‘It’s great, of course, to be recognized for the work you’ve done,” says Cynthia Rider, executive director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, addressing journalists just one week after Robert Schenkkan’s play All the Way won two Tony awards, including the prize for best play.
The sprawling drama, about president Lyndon B. Johnson’s first days in office, was commissioned by OSF as part of its American Revolutions cycle. It ran to great acclaim in Ashland in 2012, and was directed on Broadway by OSF’s artistic director Bill Rauch in a production that starred Bryan Cranston.
“We are thrilled, obviously, to have received recognition for Robert Schenkkan’s beautiful work,” Rider continues, “but honestly, we will be just as thrilled when we hear about the first college to produce All the Way, or the first high school. There are a lot of firsts we look forward to, because we want to create work that impacts audiences. It starts here in Ashland, but then ripples down, and I feel like this play is going to do that.”
The press conference takes place as OSF opens its summer slate of shows, adding three new productions—Shakespeare’s riveting Richard III and farcical Two Gentlemen of Verona, and also Stephen Sondheim’s spectacular Into the Woods—to six other plays that have been running since early spring. This weekend sees the opening of Family Album, a new musical, and later in July, Schenkkan’s follow-up to All the Way, a “sequel” of sorts, will open in Ashland. Titled The Great Society, it covers the increasingly embattled LBJ’s second term.
Asked what effect the Tony win has had on ticket sales for OSF—which draws an estimated 20 percent of its audience from Sonoma County and the Bay Area—Rider laughs.
“Well, for one thing, our August and September sales are better than they’ve ever been, and that’s not just hyperbole,” she says. “We can see a direct impact from the award. During the four-day period around the Tonys, our web-traffic spiked dramatically. We especially see a positive effect on sales for The Great Society. Coming right on the heels of the Tony award, there is much more interest in part two of the story than there might have been without it.”
Rider says the Tony award is also calling attention to the fact that OSF does commission and develop a high number of original shows, with three world premieres happening this season alone.
“A great deal of new work is born here,” Rider says. “And when people fall in love with it, when it goes on to other communities and other theaters. That’s a beautiful thing.”