
"For me, the primary usefulness of the arts is that they provide people with experience by proxy," she said. "All art allows us to experience the human condition from a safe distance; this is what's meant by 'aesthetic distance.' We learn, of course, largely by experience, but since none of us has every life experience - thank god - we get the rest from sharing our stories through various art forms. We can learn from the experience without being personally threatened by it."
While many actors, both locally and nationally, have said freeing themselves and embracing their character may be the great challenge, Cole was candid in saying that "letting go" is one of her strengths. The actor strives for the moment when her character's truest self is realized. "I've never had much difficulty in letting go of a character - a good thing, since most of my roles have been tragic ones," she explained.
"Compartmentalization is an important acting skill. You use what you need at the moment you need it, and then put it in its appropriate corner, there to rest until you need it again. When you know you can release an emotion, you no longer fear entering that emotion fully."
The actor also candidly offered insight into what can be the most challenging demands of her craft.
"Probably my greatest vulnerability in acting is my tendency to care too much about public reaction - what did this reviewer say, what did that audience think? -- where I'd be better off focusing on the work done. I still like widespread approval more than is wise or healthful. But I'm still taking baby steps on the road to self-approval; another couple of decades should do it..."
Cole has a bachelor's degree in English from Lawrence University a master's degree in theater directing from Tufts University. In addition to her acting, Cole has spent the last few years involved in medical education, using a model of actor training. Actors learn how to step back and forth between emotional engagement and rational detachment; medical professionals might respond to learning the same kinds of techniques.
She has an appointment as Visiting Professor of Society and Health at the University of Texas in Houston, works on communications projects at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and travels to other medical venues with a series of workshops called "The Craft of Empathy." Her exploits have earned publicity in the Washington Post and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, among others.
"As with acting itself, it's a little personal attempt to make a difference," she said. "My areas of particular social interest are the environment and women's rights, especially healthcare rights."
And like many residents of the North Coast, Cole and husband, Peter Newman, have their own personal story of what makes this part of the country special to them.
"Peter and I have had a little house in Manzanita since shortly after we honeymooned here 16 years ago. It's where we love to be, and when the chance came this past summer to make a major lifestyle change, we looked at each other and said, 'Heck, why not now?' So we're now living full-time in Neahkahnie and are happy as clams. Are clams happy? We are."
Newman had been for many years the program director at KING-FM, the classical radio station in Seattle. He is serving as station manager at KMUN, although his position is being advertised because he has told its board that he is casting around for new directions. Cole is still on the road quite a lot, for her medical school work, for regional theater work and for occasional TV shoots.
The couple has two cats, Giulietta and Mr. Benny, whom they call "the kids."
"We are very, very fortunate," she noted.