Grant enables Oregon Shakespeare Festival to add resident ensemble

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has announced its first official resident ensemble, thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation.

The selected theatrical collective Universes is an international ensemble company of writers and performers known for combining poetry, theater, jazz, music and politics to create theatrical works, a release from OSF says. Founded in the Bronx in 1995, Universes collaborated with OSF on "Party People" in 2012.

Through the grant, the group will have residency over 14 months and two consecutive OSF seasons.

"It is a major honor to have an ensemble of artists of such artistic quality, innovation, integrity and kindness choose to make the festival their artistic home," OSF artistic director Bill Rauch said in a release. "Their presence and work gives me hope for the future of the theater field."

The collective is comprised of members Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, Gamal A. Chasten and William "Ninja" Ruiz.

"We are humbled and honored that OSF so warmly welcomes UNIVERSES as resident ensemble," Ruiz-Sapp said in the release.

Ruiz-Sapp has already played Madame in "The Unfortunates," with Sapp serving as understudy on several roles. Both will appear in the 2014 "Comedy of Errors" production.

The grant also seeks to plug the group into OSF programming, using OSF resources to support their smaller ensemble. OSF officials called the residency a test model.

During the residency, UNIVERSES will bring works in progress to be read at the OSF's Black Swan Lab, a non-public venue for new play development. They will perform at the 2014 Green Shows, other OSF Presents Series and open mics, and understudy or perform during the 2014 season. They will also work on audience development and other educational programs.

— Ryan Pfeil

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