We were in Ashland for our summer run at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: five plays in all this time, meaning we missed some good ones, Othello, Our Town, and Fences, most prominently. Our colleague Bob is heading down THIS weekend so perhaps will set up a little online back-and-forth when he gets back to talk about the individual shows we have in common and the festival in general.
What was I looking for? Well, the usual, I suppose. New descriptions of old plays, new descriptions of my reality, a little inspiration here and there, something dazzling, the OSF comfort food (reliably good acting and good production values). But something else, too. This is the first year in the reign of Bill Rauch as artistic director of the festival, and I was looking for changes. I wasn’t expecting MUCH. OSF is the aircraft carrier of American theater companies, the largest non-profit theater company in the country (at least it once was) with many decades (since 1935), even centuries one might say (enter Shakespeare), of tradition to uphold. But maybe, I thought, I’ll be able to detect a new hand at the tiller. When Henry Woronicz took over from Jerry Turner in 1991, some changes were immediately apparent, notably the company’s far wider recruitment and employment of minority actors, part of the “color blind” casting movement that has become common at regional theater companies (you know I think that’s a good thing, right?). On the other hand, Libby Appel continued many of the initiatives that Woronicz started when he left the festival abruptly in 1995 (yes, we know the gossip). Her interests emerged and colored the festival more slowly and less dramatically.
Cut to the chase. What do I think I detected? I will enumerate! But first the caveats: I saw five of 11 plays on schedule this year; veterans of the festival might say, “I’ve seen them do that before,” and may even by right (though I think my points will still stand on the matter of degree); memory is a tricky thing.
Continue reading The Shakespeare festival is so theatrical!