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Tim Bond starts his second Ashland act

A conversation with the new artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, who's returned to the company he helped lead for 11 years and is eager to "carry it forward" again.

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Oregon Shakespeare festival artistic leader Tim Bond in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Photo: Bob Palermini
Artistic leader Tim Bond in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Photo: Bob Palermini

After opening the doors to the Allen Elizabethan Theatre shortly after settling in at the Oregon Shakespere Festival in Ashland recently, Tim Bond stepped down into the majestic space.

“This is the Lizzy,” Bond said, using the outdoor theater’s nickname as he made his way down the steps. “Isn’t this amazing?”

The 1,200-seat theater is familiar to Bond, who served as associate artistic director at OSF for 11 years. 

Now artistic director, he settled into a seat and spoke with Ashland.news for the better part of an hour about his artistic vision going forward, what he’s been up to since starting the job on Sept. 1, what audiences can expect next season, and more.

Bond brings a wealth of experience to the role, but a humbleness, too. 

“I have so much respect for all my predecessors, I have great respect for Nataki (Garrett) as an artist and a friend,” Bond told Ashland.news. “This is a company I care about and this is the role I’m playing right now, to carry it forward.”

Bond’s resume speaks for itself, revealing the breadth of experience he brings here. 

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He’s directed 12 OSF productions, promoted equity and inclusion efforts throughout the company, and created the FAIR Program, which cultivates the next generation of theater artists and administrators from diverse backgrounds, according to previous reporting by Ashland.news. Bond, whose theater career spans more than 30 years, has been serving as artistic director for TheatreWorks Silicon Valley since 2020.

Oregon Shaksespeare Festival's new Artistic Director Tim Bond tests his new keys to the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Photo: Bob Palermini
Tim Bond tests his new keys to the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Photo: Bob Palermini

Bond started his career in Seattle in 1984 with Seattle Group Theatre, where he directed more than 20 productions, many that were West Coast or world premieres. In addition to his previous role at OSF, he is an internationally known director and educator with past leadership roles as producing artistic director at Syracuse Stage, artistic director at Seattle Group Theatre, and full professor and head of the Professional Actor Training Program at the University of Washington School of Drama, according to a previous OSF news release.

“I have (former Artistic Director) Libby’s (Appel) voice in my head all the time,” he added, “and (former Artistic Director) Bill (Rauch) and Nataki (Garrett).”  

“There’s just an amazing legacy of artistry, the idea of building community that is embedded in each of their different styles and the way they worked and, for me, I really feel like my role is going to be about building the company … reconnecting with community here and just continuing to move the needle forward on new work, but also in new ways of reimagining Shakespeare and reimagining the classics.”

Before theater was a major part of his life, Bond had a variety of pursuits that kept him well-rounded and grounded, lettering in baseball, basketball, and football in high school. In lieu of playing at the collegiate level, he opted to play the role of Joe Bruin, the brown bear mascot for the UCLA Bruins, in his freshman year. What drew him to that part, he says looking back, is that it was the perfect combination of his love for sports and theater.

Bond said that whether he was a team captain or student body president during high school, his emphasis was, “It’s more about the team than it’s about me.”

It’s a motto he carries into every role, including his new one, which he described with as many playful adjectives as possible for his first official week on the job.

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“It’s like getting shot out of a cannon,” Bond said candidly of starting in the role. “It’s exhilarating, it’s wild, it’s fun, it’s challenging. It feels good, though. I feel really embraced by the staff and I’m busy calling donors and working on fundraising, calling guest artists about joining us in the future.”

Initially, he’s keeping busy with the day-to-day tasks of an artistic director, spending time with marketing and development teams and working with producers, getting up-to-date on the ins and outs of understudies and the rehearsal period.

He said his vision for the theater over the next couple years is about rebuilding the ethos of being a repertory acting company.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Tim Bond in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Photo: Bob Palermini
Artistic Director Tim Bond in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Photo: Bob Palermini

“New works need to be a part of our diet still, so we’re wanting to get our new play development engine back up and running,” he said. “The education (component) … is really important to this company and reconnecting us with a community in a way that feels positive.”

