Oregon Shakespeare Festival gets a new playwright in residence

A $303k grant from the Mellon Foundation will be used to hire Luis Alfaro

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has nailed a $303,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to fund a new resident playwright position for the next three years.

The company’s playwright will be Luis Alfaro, who worked with OSF artistic director Bill Rauch at Cornerstone Theater, according to the OSF press release. Alfaro also wrote “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner,” which was produced at OSF in 2008.

Luis Alfaro, Oregon Shakespeare Festival's new playwright in residence

Luis Alfaro, Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new playwright in residence

“Luis’ appointment as OSF’s first-ever Resident Playwright is a major event in the life of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,” said Rauch in the press release. “OSF’s founder Angus Bowmer, inspired by the example of William Shakespeare, first articulated the dream of a resident writer many decades ago. The idea has gathered momentum as the Festival has increased its commissioning and production of new work in the 21st century. Luis has a vital, poetic, adventurous and ambitious voice as a dramatist. He is also one of the most charismatic ambassadors for the art form of live theater of anyone I have ever met. His impact on our company, our audiences and our community will be immeasurable. I am especially grateful for the Mellon Foundation’s unflagging leadership in our field for this residency and many others that put writers at the center of theater companies—where they belong.”

Alfaro also writes fiction and poetry, and he received a MacArthur Foundation genius grant in 1997. His plays, often set in LA’s barrios and dealing with gay and lesbian issues, include “Bitter Homes and Gardens,” “Pico Union,” “Downtown,” “Cuerpo Politizado,” “Straight as a Line,” “Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner,” “No Holds Barrio” and “Black Butterfly.”

According to the press release, he will collaborate with OSF to create a three-play cycle about the Latino immigrant experience in the United States and serve as dramaturg on at least one production over each of the three years, starting with Tanya Saracho’s world premiere, “The Tenth Muse,” opening in July 2013. He also will be part of OSF’s leadership team and assist OSF in connecting with local Latino communities and strengthening outreach efforts in the Rogue Valley.

“For years I have longed for the experience to work with a theater that can provide a space where I can dream, write and create, and one that has the resources that can take advantage of my own desires to connect community in ways that go beyond building audiences and are essential to how we make our work,” Alfaro said in the press release. “Working in the theater can sometimes feel like the most ephemeral experience. One writes in an interior solitary of creativity, and then, if we are lucky, we get our work produced and off we go to the next adventure. But what if we playwrights could stick around and help define the life of the theaters we work in? This is immensely exciting because this is an old and a new idea at the same time. How exciting to be part of a company and imagine what a playwright’s creativity might bring to the mix. I am honored to be part of one of the most important theaters in the U.S. to help in such dreaming.”

Under Rauch, Oregon Shakespeare Festival has become an ambitious producer of new work, and this grant extends that initiative and, and, one suspects, is a reward for his accomplishments to date.

NOTES

Here’s a 2010 interview with Alfaro.

Peter Marks wrote an excellent profile of Alfaro for the Washington Post, including an anecdote about a previous Alfaro residency at OSF.

“The impulse to draw into his professional orbit people from backgrounds not considered traditional sources for theatergoers – troubled teens, ex-offenders, members of disadvantaged minorities – leads him to make connections that theaters don’t ordinarily think of. When, for instance, he was in residence at the august and picturesque Oregon Shakespeare Festival, he says, he took on the challenge of bringing in a Latino crowd, a demographic with which the company was having little success.

“Bill gave me some money,” Alfaro says, referring to artistic director Bill Rauch, “and I brought in the best taco truck in [nearby] Medford.” He says he hired a band to play music in the open air and generally threw out a lively welcome to the community. As a result, he says, “we filled 4,000 seats with Latinos.””

And finally, an interview with Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company from 2011 about his “Oedipus El Rey.”

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