The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University's Theatre Arts Program have forged a relationship that sends dozens of students and theater professionals back and forth between the two institutions.
Students are funneled into internships and acting roles at OSF, while actors, directors, stage combat experts, voice instructors and others teach classes and help with SOU plays.
OSF Director of Company Development Scott Kaiser — who scouts universities across America for theater talent and also heads OSF's actor training program — said SOU is unique.
"It's our local feeder department. We have relationships with schools all over the country, but we have a special relationship with SOU because they're right down the street," Kaiser said.
He said he auditions SOU seniors who are ready for a significant commitment to OSF.
Many universities in large urban areas have ties to their local professional theater companies. SOU is able to have ties with a world-class theater company even though it's not in a big city, Kaiser said.
That ends up benefitting SOU students, he said.
"We're building a bridge for them between college experience and a professional career or graduate school," Kaiser said.
Kaiser has directed at SOU, making him one of many OSF company members who has directed or taught at the university.
"Not only do they come to OSF, we go down the street. It goes in both directions," he said.
OSF actor Michael Hume, who has directed productions at SOU, said in the 1990s, there were only a few SOU students at OSF.
"Now we have 30 or 40 kids down here," said Hume, noting that they can be found working in stage management, acting, design, dramaturgy, lighting, sound, carpentry, the costume shop and many other areas.
Hume credited the community-oriented focus of OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch for much of the increase.
Rauch became artistic director for OSF in 2007 and is co-leader of the theater company with new Executive Director Cynthia Rider.
Hume said OSF company members enjoy having the SOU students around because of their youthful energy and enthusiasm.
With the two institutions in such close proximity, it makes sense to build ties, he said.
"To me, it's the perfect marriage," Hume said.