Bond quoted OSF founding Artistic Director Angus Bowmer, who is known for saying post-World War II that he wouldn’t return to the theater “unless the community is going to be a part of that.”

“This theater exists because of this community,” Bond said. “A lot of this community exists because of this company, and we’re working together to make something really special.

“They can’t live separate from each other. We are symbiotically connected and (interim Executive Director) Tyler (Hokama) and I are going to be spending a lot of time talking with folks out in the community and reconnecting.” 

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Bond and Hokama recently even sang in harmony together during a donor’s birthday party, showing the unified spirit they share in connecting with those who support OSF.

“I think there’s going to be a big upswell of support in the next couple months that we’re going to see,” Bond said.

“There’s a lot of people who are feeling that they’re ready to step back up again,” he added.

“They care about this company, they care about its future and they have been longtime supporters and they know this is a moment we really need them to come back.”

“I feel like we’re a company that’s both a world-class theater that will be drawing actors and designers and directors and playwrights from all over the nation and some internationally as well, but we are rooted in this place and in this valley, and that combination makes Oregon Shakespeare Festival really special. I just want to lean into all of that.”

Bond said part of his vision going forward at OSF includes continuing to represent the diversity of the United States and the world.

“I always think of The Globe Theater, what Shakespeare called his theater,” Bond said. “That globe means we are reflecting the world, and so we have to reflect the world in who we invite to be here as artists, as administrators, and as audiences, and that is a very important part of the mission here, and one that I’ve carried everywhere I’ve been since I was first in theater as a teenager.

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“And we are uniquely situated to do it in a really beautiful way,” Bond added.

When it comes to juggling his artistic vision and filling theater seats, he understands the need for balance.

“I have a really eclectic taste — I like all sorts of different genres and styles of theater,” Bond said. “Different themes and stories that interest me endlessly about the human condition. If you’re honest to those things, and present enough variety, I think you fill the seats.” 

Bond noted that, as an artistic director, you have to figure out how to balance material that is heavier versus lighter-themed plays.

“We can’t have everything be a comedy, because there are things in the world we need to be talking about,” Bond said. “It’s always figuring out a healthy mix of those and making sure how they’re situated in our three theaters are in a way that allows people, if they want to gravitate one way or the other, they have the opportunity to do so. The pandemic has made it really difficult to have that variety because we haven’t had enough shows that we’ve been able to afford to do because there haven’t been enough audiences to get to that mix, and so we’re moving more in the right direction. 

Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Bond outside the festival's Angus Bowmer Theatre. Photo: Bob Palermini
Bond outside the festival’s Angus Bowmer Theatre. Photo: Bob Palermini

“We’re going to start to feel more of that mix next season and, hopefully, for our 90th season in 2025, we will be even closer … to having all three of our theaters hoppin’ and have enough variety of shows.”

In 2025, which will be Bond’s first full season as the artistic director programming the season, he gives no guarantees, but said he hopes to include an August Wilson production as part of the celebratory 90th anniversary season.

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Getting the bricks “hopping again” means asking audiences to put trust in OSF, he said, and for the organization to garner upfront funding to deliver world-class performances.

“That will allow me to dream a little more instead of just figuring out how to stay austere,” Bond said. “Even in austerity next season, I think people are going to feel this movement back towards what they’re hoping for. It’s not going backwards, it’s more about an ethos. It’s a feeling of welcome, it’s a feeling of variety and, you know, to get that world-class theater back on its feet. And every theater in this country is having the same challenges of getting audiences back, of finding the funding, and of keeping the artists feeling supported when they had a year-and-a-half, almost two years, of no work.”

He also acknowledged the tough times financially that some theaters are finding themselves in since the pandemic.

