By Karetta Hubbard and Molly Tinsley
The Theater: To Be or Not To Be? Four hundred years ago, Shakespeare’s plays were performed by men, with boys playing the female parts. Because acting was not considered a credible profession, female actors did not appear on stage until the mid 1600s. Over the centuries, the plays have been produced with seemingly infinite creative variations in setting and historical period.
Among the top theaters that have pushed the creative boundaries is the innovative, ever-evolving Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). Its 2018 season stands as a model for the reinvention of plays and musicals to reflect the diversity and inclusion principles we attempt to honor in the contemporary world. Bill Rauch, artistic director, explains his view of this season: “Using humor, passion, poetry, heartbreak, music and much more, the playwrights, composers and other creative artists of this season give us stories that help us discover our hidden past, our present selves and our hopes for the future. I’m thrilled to share a playbill that strives for radical inclusion through illuminating productions of new and classic plays and celebrates OSF as an essential destination for new and returning audiences alike. Now more than ever, we need to remind ourselves of what makes us human.”
This year, OSF has spotlighted new plays by a Native-American playwright and a Latina playwright. Manahatta illuminates colonial history from a Native-American point of view while Destiny of Desire offers a hilarious send-up of the telenovela genre, at the same time rewarding the central female characters as they take control of their destinies. (Destiny of Desire was presented at D.C.’s Arena Stage in 2015. Click to read the review.) The OSF’s current dramatic adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility derives its vitality in part from expressive cross-racial casting. Despite the novel’s narrow orientation toward the restrictions of social class in early nineteenth-century England, this production features a richly diverse family portrait: matriarch Mrs. Dashwood is played by a white actor, while her daughters are African-American, Latina, and Asian.
Rauch personally selected the 1943 musical Oklahoma! for this season, mounting its 75th anniversary production. It “honors the story in its original form while breaking new ground with same-sex lead couples and LGBTQ2+ casting of various roles that affirms the identity spectrum in a delightful, insightful celebration of love in its many forms. This production serves above all to celebrate, in the words of another musical theatre titan, ‘Love is love is love.’”
One of the four Shakespeare plays selected for this season is Henry V, the iconic political story about power, greed, and the English conquest of France set in fifteenth-century England. Rosa Joshi, Director, instructed the writing team that “our goal is to marry Shakespeare with the twenty-first century … to understand the relevance of Shakespeare now.” The casting is wonderfully diverse, beginning with Henry V played by rising OSF star Daniel Jose Molina, a Latino, who says, “I’ve been incredibly lucky with the variety of work that I have been able to do here … that’s the thing about diversity, is that even if it’s not an aspect of the play, just the representation of me as a Latino playing Henry V, an English king, if I had seen it, that would have affected me if I was in high school.”
Concludes Rausch, “We’re in the business of telling stories that reflect the deepest and the widest array of human experiences that we can. So, we need the storytellers to reflect the breadth of diversity of the stories that we’re telling. And, we want everybody who comes to see themselves reflected on stage and also to open up their hearts and their minds to other kinds of human beings.”
NewPoint commends OSF for walking the walk for diversity and inclusion, as their mission statement states, “Diversity and Inclusion are guiding values in ALL of our work—from the actors and stories on our stages and the audiences in our seats to the people in our offices.”
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Karetta Hubbard and Molly Best Tinsley are co-founders of Fuze Publishing, a small press dedicated to publishing well-crafted stories that cross boundaries and have the power to educate and change minds. Karetta Hubbard is also, with Lynne Revo-Cohen, a founder of NewPoint Strategies, a nationally recognized consulting firm assisting companies and organizations manage High Risk EEO issues.
Molly Best Tinsley, PhD is professor emerita at the United States Naval Academy and an award-winning writer. Her writing has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Oregon Book Awards, the Pushcart Prize, and the Maryland Arts Council, among others. She lives in Ashland, Oregon, where she is a devote of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and enjoys the 2018 OSF season.