Oregon Shakespeare Festival makes ‘Much Ado’ about its 89th season
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and “Much Ado About Nothing” are among nine plays planned for the 2024 season at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, the company announced today.
The 89th season, which will also include three “Shakespeare-adjacent” plays, kicks off March 19 and runs through Sept. 15, 2024. The season will start with four shows in March and two more added by June, offering more variety earlier in the season than before the COVID-19 pandemic, and four more plays than the 2023 season.
A trailer for the season showcases what’s in store:
• “Much Ado About Nothing”
• “Born with Teeth”
• “Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender”
• “Lizard Boy”
• “Behfarmaheen (If You Please)”
• “Jane Eyre”
• “Smote This, A Comedy about God … and other serious $H*T”
• “Virgins to Villains”
Tickets go on sale for OSF members in early November, while the general public has access later that month.
In a news release announcing the season, Bond describes the 2024 lineup as a “powerful, diverse array of large and small-scale plays and musicals, including iconic works from Shakespeare’s canon, stories inspired by the Bard’s legacy, new works, and a series of one-person shows featuring cherished OSF alumni.”
The selections present “incisive reflections on what it means to be an outsider, the consequences of keeping secrets and, ultimately, the power of human connection,” he said.
Bond also called the season lineup a “personification of the perseverance, dedication, and commitment our artists, staff, crews, generous supporters, and the Ashland community have for our beloved festival.”
“It’s a major village effort,” Bond told Ashland.news in a phone interview Wednesday morning.
This is Bond’s first hybrid season as artistic director (he collaborated with associate artistic director Evren Odcikin, who will direct “Macbeth,” on putting together the 2024 lineup), and just his 20th official day on the job.
Wednesday morning, Bond shared his excitement and anticipation for the upcoming season and beyond, saying he is thrilled about the season and excited for what’s to come.
“Evren started it (the 2024 season), I collaborated with him and together, we’ve come up with this season,” Bond said.
“(I) can’t wait to get started on all the casting and the design work as we’re moving this fall, gearing up for that,” Bond said.
“Just a huge shout out to all of our audience and donors and so many supporters in the community who have helped make this happen,” Bond added.
Bond said his focus has been on having four shows open in March 2024 to offer more variety on opening weekend, which has been traditionally the case at OSF prior to COVID-19.
While economics has played a major role in designing the season and its lineup, his goal has been to figure out how to get the maximum amount of performances and opportunities for audiences.
“That was one key piece, and the other is just making sure that by the time we opened the Elizabethan, that there are six shows that people can see in three different spaces,” Bond said.
“Economically we’re not able to continue to … the end of what has typically been our end of season, but the hope is by being prudent this year … compacting season into a little tighter timeframe will maximize (what we get for) our expenses and people’s theater going and be able to really roll out a season in 2025 that hopefully spans the larger season that we hope to get back to.”
The 2024 OSF season
The season opens in the Angus Bowmer Theatre with Odcikin’s “muscular, meaty production of ‘Macbeth,’” according to the OSF announcement, from which play descriptions here are taken.
The play is inspired by the original Scottish setting of this masterwork, and the news release for the season describes Odcikin’s staging as promising “a compelling reflection on the perils of political ambition.”
Mirroring the Bard’s themes of vengeance and anarchy is Liz Duffy Adams’s dark comedy “Born with Teeth,” a seductive fictionalization directed by Alley Theatre (Houston) Artistic Director Rob Melrose about an ill-fated meeting of the minds between a young William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, according to OSF.
The season continues in the Thomas Theatre with a special series of four one-person productions created and performed by storied OSF alumni. The series begins with Lisa Wolpe’s Shakespeare and the “Alchemy of Gender.”
Wolpe, who has arguably played more of the Bard’s male roles than any woman in history, illustrates Shakespeare’s insight into the human condition in this deeply personal production.
Rodney Gardiner returns to OSF in his one-man comedy, “Smote This, A Comedy About God… and Other Serious $H*T,” a story of his journey as an undocumented Black boy growing up in 1980s Miami, according to OSF.
OSF veteran Robin Goodrin Nordli makes her triumphant return to the festival in “Virgins to Villains,” a one-of-a-kind, one-woman revue that draws on Nordli’s experience of performing in 54 productions of 28 different Shakespeare plays. The series concludes with “Behfarmaheen (If You Please),” Barzin Akhavan’s one-man show that tells a true story of a young immigrant trying to find belonging in two worlds divided.