“I think any theater I was at right now would be challenging to be at,” he said. “We have a really loyal, long-term audience from Oregon, from Ashland, from California, from Washington, and I’m just talking to someone yesterday in Wisconsin. We’ve got people all over the nation that are so focused on our success and want to join us. That’s what keeps me feeling good.”

Despite the exits of Executive Director David Schmitz in January and Artistic Director Garrett in May, with a simultaneous multimillion-dollar financial campaign needed to save the 2023 season, Bond spoke positively about the outcome of the current season.

“It’s such a more positive step this season than it has been coming out of the pandemic immediately,” Bond said. “I think we’re going to be at about 15,000 tickets up from last year.

“When I first came in July, there were still some student groups coming through and they’ll be coming through again this fall. We’re going to have twice as many student groups this year as we had last year, so that feels really positive.”

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As artistic director, Bond wants to rebuild OSF’s education and outreach component.

He described watching a performance of Romeo and Juliet this summer with a group of students, and how rapt they were in plot developments. 

“We know that our audience, a lot of them first were exposed to Shakespeare or exposed to theater at all from Oregon Shakespeare Festival when they were younger,” Bond said. 

“That program of both our school visit program and student matinees (has) a major impact on the audience we build in the future.”

Bond said the upcoming 2024 season will be a hybrid, combining both his contributions and those of Evren Odcikin. [The season has since been announced: It will include Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing; Liz Duffy Adams’ Born With Teeth, about the rivalry between Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe; Justin Huertas’ indie musical Lizard Boy; Elizabeth Williamson’s stage adaption of Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre; and a trio of one-person shows, each performed by its creator: Barzin Akhavan’s Iranian immigrant tale Behfarmaheen (If You Please); Robin Goodrin Nordli’s Virgins to Villains, which delves into the characters of Shakespeare’s women; and Rodney Gardiner’s Smote This, A Comedy About God… and Other Serious $H*T, about “one Black man’s reckoning with legacy and religion.”]

“I have to give credit to our interim artistic director Evren Odcikin, who’s really driven this process the last couple months before I got here,” Bond said, “in beginning to look towards that season and figuring out how to work within a smaller budget … in order to be responsible that we don’t end up in a difficult situation again with needing to do special fundraising.”

Bond acknowledged that the season announcement was being made late due to leadership changes and “trying to make sure that the theater was going to make it through this season.”

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“I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised by the selection,” he added, “and how Shakespeare-centric it is, but also, the other variety of it, with comedy, with all sorts of different relationships to Shakespeare and more shows than we did this season.”

Bond anticipates audience excitement over the programming for the upcoming season as well as admiration for the ways Bond and Odcikin aim to be financially prudent and produce it within budget.

Beyond being back in Ashland for his position, he’s happy to be closer to his brother and his son, who both live in the Portland area. He’s also reveling in his short commute, the walkable city, and the ability to take a walk in Lithia Park when he can.

He takes a moment to acknowledge a cameo appearance by an unlikely interview guest near his feet. 

“My goodness, look at that salamander,” Bond exclaimed, looking at its green body and bright blue tail. “That is gorgeous!”

A juvenile western skink in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Its 4-inch body is covered with shiny glass-like scales, and the tail is blue. Photo: Bob Palermini
A juvenile western skink in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Its 4-inch body is covered with shiny glass-like scales, and the tail is blue. Photo: Bob Palermini

Later research determined it was a juvenile western skink lizard, not a salamander, sunning itself in the Lizzy. 

Bond hinted jovially that the incident with the repertory reptile reminds him of a play OSF is looking into performing next year, but wouldn’t go into detail.

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“And that’s all I’m going to say,” Bond said, with a laugh.

Joking aside, Bond says that “destiny” brought him back to OSF at the right time, and he’s excited for the days and months to come.

“If it’s not fun then I don’t want to do it,” Bond said. “It’s about joy for me and it’s about community and it’s about celebrating the human condition – that’s what the theater does, and what better place to do it than here.”

***

This story was published originally by Ashland.news, and is republished here with permission. Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

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