Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Oregon Shakespeare Festival will be going downhill.

Hip-hop at a Shakespeare festival? It may be a stretch, but Bill Rauch seems prepared to try many things to attract a more diverse audience to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where he is the new artistic director.

...The audience has gotten steadily older and wealthier: Between 1991 and 2004, the mean age increased to 56 from 48, and the mean income to $95,250 from $68,600. Although the acting company is 25% people of color, the audience is 95% white.

Enter Mr. Rauch, 43, who has many ideas about to make the Festival not only artistically better but also more welcoming to audiences of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Bringing in hip-hop is one. Another is a Latino festival, to take place next summer around the opening of a production of Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge," interpreted with a largely Latino cast. A third is his plan to replace the current format of the Green Show - free outdoor performances, prior to the evening curtain, which currently feature a modern-dance company - with a rotating schedule of diverse local and national artists.

...Mr. Rauch hopes to establish a connection to the growing Latino population in the Rogue River Valley, through events like the Latino festival, which will include Spanish-language play readings and performances where Spanish speakers can hear simultaneous translations of English-language productions over headsets.

For this fall, he is planning what he calls "a hip-hop boot camp," which will bring hip-hop artists to town to generate ideas for future projects. "At first blush a Shakespeare festival doing hip-hop may sound absurd," he acknowledged, "but I think there's a real connection between theatrical movements that are about celebrating language and combining slang with elevated poetic forms. Shakespeare grabbed vernacular from the street." [This reads like a parody -- ed.]


Mr. Rauch wants to produce non-Western classics, beginning next season with an adaptation of the Sanskrit epic "The Clay Cart," which he will direct. He also wants OSF to play a greater role in developing new plays. Next season's schedule includes the world premiere of "Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter" by Julie Marie Myatt, about a female Marine returning from Iraq. It will head afterward to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

It's common for Artistic Directors to want to make their casts more diverse. Mr. Rauch is going one better: he's worried because the audience is too white. Wanting to get "audiences of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds" is fine, but you don't do that by lowering Shakespeare to the level of Hip-Hop street culture. "Oh, Juliet -- thou is my bitch." Wouldn't it be better to appeal to the best within people of all skin colors, to focus on universal values?

OSF's new Artistic Director is focused on bringing New Leftist values of multiculturalism and diversity to the festival. Basically, he's going to turn the atmosphere into what you see on college campuses today.

I go to a Shakespeare play to see great art; as a side benefit, I get away from modern culture. I like to see art from an age now dead, and be reminded of a time when western culture had different standards -- when it had higher standards, and looked at metaphysical issues that are universal to all humans, not just skin color. Mr. Rauch is telling me, "Sorry -- as the Sartre play says, no exit."

No comments: