Bill Rauch is headed for New York City’s Perelman Center

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Bill Rauch, the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival since 2007, is leaving Ashland to become the first artistic director of the Perelman Center, the festival announced this morning. The Perelman Center is the performing arts component of the reconstruction on the World Trade Center site, slated to begin operations in 2020.

“The opportunity to move to New York to lead the Perelman Center is tremendously exciting,” Rauch said in a festival press release. “I’m honored to be able to create transformative art and cultivate a community gathering space at a site that has such powerful emotional resonance for our country and the world.”

Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s artistic director, Bill Rauch, is headed for New York/Photo: Oregon Shakespeare Festival/2008

Rauch transformed OSF during his tenure, turning it into a central player in the national theater scene, not just the nonprofit world, where the company’s practices regarding inclusion and its aggressive new play commissioning have spread nationwide, but also into the commercial theater scene, where Rauch-commissioned plays have frequently gone to Broadway and beyond.

“What we have collectively accomplished in the past 12 years at OSF exceeds my wildest dreams of what was possible when I first started the job,” Rauch said. “An ever-diversifying universe of actors, artisans, administrators, board members, audience members and so many more have led this Festival boldly forward to the forefront of the American theater.”

“Leaving OSF and this amazing company has been one of the most difficult decisions of my life,” Rauch continued. “The Festival and this wonderful town are where my husband and I have raised our two children together—it’s truly our home in so many senses of the word. We have been deeply impacted and changed by our time here in Ashland.”

Rauch will leave Ashland in August 2019 to take over the Perelman Center. The festival has engaged a search firm to help identify candidates to replace him.

A New York Times story on developments at the Perelman Center said that officials there hoped that the center (which will boast three combinable halls) will produce multidisciplinary works with many partners.

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“I think the vision is going to flow organically out of the space, and what the World Trade Center means to the city of New York, and what it means to the country, and what it means to the world,” Mr. Rauch said in a telephone interview with the Times. “The work of the Perelman is going to be about blurring boundaries between disciplines, blurring boundaries between communities.”

Within the confines of “theater” that’s what Rauch has done at the festival, mixing and matching acting, directing and writing styles to create a program that is as diverse as the company he has recruited to Ashland.

The Times concluded its story with another quote from Rauch: “I think our job as an arts organization is to bring hope by bringing people together.” That social component has been central to the mission of the festival under Rauch, and the wider success he has achieved with that as his guiding star shows both his commitment to the principles the quote implies and his talent for assembling gifted and diverse collaborators.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Barry Johnson has written about and edited arts and culture stories of various sorts since 1978, when he started writing about dance for the Seattle Sun. He edited the arts section of Willamette Week and wrote a general culture column in the  early 1980s and started at The Oregonian as arts editor in 1983, moving between editing and writing (visual arts, movies, theater, dance) until leaving in 2009. Since then, he's been thinking about new ideas to help make arts and culture journalism ever more useful and engaged. Oregon ArtsWatch is one of those ideas.

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