Nataki Garrett arrives as the sixth artistic director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival in August 2019.

Nataki Garrett arrives as the sixth artistic director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival in August 2019.

Courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Oregon Shakespeare Festival has hired Nataki Garrett as its next artistic director. The company says goodbye to Bill Rauch this summer, ending 12 years with the festival.

Garrett said she’s known Rauch for years and had her eye on Ashland for some time.

“For more than a decade, I’ve witnessed OSF’s steady climb into the national spotlight with this focus on Shakespeare and classical texts, a new play development,” she said. “I’m really excited about this year of transformation and transformation across the industry.”

Garrett is one of several high-level administrative hires among major American theater companies, and the first black woman to guide OSF. She served recently as an associate artistic director for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. She also led the organization on an interim basis during a 18-month executive search, a job that was filled by former Portland Center Stage artistic director Chris Coleman.

“We decided to just switch states,” Garrett joked.

She’s also worked as an associate dean at California Institute of the Arts and as co-leader of the undergraduate acting program in the School of Theater. She described her style as a pathfinder and plan-builder, someone who will bring stability to the company while deepening its relationship with its audience.

“I love classical texts,” Garrett said. “I am interested in the revolutionary spirit of Shakespeare. My little secret is that I have a profound and deep love for the words and the writing of Eugene O’Neill and often find myself wandering back to his texts to remind myself of what I love deeply.”

But OSF’s work giving voice to people who might not otherwise find themselves reflected in theaters is at the core of her interest in the job.

Garrett comes to the company at a time of transition. Last year, show cancellations due to seasonal wildfires did damage to the company’s budget, but insiders said OSF’s financial woes predated fire season.

Rauch’s time at the company was marked by some major milestones, including commissions of several major new works in the American Revolutions series, two 2014 Tony awards for the OSF commissioned Lyndon B. Johnson bio “All the Way,” groundbreaking equity work, adaptations of Shakespeare’s works into modern English, and a promise to perform the Bard’s entire canon within 10 years.

The budget crunch resulted in former executive director Cynthia Rider parting ways with the OSF board. The board is still searching for a new executive, with Paul Christy stepping in as an interim leader.

The company has shifted its season and made other changes.

Garrett will arrive in early April for a visit, and begin work full-time Aug. 1.

“I’m excited to get to know Ashland. I’m excited to get to know Oregon,” Garrett said. “I know how important OSF is to that community and to the state.”

Audiences will have a chance to sample her work this summer. Garrett is directing the West Coast premiere of Christina Anderson’s “How to Catch Creation” at OSF’s Thomas Theater, starting July 23. Set in San Francisco, it’s the story of six couples whose personal and creative lives are deeply entwined.

The show made the 2017 Kilroy’s List, a slate of plays nominated by directors and playwrights aimed at getting quality stories of women and non-binary characters onstage. Prior productions, including one Garrett directed in Philadelphia, won critical acclaim.