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OSF's Bill Rauch wins national award

ASHLAND — Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Bill Rauch has won a prestigious theater award. Rauch will receive the 2009 Margo Jones Award Saturday at a private ceremony at the Ashland Springs Hotel.

The award honors "that citizen-of-the-theatre who has demonstrated a significant impact, understanding and affirmation of the craft of playwrighting, with a lifetime commitment to the encouragement of the living theatre everywhere."

It honors Rauch's previous work as well as his stint at OSF.

Previous recipients include Jane Alexander, Al Hirschfeld, Ellen Stewart and Jon Jory. Rauch is completing his second full season at the artistic helm of OSF, one of the nation's largest regional theaters.

Founded by playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, the Margo Jones Award commemorates a pioneer of the American professional regional theater movement. Margo Jones (1912-1955) nurtured new plays at the theater she founded in Dallas, Texas, in 1947. Plays presented under her aegis included Lawrence and Lee's "Inherit the Wind" and Tennessee Williams' "Summer and Smoke."

The pattern Jones created for developing new works is now a standard model for producing new plays, many of which these days premiere in regional theaters rather than on Broadway.

The award committee said in a statement that members "feel that Mr. Rauch, through his work including Cornerstone Theater, as well as the exciting new work at OSF, exemplifies that citizen-of-the-theatre envisioned by Lawrence and Lee when they established the award."

Rauch said it was an honor.

"I think it strengthens the cause of new work in the theater," he said. "Shakespeare is our middle name, but he wrote in the context of a company. We should be creating new work, too.

"I think OSF audiences have been increasingly excited about new work."

Nena Couch, curator of the Lawrence and Lee Research Institute, said the group has had its eye on Rauch.

"We had been looking at him because of Cornerstone," Couch said. "And then he moved. We thought we'd have to wait a little bit. Now it seems like he's started to do some wonderful things."

At OSF, Rauch has worked with playwrights whose plays were produced before his tenure, including Lisa Loomer, Robert Schenkkan, Octavio Solis. But he also has brought new playwrights to OSF audiences, commissioning and producing works by Bill Cain, Sarah Ruhl, Jeff Whitty, Culture Clash and Julie Marie Myatt.

In 2008 the OSF launched "American Revolutions: the U.S. History Cycle," an ambitious 10-year project to commission 37 plays about American history.

Playwrights commissioned to date include Culture Clash, David Henry Hwang, Young Jean Lee, Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Robert Schenkkan, Universes, Naomi Wallace, Rhiana Yazzie and the team of Jonathan Moscone and Tony Taccone. Another new Rauch project, The Black Swan Lab, is dedicated to developing new works for the stage.

Margo Jones Award committee members visiting Ashland for the presentation will see a performance of Bill Cain's new play "Equivocation," which Rauch directed.

The award has been administered by the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute at Ohio State University since 1993. The institute acquires, preserves and makes accessible materials documenting the performing arts.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.

OSF's Bill Rauch wins national award