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OSF opens first season under new artistic director

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival begins previews for its 2020 season this weekend, as the company launches the last series of productions in which former artistic director Bill Rauch had a selective hand.

Incoming artistic director Nataki Garrett — whose resume includes involvement in national theater, with a strong emphasis on fostering and developing new work, is the festival’s sixth artistic director. She is the second female to hold the role and the first artistic director of color.

Garrett, a prominent voice in the American theater world for over 20 years, holds an master’s in directing from CalArts. She was previously the acting artistic director at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in Colorado. The artistic director post at Denver is now held by Chris Coleman, who was artistic director at Portland Center Stage — a company that originated as a branch of OSF — for 17 years.

“I’m thrilled to be coming onboard at OSF, as we plan in 2020 to celebrate a jubilee year,” Garrett says. “The nationwide effort to get theaters to diversify the voices of the writers they produce, with a focus on women, people of color, LGBTQIA writers, and playwrights with disabilities. Although we will not waver on our commitment to our namesake playwright as we continue Canon in a Decade, creative teams on our Shakespeare productions will be sure to reflect the jubilee spirit of voices too often marginalized in the American theater.”

Canon in a Decade is a plan begun in 2015 by Rauch and Lue Morgan Douthit, former director of literary development and dramaturgy, to present all 37 Shakespeare plays over the course of an unbroken 10-year period.

OSF has been challenged over the last couple of years by a range of factors. In addition to the departure of Rauch, who became the inaugural artistic director at the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center in Manhattan, the company lost its executive director in the same year.

In addition to the transition in longtime leadership, the festival has been vexed by persistent smoke from wildfires, with 2018 being a particularly hard year. The festival remains without a permanent executive director as it enters its 2020 season.

Despite these challenges, OSF continues to approach the future with optimism. The company has signed a 25-year lease on a new housing development that will accommodate 34 residential units for actors to live in. Construction has already begun at the corner of Lithia Way and First Street in downtown Ashland.

Season previews begin this weekend, with Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” directed by Joseph Haj, playing in the Angus Bowmer Theatre. Karen Zacarías’s “The Copper Children,” the next installment of OSF’s American Revolutions series, will make its world premiere in the same theater under the direction of Shariffa Ali. “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a Peter Pan prequel musical directed by Lavina Jadhwani, will open at the Bowmer Sunday. “Bring Down the House,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy in two parts, will preview early next week. Patrons will be able to see both parts of the production the same day. The adaptation is a result of a collaboration between Rosa Joshi and Kate Wisniewski. Joshi will direct.

Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a columnist, arts reviewer and cultural commentator. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.

Nataki Garrett