Saturday, 6 August 2016

Our artistic director Ben reflects on being a guest artist at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, as part of the British Council's Shakespeare Lives project.

With Jatinder and Claudia on the stage of the Allen Elizabethan Theatre, the largest of OSF's three performance spaces © Jenny Graham"Wow, what an amazing experience the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was last weekend. It was truly inspirational, an eye-opener, a game-changer.

At the British Consulate's reception with Jatinder, Claudia and OSF's major donors to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death © Jenny GrahamI took part in two panel discussions alongside the wonderful Jatinder Verma and Claudia Mayer from Tara Arts on the challenges and opportunities of modernising Shakespeare and running theatre companies in Britain, as well as introducing Oregon audiences to the work of 1623 theatre company.

So many talented and generous people made time to talk about their work and listen to me about 1623's approach to Shakespeare. I met the OSF artistic director Bill Rauch, executive director Cynthia Rider, literary manager Lue Morgan Douthit, dramaturg Lezlie Cross, director of communications Eddie Wallace, education officer Russell Zook, actors including Carlo AlbanSara BrunerAnthony Heald and Miriam A Laube, fundraising team including Doreen O'Skea and Dawn Elsbree, a handful of volunteers (including the fabulous Polly, who shuttled me from and to the airport), and many donors at a fundraising meal. 

We had meaningful and helpful discussions together about all aspects of OSF, 1623 and Tara including artistic development, programming, rehearsal processes, production values, audience engagement, artists' training, youth theatre, community participation and fundraising.

I was particularly excited about Lue Morgan Douthit's new project called Play On!, which will see 36 playwrights translate Shakespeare's plays into contemporary English, in all its diversity. Lue was equally enthusiastic about 1623's upcoming Lear/Cordelia pilot production and we've already agreed to collaborate later this year in a workshop on Shakespeare and new writing at LAMDA.

In conversation with Jatinder, Claudia and OSF dramaturg Lezlie Cross as we discuss the legacy of Shakespeare in our world © Jenny GrahamAndrea Koskey and Glen Delaney from the British Consulate in San Francisco made the trip possible and they were excellent company, as well as very patient when I launched into performing Shakespeare at breakfast, in the street and at every available opportunity.

Over the two days, I experienced the current OSF productions of Richard II (anti-romantic and meta-theatrical), Twelfth Night (energetic and moving), Timon of Athens (political and socially-conscious) and Hamlet (Elizabethan and death-metallic). Special thanks to Eddie Wallace for arranging this.

There are plenty of ideas to mull over, share with 1623 and other colleagues, discuss with OSF and turn into future realities. As Hamlet says, "Buzz, buzz!"

Thank you to everyone at the OSF and British Consulate for creating this inspirational opportunity. It was fantastic to find out more about Tara's work too and I'm looking forward to visiting their new building in London soon. Let's do more."


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