I hereby risk the wrath of Oregon Shakespeare Festival defenders by acknowledging that I started to fall out of love with OSF towards the end of Bill Rauch’s tenure (“Oklahoma!” was a hard pill to swallow). This year, I feel my long love affair with OSF is dangerously close to the end. Gone are the seasons when I wouldn’t think of missing any of the 11 productions, going to many a second and even a third time. Now I give myself permission to leave at intermission.
I guess I’m part of the traditional OSF audience that OSF seems quite willing, even happy, to shed. More power to them if they can fill this season’s half-empty houses with younger, hipper, more woke audiences. More power to them if they can refill the decimated ranks of OSF volunteers, many of them longtime supporters who, I suspect, now feel alienated for one reason or another. (I’m guessing fear of COVID-19 and unpredictable weather account for only a portion of audience/volunteer desertions.)
Personally, I don’t go to the theater to be preached at, force-fed, and sometimes shamed, but to be moved, entertained and, yes, exposed to new, diverse, cutting-edge theater. (I will never forget “Topdog/Underdog,” ’04; “Intimate Apparel,” ’06; or “Gem of the Ocean,” ’07 — all by African-American playwrights.) OSF has embraced diversity for a long time; may it return to a more inclusive model.
As for keeping the OSF name, Shakespeare seems to have been shunted aside along with the rest of us oldsters. Ultimately, the best, most universal works survive.