The Thomas Theatre will also be home to the warm-hearted indie-rock musical “Lizard Boy,” conceived by Justin Huertas and directed by Brandon Ivie. Fresh from its 2023 off-Broadway run, this new cult-favorite musical explores an unconventional superhero’s journey of self-discovery with an exhilarating book and an infectiously funny, beautiful score.
In the historic Allen Elizabethan Theatre, the outdoor season begins with one of Shakespeare’s most iconic comedies, “Much Ado About Nothing.” Directed by 17-year OSF fan favorite Miriam A. Laube, this hilariously delicious, Renaissance-inspired staging will feature dazzling visuals and music.
Finally, one of the most recognized heroines in literary history takes center stage in Elizabeth Williamson’s West Coast Premiere adaptation of “Jane Eyre.” Dawn Monique Williams directs the gothic romance play, following her critically acclaimed staging of Twelfth Night (2023).
OSF Board Chair Diane Yu praised Odcikin and Hokama’s collaboration with Bond to bring the season together.
“The OSF Board of Directors appreciates our loyal patrons and donors for their generous support for and commitment to keeping our theaters open, which is good news for the region and American theatre itself,” Yu said in a news release. “We owe a major debt of gratitude to Interim Artistic Director Evren Odcikin, whose contributions were invaluable in programming the upcoming season. In addition, we recognize the tireless and inspired efforts of our leadership team of Interim Executive Director Tyler Hokama and Artistic Director Tim Bond that helped the Festival reach this happy moment. We all look forward to a brilliant and memorable season!”
Return of school visit program
The 2024 season will also bring with it the return of the OSF School Visit Program. Originated by founder Angus Bowmer, the outreach initiative introduces students to live theater and Shakespeare’s plays in performance by bringing teaching artists into their schools.
“It’s just really key to what we do,” Bond said. “I can’t tell you how many artists I’ve worked with who were touched by that program and how many audience members first were exposed to Oregon Shakespeare Festival … professional theater at all through that program.”
Bond said Hokama had already started on a lot of the ground work to return the program to OSF when he arrived on Sept. 1.
“The School Visit Program is really one of the key pillars in what really makes the Oregon Shakespeare Festival have the impact that it has on so many people,” Bond said.
“(Hokama and I) were absolutely in tandem with that.”
Hokama told Ashland.news when he came aboard OSF that he valued educational outreach and that he was interested in seeing what OSF could do to continue to develop that in the future.
“Our education programs are a critical part of OSF’s purpose,” Hokama said in a news release. “Their reach and impact are immeasurable, with many of our artists’ and audiences’ first theater experience being through participation in these decades-long traditions. I’m especially proud and ecstatic that our education team and staff are reviving our much-beloved school visit program after its pandemic pause.”
Students will experience performances, talkbacks, and workshops that will take place in theaters, auditoriums, and gymnasiums in schools and universities all over the West Coast.
The program will relaunch in fall of 2024, with the program featuring a 40-minute, accessible adaptation of William Shakespeare’s political drama “Julius Caesar,” and “The Seven Ages,” a literature program that uses Shakespeare’s famous speech from “As You Like It.”
The festival will also continue to offer tours, workshops and engaging discussions on the OSF campus for audiences of all ages. Full creative teams and casting for the 2024 season, along with more details about educational programming, will be announced throughout the winter and early spring, according to OSF.
Members will get early access to tickets for the season in early November 2023, with general public sales beginning in late November. More information can be found at osfashland.org/2024.
“The 2024 season is a feat,” Bond said in the announcement. “It’s a labor of love. It’s a collection of powerful stories that our artists and audiences are yearning for now more than ever. March 2024 cannot come soon enough!”
Bond also noted that, while he is reveling in the announcement of the upcoming season, his eyes are already looking beyond to the 90th anniversary season in 2025.
“I don’t go to bed at night without starting to sketch out dreams and ideas about that season,” Bond said. “It takes a good year and a half to plan these things generally.
“And so, I’ve got to jump on that now … that’s just my nightly ritual.”
Sept.22: Capitalization in “Macbeth” corrected.