“your actions are my dreams”: A biased post in praise of Oregon Shakespeare Festival @OSFashland

2013 was a transformative year for me. In many ways I came into my own: I found my voice, I followed my passions, I made new friends, and called a new place home for a spell. I found my tribe, my place, and I started to leave behind playing little. Shakespeare in so many ways was at the root of all this change.

I LOVE language. I recognize its power. Its malleability. It is political. It is potent. And when I say “that ish cray,” or “he’s totes adorbs,” it is not because I want to sound like a 13 year girl from the Central Valley, but because I understand that I own language. It is my possession, the words I speak locate me inside (and outside) of communities, conversations, and canons. There is conformity, defiance, and subversion in the manipulation and/or order of words. Shakespeare is my favorite of all wordsmiths (and yo, he was totes down with the elision, so I think he’d support my vernacular. Obvi). He is my favorite dramatist because his words bear the weight of action. Yes, absolutely gorgeous poetry, but poems that can stand, run, hell take flight. And so to my point, I spent the first 6 months of 2013 in residence at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a language based theatre where words bear the weight of action.

Now many people in the theatre world lovingly/jokingly/mockingly refer to OSF as the Disneyland of Theatre. A place where in 5 days you can see 9 plays in rep. For me it certainly was a wonderland, but not an exit through the gift shop here’s your “someone went to Ashland and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt” kind of touristy theatre of glitz and gimmicks. But a theatre land all my own, where people onstage looked like me. Where plays were directed by people that share my cultural values. Where the words diversity and inclusion bear the weight of action.

By no means is OSF perfect, (“tis a consummation devoutly to be wished”) but where other theatres talk the talk, OSF walks the thorny, uncomfortable, but all too necessary walk. So it’s no surprise that while at this language based, namesake theatre, I fell in love. I fell in love not just with the organization, but with the people who ARE the organization. People who think like me and share my values, but not always, yet even in disagreement they work toward understanding, compassion, and meaningful exchange. People who identified that “the inclusion of diverse people, ideas, cultures and traditions enriches both our insights into the work we present on stage and our relationships with each other,” and “are committed to diversity in all areas of our work and in our audiences.” I fell in love with the people who do the hard work everyday to achieve, maintain, and keep central that mission.

OSF does 4 Shakespeares a season, along side world premieres of new plays by living writers (both male AND female). They produce musicals and American classics. Last season Tennessee Williams ran in rep with August Wilson, and Tanya Saracho, and Lerner and Lowe. King Lear played opposite fresh of the presses The Liquid Plain, and a new musical, The Unfortunates, that defies genre. And they employed white actors, black actors, Latino/a actors, Asian actors, Armenian, Iranian, deaf, average sized, and differently-abled actors.

As a director who is female, a person of color, and overwhelming drawn to classic plays, I haven’t always felt invited to the American Theatre party. OSF not only invited me, but said “gurl you betta get yo ass in here.” Ok, no one literally said that to me, (I reckon you recognize hyperbole when you see it), but I found a place where it didn’t feel so strange to love Shakespeare (while black…). And so as I embark on 2014 away from my OSF family, I feel comfort in knowing that my tribe exists, that they will dive into the work for this season in a few days knowing my spirit is with them, that I can always call and visit home, and that the American Theatre has either offered me a standing invite by way of OSF or I can use my badge to crash the party.

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