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Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 7.17.08

 

Oregon Shakespeare Festival:

Traditional Innovator A Q&A with OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch

Organized Insanity OSF’s costume shop

Last Man Standing Othello on the Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 10

It’s All Just a Case of Mistaken Identity A Comedy of Errors on the Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 12

Postmodern Angst, Zany Style The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler at the Bowmer Theatre through Nov. 1

Man Alone, and Whiny Coriolanus at the New Theatre through Nov. 2

Bare Bones Our Town on the Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 11

People in Motion John Sipes moves, but not to the music

 

Traditional Innovator

A Q&A with OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch

By Suzi Steffen

Bill Rauch (right) directs Dan Donohue during a rehearsal of 2007’s Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Jenny Graham

Bill Rauch, who joined the OSF as artistic director this season after years of directing L.A.’s Cornerstone Theater Company, was a busy guy in mid-June. Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter was about to close, and playwright Julie Marie Myatt was in the OSF offices. So in between other meetings and watching the final performance of a play that’s going on to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. July 19-27,  Rauch sat down to talk to us about his plans, his goals … and his favorite flavor of ice cream.

I read in the Orange County Register that you are “shaking things up at the huge if stodgy Oregon Shakespeare Festival.” Why do you think the arts writer called it stodgy? 

I don’t agree with the adjective stodgy, but any organization that’s 73 years old and the size it is with its  venerable history — given those things, someone might throw out that adjective. I feel I’m following closely in the steps of my predecessors, who both honored the legacy and innovated. They tried new things. In that way, I feel like I’m being very traditional in trying to innovate.

What traditions do you want to honor, and which ones do you want to change?

It’s the variety that audiences love about OSF: variety in approaches to Shakespeare, variety in the other seven plays besides Shakespeare. Obviously, the introduction of classics from outside Europe and America is a clear example. And the ever-rotating bill of performers at Green Show, that was really important to me. Also, putting more resources into new work — not having more new plays per year, but that we will have more options to pick from. With [planned history cycle] American Revolutions, the largest commissioning project we have ever taken on, we’re really trying to put ourselves as an arts organization at the center of a dialogue we’re having as a country. 

Will you continue with the August Wilson history cycle?

It’s a huge part of that dialogue and is one of the inspirations, along with the scale and scope of Shakespeare’s own history cycle, for American Revolutions.

Let’s talk about next year’s lineup. 

I heard a strong outcry from the acting company and audiences to invest more in American classics, like Miller and Odets. We should look at classics [from outside of the U.S. and Europe], yes, and create new works, but we should also look at our own national classics. 

Er, Music Man?

Musical comedy is our country’s contribution to world dramatic literature. I love musical theater, and ever since I was in Music Man in high school, I’ve had this production bubbling in my heart, looking at how Harold Hill and Marion change. I’m trying to do a production here that looks at the community change in a very extroverted way. I did a workshop of it with students at UC Irvine, and Gary Busby, the costume and music director from Irvine, is coming up here to work with us.

What excites you about Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge (which opens July 23)?

I’m hugely excited about it. [Former OSF Artistic Director] Libby Appel is a master director, so I’m excited to see her take on the play. Not all but most of the cast members are Latino. So telling a story about Latinos in the 21st century, it will be resonant in a subtle but deep way.

What has been the reaction to this year’s  2,000-year-old epic The Clay Cart?

It’s been very warmly received. It was a risk to run it all year, but it’s been doing great. The critical response has been somewhat mixed. The production got a great response critically, but the play itself, some people were less positive about, which I admit I was disappointed by. The point about doing plays outside of the Western canon is that they’re outside of the Western canon, so when people say the character development is not interesting or it feels like a fairy tale, that’s the beauty of it — the dramaturgy is different. The values in the piece, the way it looks at economic politics, the need for generosity of spirit, the need for forgiveness, anti-death penalty — the shocking thing is that this play was created so long ago, and that it’s still so relevant in the U.S. in the 21st century.

What about next year’s world classic, Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman?

The dramaturgy is much more familiar than was that of Clay Cart, but at the same time, it’s written by a Nigerian and bringing something unfamiliar in a form that’s more familiar.

How has it been for you bringing in your team and melding with the OSF team already in place?

I brought a couple of long-term colleagues and some new folks, and I did restructure the artistic staff to reflect the right priorities as we move forward. Now it’s a wonderful blend of people who have been here for many, many years, who know the organization in their bones, and then some people who are new both to OSF and to me, and the balance is great. I feel good about the team. I sorely miss some of the people whose jobs got eliminated in the restructuring, so none of it was personality based or a lack of respect. It was all about the hard thinking in terms of what, in terms of skill sets and interests, would serve the organization best.

What’s your favorite thing about Ashland?

It’s tied — the natural beauty and the people.

OK, you’re rushing off to the play, but the world (or Eugene) wants to know: What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Coffee. Or Ben and Jerry’s Heath Bar Crunch.   

 

 

 

Traditional Innovator A Q&A with OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch

Organized Insanity OSF’s costume shop

Last Man Standing Othello on the Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 10

It’s All Just a Case of Mistaken Identity A Comedy of Errors on the Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 12

Postmodern Angst, Zany Style The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler at the Bowmer Theatre through Nov. 1

Man Alone, and Whiny Coriolanus at the New Theatre through Nov. 2

Bare Bones Our Town on the Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 11

People in Motion John Sipes moves, but not to the music

More reviews can be found in our online archives