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OSF Artistic Director Rauch: Perelman a 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity'

Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Bill Rauch will leave the Ashland theater company in August 2019 to head the artistic team for a performing arts center that will open at the rebuilt World Trade Center site in New York City.

OSF and the board of directors for The Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center on Friday announced Rauch's appointment to the new role.

Rauch, 55, said he hadn't been looking for a new job, but was contacted about the opportunity last fall. The board voted Thursday to offer him the job.

"I wasn't interested in leaving my artistic home," he said. "However, the more I learned about this particular opportunity, I realized that it really was — to use the cliché — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because of what the World Trade Center means to the world, our country and to New York. The responsibility and opportunity of making art in that place just felt very special."

The landmark Twin Towers at the World Trade Center complex were destroyed by terrorists during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America. The futuristic Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center is under construction as part of the rebuilding process at the complex.

According to the Perelman Center’s website, “The Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center (PAC) will be a global center for the creation and exchange of art, ideas and culture. Featuring a café and community spaces, the PAC will be a hub for the thriving downtown community.”

In its three flexible performance spaces, the PAC will produce and premiere works of theater, dance, music, musical theater, opera and film, as well as productions that cross multiple disciplines.

"To me, the best part of all is the fact that because it's a start-up, there's no rush for me to get there," Rauch said.

He said he will be able to complete the current OSF season, which opens today and runs through Oct. 28, as well as next year's season.

Rauch became OSF's fifth artistic director in 2007, taking over for Libby Appel. Rauch said their time at OSF overlapped, allowing for a gradual transition for the theater company.

"I'm hoping by being here for 18 months that we can follow a similar pattern in terms of whoever my successor is," Rauch said. "That person and I could have substantial overlap. I think that would be very good for OSF and good for the overall community."

A search firm will be engaged in the coming weeks to assist in selecting potential candidates for Rauch’s successor, OSF officials said.

"Due to this amazing and talented company, deeply engaged and engaging audience and reputation as both a home for Shakespeare and for new works of impact, we believe the most creative and visionary theater artists will be drawn to this unique opportunity," said OSF Executive Director Cynthia Rider. "We are committed to substantial overlap between Bill and OSF’s next artistic director to have the smoothest, most productive transition possible."

Rauch will announce OSF’s 2019 season in early spring of this year, officials said.

"Who selects the 2020 season will depend on the search process and I would hope the new artistic director will have her or his fingerprints all over it — whether they select it all on their own or I get the ball rolling and they complete the process," Rauch said.

Rauch said he has countless positive memories of his time at OSF, but one period that particularly stands out was when a major beam in the Angus Bowmer Theatre cracked in 2011, causing a temporary closure of OSF's largest indoor theater.

The community helped erect a tent in nearby Lithia Park for performances, and various venues also offered space for plays, including the Historic Ashland Armory and Southern Oregon University in Ashland and the Craterian Theater at the Collier Center for the Performing Arts in Medford, Rauch recalled.

"That was beautiful how everybody pulled together to keep the stories being told and to keep the audiences coming — both local audiences and tourist audiences," he said.

Rauch said the community also has helped during summers when wildfire smoke has created problems for OSF's outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre.

He said it will be hard to leave the place his family calls home. He is married to actor and director Christopher Liam Moore, and the couple have a son and daughter.

Rauch said his son will be headed to college this coming fall so the move won't impact him as much, but his daughter is still in school. While she will miss her friends, she is looking forward to the excitement of moving to a new place, Rauch said.

Among his initiatives at OSF, Rauch, along with longtime collaborator Alison Carey, committed to commissioning 37 new plays to dramatize moments of change in American history.

American Revolutions: The U.S. History Cycle has premiered nine plays at OSF to date, many of which have moved on to other theaters across the country — including an award-winning production of "All the Way" about Lyndon Johnson's presidency that was directed by Rauch on Broadway.

Actor Bryan Cranston, best known for his role as teacher-turned-drug dealer Walt White in the television series "Breaking Bad," starred as Johnson on Broadway and in an HBO movie adapted from the play. The Broadway production earned Cranston a Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play Tony Award, while the play itself garnered a Best Play Tony Award.

"From my first meeting with Bill to discuss 'All The Way,' I had a gut feeling that we could have a very open and respectful collaboration on the play. That instinct came to fruition. It was a joy to work with him," Cranston said upon news of Rauch's appointment to lead the Perelman Performing Arts Center.

"He is an insightful director with a great appreciation for an actor's process. Bill possesses a genuinely passionate devotion to the art of storytelling. More importantly, he is a man who embraces a society's varied cultures, languages, preferences and differences, and sees it all for what it is — a necessary and positive contribution to the human experience. I can't wait to see the burst of creativity that will be born from this hallowed ground."

Another play commissioned as part of OSF's U.S. History Cycle, Lynn Notage's play "Sweat," earned a Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Rauch said he is proud that he has encouraged equity, diversity and inclusion at OSF. He said the work on stage and OSF company members reflect the world.

"I’m so fortunate to have had the opportunity to partner with Bill these last five years," OSF's Rider said. "He is a truly remarkable artist, a passionate leader and one of the kindest people you will ever meet. His tireless work in producing a record number of plays written and directed by women and artists of color will be a huge part of his legacy. I’m so glad we have a year-and-a-half to keep this collaboration going."

Among other projects, the Play on! 36 Playwrights Translate Shakespeare commissioning program was launched in 2015 to engage some of the field’s leading playwrights and dramaturgs in creating modern translations of Shakespeare’s plays, OSF officials said.

OSF Board President Peter H. Koehler Jr. said Rauch has made phenomenal contributions to OSF as artistic director.

"Bill’s time as OSF’s artistic director has been and will continue to be extraordinary,” said Koehler. "Thanks to his talent, vision, passion and unflagging energy, OSF is now at the center of the national theater conversation. We’ve been honored with the Festival’s first Tony Award for Best Play and first Pulitzer Prize, seen numerous world premieres go on to great success across the country, begun a decade-long journey through Shakespeare’s entire canon, and become a leader in the field with our equity, diversity and inclusion efforts."

During Rauch’s time as artistic director, OSF officials said the theater company has seen significant improvements to its Ashland campus, including the 2016 opening of the Hay-Patton Rehearsal Center and last season’s renovation of "The Bricks" courtyard and parts of the Angus Bowmer and Allen Elizabethan Theatres to provide greater accessibility to patrons. OSF also established a presence in nearby Talent with the 2014 opening of a 70,000-square-foot production facility.

Ultimately, Rauch said Ashland and the whole Rogue Valley have been an extraordinary home for him and his family — and the perfect setting for OSF.

"I'm mindful every day that this theater and its national and international reputation have grown organically out of this community and how much it is a true community effort," he said. "The reason people come back again and again is not just because of the quality of the plays we put on. It's the restaurants, the galleries, the bed and breakfasts, all the downtown businesses, the wineries, the rafting, the hiking and all the natural beauty and hospitality of this community. That's why OSF exists and thrives. So for me, my gratitude to this community is both personal and also professional."

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.