Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon

DramaWatch: Tim Bond takes the reins at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The troubled festival calls on a favored prince to be its new artistic director. Plus: A new Josie Seid play, 76 trombones in Eugene, last call for gothic cabaret, and more.

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Tim Bond returns to Ashland as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new artistic director. Hillary Jeanne Photography

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.

Al Espinosa, with Catherine Castellanos, David Anthony Lewis, and Cordell Cole, in OSF’s current “Twelfth Night.” Photo: Jenny Graham

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.

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Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Concert Rooted Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

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.”

Opening

Actor and writer Josie Seid, right, with Andrea Vernae in Artists Rep’s 2017 production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “An Octoroon.” Photo: Russell J Young

“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.

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Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon

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.

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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. 

Weekender

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.  

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Portland Columbia Symphony Realm of Nature Beaverton and Gresham Oregon

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.

Closing 

Last call for PETE’s “Cardiac Organ: A Gothic Cabaret.” Photo: Owen Carey

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.

Second-hand news

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

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Portland Columbia Symphony Realm of Nature Beaverton and Gresham Oregon

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.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Editor

Marty Hughley is a Portland journalist who writes about theater, dance, music and culture. His honors have included a National Arts Journalism Program fellowship at the University of Georgia, a fellowship at the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater at the University of Southern California, and first-place awards for arts reporting in the Society of Professional Journalists Pacific Northwest Excellence in Journalism Competitions. In 2013 he was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame for his contributions to the industry. A Portland native, Hughley studied history at Portland State University, worked at the alternative newsweekly Willamette Week in the late 1980s as pop music critic and arts editor, then spent nearly a quarter century at The Oregonian as a reporter, feature writer and critic. His recent freelance work has appeared in Oregon ArtsWatch, Artslandia and the Oregon Humanities magazine. He lives with his cat, and dies a little with each new setback to the Trail Blazers.

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One Response

  1. Terrific coverage of a diverse state & scenes, thank you Marty Hughley and OAW. Nice illustration also of the self-mockery necessary to appreciate the “Gothic” (re: dress in black and live mournfully) impulse in photos of the bright shiny yellow vested and argyle socks clad Al Espinosa as Mal-Volio set in an unstuck-in-time Hollywood Studio system circa 1930’s, more precisely adapting to the Illyria Studios “look” between world wars for Shakespeare’s shattering of binary gender roles and\or sexuality (and politics, personal or imperial) in the bard’s farce on Identity Casting in Twelfth Night.

    Perhaps more appropriate for the gothic impulse is the closing quote from Milton as reviewer Hughley’s best lines read this week from Milton’s Paradise Lost:

    “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 seems to call out from eternity for a good advance publicist to sell an update of Mel Brooks’s existential howler The Producers. The original film adaptation with Zero Mostel’s face as Nathan Bialystock capturing all of the poignancy of the “Human Condition” (or at least a human on the make upon the hamster wheel of ‘sweat of thy brow’ daily bread and survival upon the boards and blue haired investors in the fickle theatuh rackets) as he addresses his mousey accountant named Bloom played by Gene Wilder:
    “Bloom, I’m wearing a cardboard belt! A card-board belt, Bloom!”

    That tone of desperation with all that hinges on OSF’s season hanging in the balance of the wildfires of the Canadian north creeping back down south or drifting as back exhaust from this summer’s North American plagued skies…We’re all wearing a card-board belt and in danger of being displaced in that great repertory theater experiment of humanity….

    Willamette Week’s newest muck-raker Anthony Effinger along with barely noticed well-muscled muck rakers Nigel Jaquiss, Sophie Peel (winner of a national Society of Professional Journalists Full-Time Rookie Journalist of the Year award for the Pandemic In Perpetuity’s belated year 2021) and Lucas Manfield observed the national journalists parachuting in and typing out their observations of the Ghost Town and once lauded set of PORTLANDIA as the place where 20 and 30 somethings went to retire (if they were Trustafarians) now viewing with horror our fentanyl-fueled moment of normalized homelessness and the anti-social outcomes of “Sheltering In Place” during a prolonged Public Health Crisis of displacement, recalled these lines from our newly elected Democratic Governor Kotek whose bill to manifest her campaign pledge to place the availability of affordable housing as her #1 Priority and having her recent attempt in Salem fall with more support from Republicans than her own party’s backers who clung to a failed Green Urban Growth Boundary utopian principle in the face of our shared mortality and precariousness:
    https://www.wweek.com/news/2023/07/12/national-reporters-are-flying-into-portland-to-rubberneck-can-they-tell-us-what-went-wrong/

    “Most perceptive observation (“In October, by The New York Times that sent a reporter to weigh the odds of a Republican takeover of Oregon. Two weeks later, Michelle Goldberg, a reliably liberal Times op-ed columnist, followed up with analysis.

    “How a Republican Could Lead Oregon: Liberal Disharmony and Nike Cash”

    The New York Times, Oct. 16, 2022):

    “Goldberg understood that, to win the governorship, Tina Kotek had to thread a needle. She couldn’t throw Gov. Kate Brown, her predecessor, completely under the bus, but she had to get most of Brown under there to win. “The two biggest issues right now are housing and homelessness, and mental health and addiction,” Kotek declared to the Times. “And I’ll be honest, she’s been absent on that topic.”

    How apocalyptic are they? ⛈⛈⛈⛈

    Mitch Ritter\Paradigm Sifters, Code Shifters, PsalmSong Chasers
    Lay-Low Studios, Ore-Wa (Refuge of Atonement Seekers)
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