Veteran director and arts administrator Nataki Garrett, most recently the interim artistic director of Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company, is now on board as the new artistic head of Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). She’ll be calling all the shots after the 2019 season, when current artistic director Bill Rauch will move on to New York to run the Perelman Center for the Performing Arts, a new facility under construction at the World Trade Center site.
Garrett, the first person of color to head OSF, shares some of Rauch’s programming priorities, including the emphasis on cultural diversity and on developing and presenting contemporary works alongside classical plays.
At 47, she has had broad experience around the country as a freelance stage director. And before her Denver stint, she was associate director of the CalArts Center for New Performance at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. There isn’t much Shakespeare on her lengthy resume, but she has given a lot of thought to how the Bard of Avon’s work remains vital.
“The way I’ve come to see Shakespeare is that his plays are revolutionary in their ideas,” said Garrett during a recent visit to Seattle. “He took old stories and recreated them in new forms for his audiences.”
Some older longtime OSF patrons, a group Garrett calls “the stewardship audience,” may hunger for more conventional interpretations than the many gender-bending, high-concept Shakespeare outings presented during Rauch’s tenure. Garrett says she wants to “retain a connection” to that audience, while also “focusing on younger generations” of theatergoers. “I feel that the heart of Shakespeare,” she says, “is the question, ‘What’s next?’ ”
Under her watch, OSF will also continue to stage musicals on occasion “because we’re a national theater, and it’s a national art form,” she notes. “Musicals like ‘Hairspray’ [running currently at OSF] also provide a great conduit for social commentary.”
Garrett’s other major priority is to help fiscally stabilize OSF after lost revenues due to wildfire smoke affecting its 1,190-seat outdoor venue, the Elizabethan Theatre. (This summer some of the scheduled outdoor shows will be moved to an indoor auditorium at Ashland High School.)
Audiences will learn more about Garrett’s own aesthetic when she makes her directing debut at OSF with the Christina Anderson play, “How to Catch Creation,” which she has previously staged in Philadelphia and Baltimore. It starts performances on July 23 in the Thomas Theatre.
The 2020 OSF season has been announced; it was chosen by Bill Rauch before the hiring of Garrett. It will include Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest,” along with “Bring Down the House” (a two-part conflation of the Henry V plays directed by Rosa Joshi, premiered here by Seattle Shakespeare Company) and feature contemporary plays including “Bernhardt/Hamlet” by Theresa Rebeck and “Confederates” by Dominique Morisseau, a new work in OSF’s American Revolutions series. For a complete listing: osfashland.org.