When a kingdom is in trouble, few things are as heartening as the return of a favored prince.
At least, that seems to be the feeling among followers of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival since the Thursday afternoon announcement that Tim Bond will become the organization’s new artistic director. Bond has had a long and highly esteemed career in regional theater, most notably for these purposes having spent 1996 to 2007 as associate artistic director at OSF during the tenure of Libby Appel in the top post.
“Tim Bond is an award-winning leader in the American theater community, and OSF is delighted to welcome him back,” OSF Board Chair Diane Yu is quoted in the company’s press release. “His lengthy and deep relationship with OSF includes serving as a frequent director of both Shakespeare and other memorable plays over the years. His stature and accomplishments as an artist include introducing prominent new and classic works and he is widely acknowledged as one of the nation’s foremost interpreters of the works of August Wilson, which we all witnessed when he directed Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned at OSF last year. He is a great fit for OSF as it embarks on a new chapter.”
Bond has directed productions across the country, at such well-regarded companies as the Guthrie Theater, Seattle Rep, Milwaukee Rep, BAM, Arena Stage, Alliance Theatre, Indiana Rep, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Portland Center Stage, and Dallas Theater Center. He started out with Seattle Group Theatre in 1984, where he later became artistic director. He also spent time as producing artistic director at Syracuse Stage, and as a professor and head of the Professional Actor Training Program at the University of Washington School of Drama. Since 2020 he’s been with TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.
Even so, Bond has long maintained a home in Ashland, and will start that new OSF chapter on Sept. 1. That time frame overlaps slightly with Evren Odcikin’s time as interim artistic director, an appointment also announced this week. Odcikin, an associate artistic director, will oversee things through Sept. 15. Since the resignation of the previous artistic director, Nataki Garrett, in May, OSF has gotten by with the playwright and Southern Oregon resident Octavio Solis as an advisor for artistic matters.
Including the June appointment of Tyler Hokama, a retired technology and business operations executive, as interim executive director, the OSF board has been moving to stabilize what’s been an unusually volatile era at the company.
Over the past few years, the venerable festival has been beset by troubles – major disruptions to its operations and income due to wildfire smoke and the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented staff turnover, even death threats made against Garrett, the company’s first Black artistic director. In April the company launched an emergency fund-raising campaign, saying it needed $2.5 million (in addition to its previously announced donation goal for the year) in order to be able to complete the 2023 season; it also canceled its holiday-season show, the comedy It’s Christmas, Carol. Garrett, who’d been named interim executive director only a few months prior, following David Schmitz’ departure amid an earlier round of belt-tightening, was relieved of that post, then resigned altogether the following month.
After all that, the news of Bond’s return was met with rapturous response on the “friends of OSF” Facebook page: “Huzzah! A great and talented friend comes home.” “Hooray ! Tim !!! Wise and Kind and steady and a man of the theatre for a very long time to come!” “Fantastic!!!!! Best news ever.” One comment even evoked the most storied figures in OSF history, founder Angus Bowmer and his beloved successor, Jerry Turner: “What a great choice! Tim will be super! Angus and Jerry would both approve!”
“Given Tim Bond’s history at the festival, he will do a much better job balancing more than 85 years of tradition with more modern and contemporary theater,” said DeAnn Welker, a former arts editor for The Oregonian and former OSF staffer who has followed the company for decades. “It will be great if he brings back the August Wilson ‘Century Cycle’ and programs like the Shakespeare canon-in-a-decade, while continuing to push new play development.”
Another concurring voice comes from Cynthia Fuhrman, a Portland arts consultant who started her career at OSF and recently spent several years as managing director of Portland Center Stage.
“I think it’s great to have someone who’s been a part of that organization before and understands how things work there,” said. “There’s really nowhere else that operates the same way, and having someone who knows that model from the outset is going to be really valuable. At the same time, you can’t just say ‘That’s just how we do it,’ and leave things at that. You’re going to have to make a lot of adjustments, especially in these times. But he’s been in the house at a lot of other companies, so I think he has advantages from that standpoint, too; he’s seen a lot of other ways of going about it all.
