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OSF changes bring difficulties, opportunities

A staffing shake-up at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival means uncertainty for the people who have sunk deep roots in Ashland.

Earlier this month, incoming Artistic Director Bill Rauch announced five people will leave at the end of this season: Associate Artistic Directors Tim Bond and Penny Metropulos, Resident Scenic Designer Bill Bloodgood, Producing Director David Dreyfoos and Green Show Artistic Director David Hochoy.

Rauch said deciding to make staffing changes was not a decision he took lightly.

"It was agonizing because I have such tremendous respect for them," he said. "The decisions were structural." Rauch is adding, combing and eliminating positions so that OSF can bring in more guest directors and designers and commission a cycle of plays based on American history.

He said he hopes Bond, Metropulos and Bloodgood will return to OSF in the future as guest artists. Rauch was a guest director himself at OSF for five years before being named as artistic director in August 2006. He is now working part-time for OSF but will begin working full-time in June.

Rauch, who teaches at the University of California at Irvine and is in Los Angeles, did not receive a message left at OSF seeking comment for a Friday article on the staffing changes. But he did respond to a message left this weekend on his cell phone.

Incoming artistic directors frequently make staffing changes as they build their own teams, according to theater world insiders.

Bond, who is involved in numerous community activities in addition to directing for OSF, said he expected staffing changes.

With a son who is a freshman at Ashland High School, he said the timing of the staff changes is awkward.

Bond said he plans to work as a freelance director in 2008 and then eventually begin a search for a position as artistic director of another theater company.

He served as Seattle Theatre Group's artistic director for 13 years before coming to OSF.

"I see it as an opportunity to seek being an artistic director. People who know me know I'm a very positive person," he said. "I will try to make this a positive environment in the transition and help usher in the new folks." Ashland Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sandra Slattery said Bond will be missed if he decides to leave Ashland.

"People say one person doesn't make a significant difference," she said. "I have found that not to be true. It would be a tremendous loss to not have him here and his involvement." Bond serves on the chamber's elected board of directors, helped found the Ashland Cultural Diversity Alliance, serves on the Oregon Community Foundation's Southern Oregon leadership group and is artistic director for Ashland's annual Martin Luther King, Jr.

celebration.

He squeezed in time for a Tidings interview on Friday after attending a chamber of commerce meeting in the morning and speaking about King at a high school assembly in the afternoon.

Bond said he will continue his work with local groups for as long as he remains in Ashland.

At OSF, he is known for working to diversify the play selection and casting.

Bond said he believes Rauch has shown a commitment to diversity through the Cornerstone Theater Company, which Rauch co-founded in Los Angeles.

"He (Rauch) has done a lot of work in diverse communities," Bond said. "I think he will continue to expand the play selection in terms of doing plays that involve diverse populations and in how he approaches casting. My sense is he will definitely continue to carry that banner." Rauch said he plans on continuing and strengthening OSF's commitment to diversity.

"Cornerstone Theater is arguably the most or one of the most diverse theaters in the U.S. Diversity is a huge part of what I care about and value in the festival," he said.

As part of his new team, Rauch is bringing in scenic, costume and graphics designer Christopher Acebo to serve as the associate artistic director. Rauch said Acebo is a brilliant designer as well as being a bilingual Mexican-American who can reach out to Latino audiences.

Like Bond, Metropulos said she plans on becoming a freelance director - a job she has done in the past.

With her mother and partner living in Ashland, she said she doesn't plan to leave anytime soon but will travel out of town to work.

Metropulos said she thinks OSF's reputation as a premier theater will help her get jobs, and that new opportunities await her.

"The incredible support from friends and colleagues here and around the country makes you feel good and gives you courage and confidence," she said.

Metropulos said she doesn't take the staffing changes personally and believes Rauch will be a tremendous leader for OSF. He treated departing staff members respectfully by meeting with them privately and then quickly letting the theater company and larger community know, rather than letting rumors swirl, she said.

Play reviewer Roberta Kent said Metropulos is an innovative and versatile director who digs deeply into the plays she directs.

Current Artistic Director Libby Appel, who will retire at the end of the season, said Metropulos is a warm person with an extraordinary eye for talent when casting. Metropulos also is key to the Black Swan Project, in which OSF internally produces the personal artistic projects of company members.

When contacted by the Tidings, Bloodgood, the resident scenic designer, said he did not want to comment about the staffing changes at this time, other than to say the impact on him has been "difficult." Kent said Bloodgood, who has been with OSF for 30 years, will be able to get jobs but it still would be wrenching for him to go out on the theater circuit because of his deep roots in Ashland.

Appel, who had Bloodgood's drawings for a set design before her while talking to the Tidings, said she is constantly reminded of his invaluable contributions.

He works on four to five plays each season.

"Bill's work is so beautiful and so elegant and it has made a major statement," Appel said. "I have people who say to me, 'I just come to see the Bill Bloodgood sets.'" Appel said Dreyfoos, the outgoing producing director, produces all 11 shows each season with her, is involved in rehearsals, does contracts for composers and choreographers, creates OSF's calendar, manages the artistic budget and is part of the casting team.

"He is literally my right arm and my left arm," she said.

When Appel became artistic director, she invited Hochoy to bring his Indiana-based Dance Kaleidoscope to perform in the summer for the Green Show, OSF's free dance and music presentations that are held in the courtyard before plays. She diversified the Green Show beyond Renaissance-era dance and music when she came, and said it is natural for Rauch to make changes of his own.

Rauch plans to bring in a rotating series of performance groups for the Green Show.

He also is adding Alison Carey - co-founder of the Cornerstone Theater Company - to the staff as the new Director of the U.S. History Cycle.

A playwright and dramaturg with a passion for American history and especially presidential history, Carey is a good choice for the job, he said.

Appel said staffing changes are necessary but painful as Rauch builds his own artistic team.

"The artists who are leaving are some of the finest I've ever known in my life," she said. "They've given with brilliance and generosity to the festival. They should be honored for what they have given by everyone in the company and the community."

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.