It was only a matter of time. Bill Rauch, the Harvard educated wunderkind who over the past decade has elevated the Oregon Shakespeare Festival from being merely a good regional theater to winning Tony Awards and attracting regular national notice, is leaving his job as artistic director at OSF next year.
Rauch, I read today in the New York Times and in American Theatre, has been hired as the artistic director of the new Ronald O. Perelman Center for Performing Arts, a new $300 million theater being created at the World Trade Center in New York City.
That’s good news and bad. It’s great, of course, for Rauch, who gets to play now on a real national and international stage. It’s also, frankly, more good PR for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. But his departure also means that OSF has to find a new artistic director, a tricky job in the best of times.
By sheer coincidence I had met Rauch in L.A. before he got the job in Oregon. In 2006 he was directing a production of Coos Bay native Jeff Whitty’s The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler at South Coast Rep when I was introduced to him backstage at a reception following the show. He seemed, even on five minutes’ acquaintance, to be one of those rare charismatic figures with a truly bright and shining future before them.
On paper Rauch was an outrageous hire for OSF. His main job since graduating from Harvard had been running Cornerstone Theater Company, which consisted of him and Alison Carey running around the West in a van and staging Shakespeare for — and by — locals in tiny rural communities. Those years in the cultural trenches putting on Shakespeare for real audiences would inform the many shows he has directed at OSF since then.
Besides being a great director, Rauch has been a financial rainmaker. He pulled money out of the cosmos to fund such impossible projects as American Revolutions, in which OSF is commissioning 37 new plays from established and emerging playwrights on significant moments in American history. It was an American Revolutions commission, Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way, that went on from Ashland to Broadway and took the Tony Award for Best Play in 2014.
A couple of years after he got hired here in 2007 — he was hired right before the economy collapsed and the Great Recession got underway — I asked him whether he thought the OSF board would have the nerve to hire such a maverick in 2008, with money disappearing like water down the drain. For the record, he just laughed out loud.
I’ll miss him and his energy and look forward to seeing who’s next at OSF — and very much look forward to attending next week’s openings at the festival.