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OSF's director plans mix of history, innovation

Bill Rauch, the new artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, told a town hall meeting of about 200 people Thursday night that he has a "deep, deep love" for the OSF's history and traditions.

The remark came in answer to a question at the event, held at the OSF's Angus Bowmer Theatre, of whether, with all the talk of change at the festival, there was still a place for continuity.

Recent changes at the OSF include new people in top artistic jobs, an ambitious new cycle of plays about American history, and a new look for the Green Show, the free dance program that precedes summer plays on the OSF bricks in Ashland.

"There are some of us who liked the Green Show the way it was 15 years ago," a questioner said.

The Green Show changed over the years from a Renaissance theme to a more contemporary dance show.

The festival has announced that in 2008 it will no longer be in the hands of a single dance company. Instead it will feature a variety of companies from the region and around the nation.

"I don't think the Green Show should hold any single artistic vision," Rauch said. "Since it's the only product the festival offers for free, it should be inclusive."

A wide variety of subjects came up in a free-ranging discussion that in addition to Rauch included Executive Director Paul Nicholson, Claudia Alick, who curates the new Green Show, Alison Carey, who will head Rauch's history project, and moderator Lue Douthit.

Carey said the history cycle, to be called "American Revoultions," is being envisioned as lasting a decade and resulting in as many as 37 plays being commissioned — the number of plays usually included in the Shakespeare canon.

She said she hopes to announce participating playwrights in June.

The playwrights will meet in Ashland with historians to brainstorm, she said.

"It's not going to be a survey," she added.

Nicholson said the festival will soon replace the bricks that span the space between the OSF box office and the indoor Bowmer and outdoor Elizabethan theaters.

He said OSF officials want to update the 1960s esthetic of the bricks, level out some slopes and re-design the Green Show stage. He said there will be a lawn, and one big, sick tree and the site's several street trees will be replaced.

Somebody wanted to know if the old bricks would be autographed by actors and auctioned off at Daedalus, the OSF's annual HIV-AIDS benefit.

"It's being written down right now," Douthit deadpanned.

Asked how the OSF was creating space for cultural and ethnic diversity, Rauch said, "Diversity is a fact of life. Inclusion is what we're doing."

Asked if the festival would make public the results of an audience survey conducted last season, Nicholson said he was still awaiting analysis but did not anticipate making the results public.

He said there were 1,000 educational events on the OSF campus last year. Nearly 77 percent of school groups that saw plays also took part in OSF education offerings, he said, exceeding a goal of 75 percent. He said education may have to be scaled back for lack of space.

Still, he said, the OSF wants to have "the best education program of any theater in the world."

Asked if the Black Swan — the tiny, downtown theater supplanted by the New Theatre several years ago — could be better utilized, Alick said she had seen many great shows there since she came aboard the festival in September.

"It's a busy space," Rauch said.

Asked if the OSF would work more closely with local arts groups and offer mentoring, Alick called that "a gorgeous idea," but said that space was at a premium.

OSF officials said they would like to have a new building devoted to education and outreach.