ASHLAND, Ore. -- Despite the economic chill in the air, and the often cool night climate at its amphitheater, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is heating up.
The Ashland theater complex is having a banner year -- at the box office and on the stage.
Theater buffs are turning out (at a hearty 94 percent capacity) to celebrate OSF's 75th anniversary.
Founded by Ashland teacher Angus Bowmer in 1935, the company has blossomed from a shoestring summer outfit into a drama multiplex that sold a record 410,034 tickets in 2009, to an 11-show season.
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Most heartening this year, the third under artistic head Bill Rauch, is not OSF's longevity but its creative rejuvenation. Rauch is bringing in intriguing new directors, not relying on an inner circle as his forbearers did.
The bountiful acting company boasts a batch of vigorous young first-timers, working alongside respected OSF vets like Anthony Heald and Dan Donohue.
And in most shows, a keener textual clarity is enriched with more interpretive boldness. A musty stodginess that often afflicted Shakespeare's heftier epics is dissipating, and watching such works is becoming less of an ordeal and more of a discovery.
At the opening of the summer season earlier this month, Rauch eagerly shared his plans to commission more adventurous new plays, and attract a younger, more diverse crowd.
But Rauch is also a savvy showman, with a sense of what sells.
His vision encompasses Shakespeare's greatest hits and other classics, Broadway musicals, as well as such edgy new works as Ping Chong's adaptation of the Akira Kurosawa film Throne of Blood (opens in late July) and American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose, Culture Clash's prismatic view of Mexican-American history (debuts next week).