by Dan Murphy
Based on a recent talk by Bill Rauch in Carpenter Hall, Ashland, Oregon.
The mission of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is to create fresh and bold interpretations of classic and contemporary plays in repertory, shaped by the diversity of our American culture, using Shakespeare as our standard and inspiration.
Incoming artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) in Ashland, Oregon, Bill Rauch, intends to create fresh and bold interpretations of plays—true to the playwright’s vision and made relevant to our time and place.
Rauch’s artistic vision and leadership has several clear-cut contours.
1. Reaching diverse audiences: Rauch is committed to finding ways to communicate the relevance, power, and wonder of great plays to people of all ages, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds. That’s a tall order. It will require careful understanding of diverse people, methods that reach and invite them into the rich world of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and continuous review of how plays appeal to people of various ilks. Rauch’s special concern is reaching the 18-43 age group, which has a relatively low engagement level at OSF.
2. Situating plays in context of community: A “cornerstone” of Rauch’s vision and leadership is community: the realities of time and place that, if recognized, can become fertile soil for relevant productions. Rauch wants to avoid the static concepts of “traditional” and “contemporary” and is entering into dialogue with other artists, audience and community members to find new words to describe his aesthetic. Productions that are true to dramatic origins, and relevant and appropriated to time and place . . . community.
3. Drawing on local and regional talent to foster a real “festival”: Rauch sees the potential of tapping into local and regional gifts to make the atmosphere and experience of the OSF a true “festival”—a vibrant and ever-changing
range of resources and activities that might include performances by high school thespians, university musicians, and other community members to ignite a spirit of fun and frolic through the “Green Show” on the bricks and other venues. (The “Green Show” is a free, open-to-the-public event that anticipates the play of the evening that unfolds in the Elizabethan outdoor theater.)
4. Demonstrating his commitment to dialogue with artists, audience members, and community folks: Rauch has ideas, “contours,” but wants to hear from others. He offers his artistic vision and leadership as a platform for discussion, welcoming the insights, questions, and possibilities that take shape from his dialogue with artistic and community collaborators.
5. Creating a 10-year cycle of new plays based on U.S. history: Transformative moments in U.S. history will be the seedbed for a 10-year cycle of new plays. This season’s “As You Like It” anticipates this ethos. Directed by J.R.
Sullivan, Shakespeare’s comedy is set in Depression-era America and embellished with time-period dress, pathos, and music. It evokes the period’s sense of near-despair and its craving for mercy and kindness—discovered in the Forest of Arden.
Rauch is carrying a torch for a community-grounded embodiment of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s mission. His vision integrates freshness, boldness, American diverse experience, and the incomparable standard of Shakespeare as inspiration. Welcome and lead on, Bill!