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'We're going to come blazing back'

ara Bruner is a six-season veteran of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with a series of prominent roles under her belt, including a stellar turn as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet in 2018.

A prolifically talented actor who has received the Princess Grace award for extraordinary emerging artists, Bruner is one of the many dedicated thespians affected by theater closures nationwide. I caught up with Bruner to talk about her work at OSF, and what her state of mind is like in the current climate.

JG: Sara, Tell us a little bit about your history and relationship with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

SB: My first show at OSF was in 2014; I played Charles Wallace in A Wrinkle in Time. Getting hired to work at OSF was really a dream come true. When you grow up working in the regional theaters, OSF is almost always on your radar. I didn’t think I ever had a chance of working there. I ended up spending 6 seasons at the festival — five of those years I was in the acting company and my sixth season I directed “Alice In Wonderland.”

The festival changed my life both personally and artistically. It created space for me to function openly as a queer artist; I was able to stand on stage and tell stories that deeply mattered, and I met some of my favorite artists and best friends. Maybe most importantly, collaborated and fell in love with the person who I eventually married.

JG: What has it been like as a working artist during the COVID pandemic?

SB: It’s been really hard for all of us. I’m not working. Nobody is in our field unless they are in education or on staff (and many folks on staff have even lost their positions). I spend a lot of time on Zoom with fellow artists asking, “Where do we go from here?” There has been some online teaching and play readings, and I’m in pre-production for “Henry V,” which is supposed to play at the end of the summer in Idaho.

It’s basically become days of projects being canceled and waiting for projects to be canceled. My greatest hope now is that we will be able to work again in 2021. It’s been difficult for me to remain creative because the fear is loud right now. It’s constant vacillating between hope and fear.

JG: What do you have going on for 2020/2021 provided we go back to normal?

SB: I honestly don’t know what 2020/2021 will hold for me. I anticipate canceled shows that are moved to future slots, but that’s just a guessing game. I think we will be in recovery for a while, and I think our producing models will reflect that. Sizes of seasons, budgets, and casts – I think it will all be scaled back.

One thing I know for sure is that when we do have the chance to tell stories again, we are going to come blazing back. There is so much that I have taken for granted, and the sudden loss of theater has made me acutely aware of that. Theaters are going to be vibrating when we all congregate again; it’s going to be extraordinary, both as a creator and a spectator. That’s really something to look forward to.

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

Sara Bruner