Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Seattle Invasion

There is no silver bullet when it comes to a theater’s recuperation from COVID-era struggles, but down in Ashland, new Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Tim Bond is assembling a leadership team with strong Seattle ties to help guide the storied, 89-year-old company on its continued road to recovery. Their guiding light: a shared commitment to keeping American theater diverse, innovative, generous and welcoming. 

“It’s about illuminating classics and new plays,” Bond said. “It’s about creating a love of the art form for the generations to come.”

Rosa Joshi, OSF’s new associate artistic director, left Seattle University in 2022 after 22 years on the drama faculty because she was ready to resume her directing career outside the walls of an institution. “I wanted to get back to being an artist,” said Joshi, who is also known for her stellar, sensitive directing work on Seattle stages. So why is she back in an administrative role? “Because it was Tim, and because it was OSF,” she said. “Because it felt like a call to serve.” Bond, she said, was perhaps the only person to whom she would have said yes. “Being an associate to someone, you have to really believe in their vision and their leadership.”  

Kaytlin McIntyre, who spent nearly 10 years on staff at Seattle Rep, most recently as artistic producer, began last month as OSF’s director of repertory producing, a position that functions as a hub between the production, artistic and new works departments, and serves, as McIntyre described it, as a hands-on traffic director for day-to-day producing needs. 

“There’s a real moment of artists with a great amount of Seattle history moving into OSF leadership, and also, [Seattle theater artist Justin Huertas’ musical] ‘Lizard Boy’ will be here this summer, so there’s a sort of Seattle takeover that’s happening, in a good way,” McIntyre said, with a laugh. “In the past, there seemed to be more movement from L.A. and the Bay Area to OSF, especially in terms of artists, so it’s an exciting moment to have a greater conversation and relationship between Seattle and this theater and to hopefully also build a stronger Seattle audience as well, that will come down to spend some time with us in Ashland.”

Those two key positions “are my two hands that I have to have,” Bond said. “There’s nobody better for this [associate artistic director] job than Rosa. … And I’m so thankful that [Kaytlin] just happened to be in that moment in transition in her life and looking for a … big project,” he added, with a laugh. “Here we go.”

“Big project” is perhaps putting it mildly. In April 2023, OSF launched an emergency fundraising campaign to raise an immediate $2.5 million to keep the season going, and more to keep from canceling the 2023-24 season. Since stepping into the artistic director job in September, Bond said, he has raised around $6 million for the company, buffeted by the dual winds of a pandemic-related plummet in arts-going and the decline in tourism that hit Ashland. 

“We were in a very challenging place, financially, and what I can report to you now is that we have a balanced budget currently, that we are hitting our marks for our contributed income, and that, box office-wise, we are also hitting our numbers for audience attendance so far,” he said. “So we are on track this season to end up in the black for the first time in a number of years.”

They’re also keeping their expectations reasonable, he said, and, like many American theaters right now, thinking strategically. For instance, later this season at OSF (July 23-Oct. 13), Joshi will direct Sean San José’s modern-verse translation of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus.” The play is presented by OSF and Portland Center Stage (where it’s running through May 19), and produced in association with Seattle’s upstart crow collective and Ashland-based Play On Shakespeare.

It’s a mouthful to say, but sharing resources seems key to artistic survival in 2024, and in some ways, it highlights just how tightknit the regional theater community of which Bond, Joshi and McIntyre are a part is. 

Bond, who earned his MFA in directing from the University of Washington School of Drama, worked with Seattle’s Group Theatre beginning in 1984 and served as artistic director from 1991 to 1996. In 2016, he returned to Seattle as a professor at the UW School of Drama, and was head of the Professional Actor Training Program from 2018 to 2020. 

For Bond, this move to Ashland is a homecoming. From 1996 to 2007, he was OSF associate artistic director under Libby Appel, who asked him to join OSF in part because of his work with Group Theatre and its demonstrated commitment to diversity. As associate, Bond launched FAIR (Fellowships, Apprenticeships, Internships and Residencies), an OSF program he hopes to get back on its feet, in some capacity, in 2025. “I’m very proud that we got that program going,” he said. “And that it touched so many people who have gone on to be artists, artisans and administrators all over the country.” 

Seattle audiences may know Joshi as the co-founder of upstart crow collective, a company whose raison d’être is presenting classic works with all-female and nonbinary casts. She’s also the director of critical hit “Bring Down the House,” a two-part adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” trilogy that premiered in Seattle and made its way to OSF. 

When it comes to thinking expansively about the classics, Joshi pointed out, “innovation is on a continuum with tradition.” Classic plays were all new works once, and they should be approached with the rigor of a new play, a sentiment shared by this leadership team. “It’s about the ways that these stories can speak to who we are today,” Joshi said. “And that means all of us.”

In her years with the Rep, McIntyre worked with OSF in many capacities, including on co-productions like Robert Schenkkan’s plays about former President Lyndon B. Johnson, “All the Way” and “The Great Society,” and with OSF’s Shares program, which brought theater leaders and casting directors from around the country to Ashland to see its artists at work. 

Bond can’t say anything else yet about what’s on deck for OSF’s upcoming 2025 season, the company’s 90th. But for those of us keeping an eye on the theater community nationwide, the continued success of a regional flagship like OSF feels critical. 

“Here we are in the middle of the mountains doing world-class theater that’s about the collective humanity,” Bond said. “We’ve been so committed, in a place that does not have a lot of cultural diversity, to creating a place of belonging for people from all backgrounds. We’ve worked very hard at it over the last 20-some years, and if we can’t succeed at finding a model, and a way of creating a company that is about belonging, inclusion, diversity, equity, and access, and audiences welcomed here, wherever they’re from….” he trailed off. “If we go down, then what does that say about live theater in this country?”

For the foreseeable future, all three new OSF leaders will likely be working long days as there is still a long road ahead. But in early April, Bond said, for the first time since 2020, OSF had four plays running in repertory. “The energy was unbelievable,” he said. “The enthusiasm, what I like to call the molecular transfer that happens between performer and audience, was high. So I’m feeling very hopeful.”

If You Go

Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2024 season is underway. Upcoming productions with Seattle ties include:

Lizard Boy“: Book, music and lyrics by Justin Huertas; directed by Brandon Ivie (June 11-Oct. 12)

Coriolanus“: By William Shakespeare, in a modern verse translation by Sean San José; directed by Rosa Joshi (July 23-Oct. 13)

Behfarmaheen (If You Please)“: Created and performed by Barzin Akhavan; directed by Seattle- and Ashland-based Desdemona Chiang (July 31-Sept. 15)

Tickets for OSF productions range from $25 to $125; accessibility info: st.news/osf-accessibility; 800-219-8161; osfashland.org

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