From Ashland to Broadway.


If you’re a regional theatre, going to Broadway sounds like a dream. But unless you know what you’re doing, taking a show to the world’s toughest theatre market can play out more like a nightmare. It’s tough. And very few can pull it off.

On paper, southern Oregon would seem an unlikely incubator IN THE EXTREME for Broadway buzz. 100 years ago, Ashland, Oregon was (to put it mildly) in the middle of nowhere. It still is. But today nowhere is somewhere – at least in the theatre world. And thanks to Angus Bowmer, a whole phalanx of succeeding individuals, and a good mix of sheer chance and historical luck, Oregon Shakespeare Festival has become a Broadway launching pad. Incredible but true.

While it’s too soon to say for sure, another OSF-hatched American Revolutions world premiere may soon be headed for the world’s biggest stage.

According to the all-knowing New York Post columnist Michael Riedel, SWEAT by Lynn Nottage “…will likely wind up in New York early next year.” Riedel says it’s going to the Public first before considering a leap to Midtown.

As you’ll recall, OSF took ALL THE WAY by Robert Schenkkan to Broadway two years ago. Part 1 of Schenkkan’s LBJ epic slayed the box office, came home festooned in Tony Awards, and has since been made into an HBO film directed by Spielberg. So, yeah – that went ok.

For a regional theatre, building a runway to America’s theatre capital and especially the forbidden kingdom of Broadway is a great strategy. If you can pull it off. Once you send shows to New York that do well, the NYT starts sending critics out to see what else you’re up to. Which gets the world’s attention. ALL THE WAY definitively put OSF on the map as a major new play center. As a result, Charles Isherwood was in Ashland a few weeks ago and has since written four reviews and articles about OSF, including a very strong review of SWEAT.

This type of interest from the theatre newspaper of record is simply huge for OSF. Very few theatres outside of New York get this kind of coverage. It continues to raise the profile of Ashland as a Broadway launching pad. Which then draws more people to come to OSF. Which then encourages OSF to send more shows to New York. Which then… etc.

It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.

If OSF manages to pull off another splash in New York, Oregon’s flagship theatre will have firmly established itself as a major national (next stop London?) theatre producer. Which makes all sorts of things possible. Not that OSF wasn’t on the map before. But with this kind of interest and profile, the sky’s the limit, people. Just goes to show what you can do with vision and leadership. And world class writing.

Ashland to Broadway. And Broadway right here in Ashland. Except Ashland is way better than Broadway – because in Ashland you can spill out of a show and go hike in the Siskiyou or have an affogato at Mix instead of dodging construction mayhem and breathing burned pretzel smoke in Times Square while being accosted by a naked cowboy playing guitar (happens to me all the time).

It’s a golden age for theatre in Ashland. And Bill Rauch is showing everyone what is possible. Compare Rauch’s “If you build it they will come” visionary mindset to the uninspired “Time to make the donuts” get-butts-in-seats approach that prevails at many regional theatres. Night and day.

Oh – if you are not yet a Michael Riedel fan? A) Listen to this priceless interview with him on Ken Davenport’s The Producer’s Perspective podcast (don’t say “I don’t know what the Producer’s Perspective podcast is” – if you’re not listening, you are missing out on solid theatre gold every week) and B) Buy his new book on Broadway, Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway, which comes out October 6.