It just feels like the right choice for right now. I’m super-excited by it.”
“What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, that he should weep for her?” So muses Hamlet, that most pensive of tragic heroes. But for this weekend a better question might be, what’s Hecuba to Josie Seid?
Seid, the fine Portland actor turned playwright, transposes the Greek tale of Hecuba (the wife of King Priam of Troy during the Trojan War) to contemporary America for The Great God of the Dark Storm Cloud, wherein the mythic figure is a Black school principal dismayed by a mass shooting.
A reading of the play is the opening event Friday in Nothing Left to Lose: A Multimedia Summer Festival at Shaking the Tree. A variety of movement theater, performance art and other hybrid forms take up the Southeast Portland space this weekend and next.
The classics of the mid-20th-century American musical canon can, let’s face it, seem a bit musty these days. And yet, Meredith Willson’s The Music Man – often derided, even amid its great initial success, for being too sentimental and old-fashioned – somehow isn’t moth-eaten yet. “There’s something progressive about it that doesn’t often get recognized,” Isaac Lamb told ArtsWatch a year ago, when he directed a wonderful, stripped-down production for Third Rail Rep. “The story is ultimately about how this man – almost mistakenly – changes this little town, or maybe re-acquaints it with itself. It’s about how music and art can reconnect them with their community and with their lives.”
Lamb’s minimalist approach re-tooled the show for a cast of six and a kind of compact but potent charm. Shedd Theatricals, in Eugene, is going the traditional, maximalist route with its production, The Music Man with a cast of more than two dozen, under the direction of Kirk Boyd. Big or little, the story’s romantic charm, memorable songs, and indelible view of small-town life are likely to keep giving nostalgia a good name.
My apologies to the fine players of the Original Practice Shakespeare Festival, but I’d neglected so far to look up this summer’s OPSFest schedule. Then I noticed on Facebook that they’ll be spending some time this weekend at my own old childhood playground, Laurelhurst Park. It’s a nice place to watch a play.
Each of the next few evenings at 7 p.m., OPSFest will perform Two Gentlemen of Verona (Friday), As You Like It (Saturday), and Henry IV, Part 1 (Sunday). They’ll pop up to Gateway Discovery Park for a Wednesday morning performance before heading back to Laurelhurst, then on to other Portland-area parks through late August.
Astoria’s charming Ten Fifteen Theater goes West. Not geographically, of course (it’d end up in Youngs Bay, if not the Pacific Ocean). West as in Mae West, the enduring Hollywood star who serves as the animating spirit for Dirty Blonde, a play by Claudia Shear about a pair of obsessive fans who bond over the late, great performer’s, um, cultural endowment. Ann Bronson directs it in a staged reading.
The visit to Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s Cardiac Organ: A Goth Cabaret that served as the basis for our preview a couple of week ago was for a dress rehearsal. But I’ve been dying (well, not literally dying; how about just dressing in black?) to catch the show with a full crowd, all the better to really feel the electric charge of the 1980s goth-rock covers, the darkly lustrous visual design and the wry comic musings that are woven together in this spectral variety show. There’s just one more weekend to get in on the fun – though the show is so good I really hope PETE brings it back as, say, an annual Halloween fundraiser.
As if making theater wasn’t challenging enough, school drama programs are encountering more restrictions on the plays they can present, with an increasing range of subjects, character types and even incidental details eliciting objections from parents and administrators. That’s according to recent reporting from The New York Times: “School plays — long an important element of arts education and a formative experience for creative adolescents — have become the latest battleground at a moment when America’s political and cultural divisions have led to a spike in book bans, conflicts over how race and sexuality are taught in schools, and efforts by some politicians to restrict drag performances and transgender health care for children and teenagers.
“…Drama teachers around the country say they are facing growing scrutiny of their show selections, and that titles that were acceptable just a few years ago can no longer be staged in some districts. The Educational Theater Association released a survey of teachers last month that found that 67 percent say censorship concerns are influencing their selections for the upcoming school year.”
The flattened stage
The best line I read this week
“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me man, Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?”
— “Paradise Lost,” John Milton
That’s all I have for now. I’ll try to do better the next time.