Nataki Garrett has been called a visionary; a force of nature. She’s spent the past two decades leading theater companies and making artistic connections around the world — everywhere from Dallas and Denver to Paris, Italy, Rwanda and Uganda. In fall 2019 she landed in Southern Oregon, taking the helm of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to continue its legacy as a top theater destination.
“My hope is that we’re able to come together as a community and figure out the best way for businesses to thrive, for Ashland to thrive and the festival to able to make the best plays under the sun,” says Garrett, who grew up in California’s Bay Area. Garrett came to Oregon at a time when theater was seeing a major revival among newer, more young and diverse audiences internationally. “I’m part of a generation of leaders not like the generation that precedes us — mostly women and people of color moving into positions of leadership,” she says. “What [the public will] see is in some way the consequence of the national conversation that’s going on.”
And in that conversation, Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a national leader, Garrett says. “People look to us to see what to do in their own theaters. I have to see myself as part of a leader of change — connecting to a younger audience, continuing to evolve and support ways to reward the audience; finding innovative ways to deliver theater.”
Whether you’re a Shakespeare Festival newbie or veteran, you’ll find something to entertain you.
Doing Good for the World
Amidst a backdrop of heated political divisions and other issues of the day, theater has always been an entertainment escape valve — but it’s also, more than ever, an outlet for social change, Garrett says. The way she frames it is: “What can it do for the public good and the world?”
Local and national groups are now showcasing more diversity than ever in its themes and talent. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s first post-pandemic production, Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (performed through October 2021) helped bolster the recent social-justice movement. The 2022 season lineup of in-person and virtual shows happens April-December 2022. It features a mix of both classic Shakespeare (The Tempest, King John and The Cymbeline Project) as well as bold content like Films for the People, presented by Black Lives and Black Words International Project O! on the festival’s digital stage. Also on tap are productions of Confederates, written by Macarthur genius award-winner Dominique Morisseau through the lens of two Black women and directed by Garrett herself; and How I Learned What I Learned, a memoir by Black poet August Wilson.
For the second year in a row, OSF will also bring some holiday cheer to town with a winter production of It’s Christmas, Carol!, a humorous sing-along set for Nov. 23, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022 as well as November-December 2022. Look to purchase tickets now and plan your Southern Oregon trip around it.
An Evolving Model
Many don’t know that Oregon Shakespeare Festival includes non-Shakespeare plays as well. It’s part of Garrett’s focus to ensure that burgeoning playwrights — many of them local — share the stage.
Yet fans of the Bard need not fear that classic Shakespeare will disappear. “Shakespeare was kind of the Steven Spielberg of his day — to be able to reach a large sector of people, and also a champion for the work of his peers,” Garrett says. “We’re looking for [playwrights] who connect to the values and ideals [represented by] Shakespeare — a revolutionary spirit and capacity to do extraordinary things as he dealt with the human condition.”
Garrett is thrilled to continue leading the evolution of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which continues forging ahead as a national model. “What I find to be so fascinating is there’s a collective clapback at the world right now,” Garrett says. Theater, she says, “is an undercover way to have this conversation about the great leap — what happens when you allow tyranny and oppression to rule; how we move and breathe and make decisions about love.”
If You Go:
Oregon Shakespeare Festival as of 2022 is offering new, lower ticket prices as well as a variety of discounts, to teachers, frontline workers, SNAP cardholders and those who have experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19 or job loss. They also offer a costume rental program and several ways to donate to lend your support. You can also catch streaming options of shows and online script readings. Live shows may be canceled due to smoky conditions from regional wildfires, so purchase season ticket insurance or call the theater or check the website for updates before you go.