Lue Morgan Douthit, Oregon Shakespeare Festival's director of literary development and dramaturgy, has spent 20 seasons at OSF. We met in her office and discussed the procedure for selecting a season's plays. This is the second of a two-part interview.
EH: Has the process of choosing plays changed over the years?
LD: The process remains as arduous today as it did on day one, because I think the most important thing we do is to choose these eleven plays. From there, all things then are driven. That process has always been inclusive, and it has gotten more and more with Bill (Rauch), but in Libby Appel's time, too, it was quite a big committee.
Generally speaking, Bill comes to the table on the first day with a sense of a couple of things: Whether it's a musical that he wants to do or a new play that is ripe; a passion he has for a particular play; and a couple of Shakespeare's. From there you start nipping and tucking and chipping and splicing and dicing and work things around. And you test plays against each other: Not enough comedy; too much realism; too many plays set in the sixties; not enough women's roles.
Every year there are many of the same kinds of conversations, or what I call the mills, to make sure that we have variety on as many levels as we possibly can. At the same time, we are doing some pragmatics: How many roles? What are the demands of the theatrical world? How much video? How many musicians? Do we need children? Can we get the rights? What will be the royalties? All these pragmatics are tossed into this huge mix.
There's been a high learning curve with Bill in terms of different kinds of literature, but the process is still the same. Commissioning playwrights is still the same, and the biggest difference is the amount of development work that we now do, that we encourage, support, produce, and curate. Now, projects are much more complicated, and there is so much experimentation with form and content, form mostly, and our ability within the structure of the Festival. (Oh, by the way, we're pumping out a lot of performances.) The logistics of trying to get certain artists to work on certain pieces to develop them, that's been the hugest change, the scale of that. It's been fun, but it's been the biggest change.
EH: What is it about the medium of theater that is so compelling?
LD: I find the power of a story being told in front of a group of strangers to be one of the most powerful human experiences we have available.
I cherish the opportunity (and am humbled every day) by the courage of the people who do this, the actors and playwrights in particular. I hold great respect for playwrights and actors. They are our truth-tellers. Anything I can contribute to keeping that alive, that's my career. Some of it has been teaching; some of it has been in other venues.
My entire career has been in the theater. What hooks me is I am incredibly moved by watching people act in front of me and show me ways to be. I must be slow of study, because I can't seem to get enough examples of how to be, and I marvel at how many ways there are to be. I'll say that everything I've ever learned I've learned from the theater. And I'm grateful to it.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2014 Season runs from Feb. 14 through November 2. For tickets and information regarding plays and events, visit www.osfashland.org or call 541-482-4331 or 800-219-8161.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at email@example.com.