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June 18, 2007
Ashland: Change is good

Ashland, Ore. - The traditional Oregon Shakespeare Festival Sunday-morning press conference with the directors was a little giddy. There’s no doubt the transition from outgoing artistic director Libby Appel to the incoming Bill Rauch has put an edge on things. But the overwhelming feelings are renewal and creative rebirth.

Appel’s last day will be Aug. 1, while Rauch is already working full-time at the festival, having recently announced his 2008 season.

Appel and Rauch both had productions open in the Elizabethan Theatre this past weekend. Appel directed an earnest “The Tempest,” while Rauch staged a wild, unpredictable “Romeo and Juliet.” (Full reviews of both plays will run in The Bee on June 25.)

Large organizations so rarely positively and proactively reinvent themselves, so seeing one in the midst of such a conscious change creates a real charge. At one point during the press conference, Appel said, “I believe when the book is written on how to change leadership in a major arts organization, this episode will be a central chapter.”

Appel also told the story of calling Rauch to offer him the job of directing “Romeo and Juliet,” which opened Sunday night, and of his initial hesitation.

Rauch was in the process of applying for Appel’s job and told her he thought he might feel awkward about working there if he didn’t get the artistic director’s position. Appel told him she wasn’t worrying about that - she was asking him to be a part of her final season. Rauch said her response convinced him immediately to accept the “Romeo and Juliet” assignment. Then a couple of months later, he was offered the artistic director position.

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