Ashland picks new artistic leader

Nataki Garrett, who directs this season's "How To Catch Creation," will become the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's sixth artistic director

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced a new artistic director in a Tuesday morning release. Nataki Garett will be the Ashland festival’s sixth artistic leader, replacing Bill Rauch, who is completing his final season before taking over as the first artistic director of the new Ronald O. Perelman Center for the Performing Arts at the rebuilt World Trade Center in New York.

It’s a plum job, one of the top posts in the American nonprofit theater, and one of several nationally that have been open in the past year. And it marks a sweeping change in leadership, with top positions across the country going to women and people of color, as The New York Times details in today’s editions.

Garrett most recently was acting artistic director for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts during its 18-month leadership transition. Chris Coleman, who was artistic director of Portland Center Stage for 17 years, was appointed to the permanent post in Denver. Coleman was replaced by Marissa Wolf, who moved from Kansas City Rep to take the reigns last September.

Garrett, who holds as MFA in directing from California Institute of the Arts, has worked for more than 20 years as “a theatre administrator, director, producer, playwright, educator, activist and mentor.”

Nataki Garrett, new boss at OSF. Photo: Bill Geenen

“I am absolutely thrilled to be named incoming artistic director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival and it is an honor and privilege to inherit such a wonderfully rich and dynamic legacy of artistic excellence in partnership with a dedicated board, staff, company and local community,” Garrett said in a prepared statement. “I am equally excited and inspired by OSF’s dedication to expanding our worldview and look forward to maintaining our commitment to the revolutionary spirit of Shakespeare and classical text, while continuing to explore and expand opportunities for new voices and narratives through new play development.”

Garrett will arrive in Ashland in early April, assuming the title of incoming artistic director, to prepare for the 2020 season, which will be the first under her charge. She’ll assume the full title and responsibilities of artistic director on August 1. In early June she’ll begin rehearsals for the West Coast premiere of Christina Anderson’s How To Catch Creation, which she is directing, and which will open July 27 in the festival’s Thomas Theatre, with preview performances from July 23.

“I have known Nataki Garrett for 17 years and have closely followed and admired her career. She is a rigorous and thrilling artist; a thoughtful, confident leader; and big thinker,” Rauch said in the festival’s statement. “Nataki’s historic appointment, as an African American woman running one of the largest-budget theaters in the United States, is a direct expression of OSF’s decades-long commitment to helping create a more equitable field.”

Diane Yu, Search Committee member and recently elected co-chair of the Board of Directors, added: “OSF Board of Directors has found in Nataki Garrett an individual with a powerful artistic vision, proven change leadership qualities, and the ability to continue the Festival’s upward trajectory established under predecessors like Libby Appel and Bill Rauch.”

The festival has grown from a small outdoor event founded in 1935 on an old Chautauqua performance site to a major company with an eight-month season of about a dozen plays in repertory and a $44 million annual budget. It sells about 400,000 tickets a year.

A festival interview with Garrett on How To Catch Creation:

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