To See This Gracious Season

Oct 31, 2018

As I write, the 2018 OSF season is drawing to its close, and a sad close at that. The heavy financial losses resulting from smoke-affected performances have brought in their wake a restructuring process which has led to the loss of some sixteen positions among the company.

Although turnover in staff is inevitable in such a large organisation and will often be welcomed, in this case the speed of the change and its enforced nature is a cause for considerable concern, not only for those directly affected but for the OSF community as a whole. 

The heavy financial losses resulting from smoke-affected performances have brought in their wake a restructuring process which has led to the loss of some sixteen positions among the company.

There is scarcely time to draw breath as we await the imminent announcement of the successor to Bill Rauch as Artistic Director—whoever it may be, that person will join at a critical time in the history of the company.

I conducted two interviews with Bill Rauch in early October for a piece scheduled to be published in this journal in January, and I had a first-hand glimpse into what was happening as it became increasingly clear that layoffs were probable. In the light of these recent events, and out of respect for those who have lost their jobs, I have postponed the column I had planned for this issue and instead I shall take this opportunity to look briefly at some of what the 2019 OSF season promises for us.

2019 will see OSF almost at the halfway point in its Canon in a Decade project, which began in 2015 and is scheduled to be completed in 2024. We’ve seen sixteen plays to date, with three more to be staged in the coming year: As You Like It, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Macbeth. The latter two will be performed on the outdoor stage. To put together ten seasons of Shakespeare plays which include all the canon presents a considerable logistical challenge. A balance has to be struck each year between comedies, tragedies and histories, and between obvious crowd-pleasers and more challenging works which are less frequently seen. One obvious approach would have been to stage the plays in chronological order, but there is considerate debate as to that order, and the most reputable list might have given us a 2015 season consisting of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew and the latter two parts of Henry VI (the first part was written last—among his other innovations, Shakespeare seems to have invented the prequel!). That hardly looks like a schedule which would have set the tills ringing at the box office. The selection for 2019 includes two established favourites in Macbeth and As You Like It, with the boldest scheduling of the season perhaps being All’s Well That Ends Well on the outdoor stage—a ‘problem’ play in a 1200 seater venue.

Of the non-Shakespeare plays on offer, there are, among others, two more dramas in the American Revolutions cycle, which has to date provided us with some of the richest and most thought-provoking of new theatre, The Way the Mountain Moved being the most recent example. Next year will bring us Indecent by Paula Vogel—a play with music about the controversy surrounding the staging of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance—and the world premiere of a story based on Native American history, Between Two Knees by the comedy sketch troupe The 1491s.

Bill Rauch also brings us innovation in his final season, for 2019 will see him directing the pilot of a Community Visit Project through which a production of The Comedy of Errors will be staged at a range of venues across the region. In some ways this will take Bill back to his pre-OSF days when he forged community links with the Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles. It also takes him back to a play which he directed for OSF in 2004, but this is not the same play! This 2019 production of The Comedy of Errors will be the first full production here in the Play on! series, in which commissioned playwrights have translated Shakespeare into modern English. This version of The Comedy of Errors, has been translated by Luis Alfaro into a bilingual English/Spanish text. I’ll be writing more about the Play on! project on my next column.

There will be changes to the scheduling of performances next year. The indoor productions will start in March—rather later than has been usual—and five of the productions will run all season. The outdoor plays, on the other hand, will have an earlier start, in May, and we’ll know soon what new proposals OSF may have in mind to cope with the possibilities of “fog and filthy air”.  Perhaps those proposals will include planned performances at Ashland High School, rather than the Company using that stage as an emergency venue—we shall see.

Whatever the new year brings, I wish the Festival every success, and send my sincere sympathies and my very best wishes to those for whom the 2018 season will be their last at OSF:

“The elements be kind to thee, and make

Thy spirits all of comfort! fare thee well.”

Geoff Ridden has taught in universities in Africa, Europe and North America. Since moving to Ashland in 2008, he has become a familiar figure on radio, in the theatre, in the lecture hall and on the concert stage. He is artistic director of the Classic Readings Theatre Company and has a particular interest in adaptations of the plays of Shakespeare. Email classicrereadings@gmail.com