Rauch hosts first town hall meeting

Change is coming to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

First-year Artistic Director Bill Rauch and his team outlined plans for the future of the festival and fielded audience questions during OSF's town hall meeting in the Angus Bowmer Theatre on Thursday night, which includes a revamped Green Show, reduced ticket prices and outreach to diversify the audience.

One of the most ambitious changes is OSF's commitment to commission up to 37 new plays for "American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle."

The decade-long project will bring together playwrights and historians to examine moments of change, inspiration and conflict, said Alison Carey, director of the cycle.

Rauch said OSF will continue to produce plays by its namesake, William Shakespeare. But he said commissioning new plays is in keeping with the work of Shakespeare, who crafted his plays in a theater company setting with a loyal group of actors.

OSF is the largest acting company in America and one of the last resident companies, Rauch said.

"We, as a Shakespeare festival, have an opportunity and a responsibility to create new work," he said.

Audiences will see more plays by writers of different ethnicities, and Rauch hopes to attract an audience that is more diverse in terms of ethnicity, income and age.

OSF will host a Latino festival during the last week of July. Productions will feature captioning and headphones with translations for audience members, he said.

In a move to make performances more accessible to people of all incomes, OSF is slashing prices for the coming season on C-level seats, which are at the back of its theaters.

Prices for C seats were about $35, but will now sell for $20, said Executive Director Paul Nicholson.

"Call in anytime. We'll give you a twenty-buck ticket," he said.

OSF will continue its tradition of free performances before plays in the central courtyard, but will feature a greater variety and number of performers.

New Associate Producer Claudia Alick, who oversees the free Green Show and is OSF's liaison to the community, is having an open submission process for performers to apply and has received applications from musicians, dancers, jugglers and others from across the country.

One audience member asked her if she would consider staging one-act plays on the Green Show stage.

"My answer to that is 'Show me what you got,'" Alick said.

OSF will continue to reach out to younger audiences.

It has posted material on MySpace and Facebook, popular Internet social networking sites.

Nicholson said in years past, about half of school groups that came to the festival attended an educational event to help students understand and appreciate the plays. OSF set a goal to reach 75 percent of school groups with an educational event, and last year, hit 76.8 percent.

To put that in perspective, OSF had 778 performances of plays but 1,000 educational events on its campus.

The festival will have to scale back the number of educational events because of a lack of space, Nicholson said.

However, Rauch said OSF will become even more proactive about training teachers, who can impact students for years to come.

"That's very important to us &

not only how many kids we reach but how many teachers we reach," he said.

Rauch said his dream for the long-term future is to have a building with classrooms and a social gathering space for all ages.

One woman in the audience said she feels students are often segregated into school groups, and there is little opportunity for different people to gather and talk about the plays they have watched.

Rauch said OSF does a good job preparing people to see the plays by providing context, but doesn't do as good a job of providing a place where people of different generations, political views and socioeconomic positions can talk after seeing plays.

"What do we do with all those emotions and all those thoughts after a play?" he asked.

One man asked if OSF has any plans to go to a year-round schedule, but Rauch and the other senior staff members said festival workers need the winter months to work behind the scenes to prepare for the next season.

"There is no down-time here," Alick said.

Nicholson said from a financial standpoint, income would have to exceed costs during the winter and, so far, operating year-round doesn't pencil out.

For more information about OSF and the coming season that runs from Feb. 15 through Nov. 2, visit .

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit .

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