Bill Rauch: OSF’s “Playhouse Beautifier” and Chief
A Talmudic Sage—along with countless other wise-heads, no doubt—noted that there is good reason Man was equipped with but one mouth and twice as many ears.
Watching Bill Rauch direct a play, I would have guessed that his ears numbered several times that.
Privy to an early rehearsal of “All the Way,” a dramatization of the political struggle to pass Civil Rights legislation, I bore witness not only to the arm-twisting leadership of President Lyndon Johnson, but to the equally effective servant leadership style of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s artistic director.
What I saw was a fellow who led with his ears, engaging with respect and soulful attention to the ideas and concerns of everyone in the room, the playwright, performers, his assistants and consultants, even this scribe, a former reporter, who had a bit of inside knowledge about how an impromptu news conference might be realistically played out.
According to Bill, he was drawn to theatre for the art form’s collaborative nature; from the perspective of his collaborators, the effect is one of empowerment. For his audiences, the impact on the resulting work is, I believe, as powerful as it is invisible.
Fitting Conclusion to a Well-Designed Career
“So, Deb,” I asked in a tone of equal parts innocence and incredulity, “you’re the resident designer of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and you design the costumes for only two or three shows a season?”
The question revealed the depth of my ignorance. I might as well have asked a heavyweight boxer why he fought in only a handful of bloody and debilitating, bone-crunching bouts a year. I clearly didn’t get what she did, or how.
So I was grateful when Deb, her face flickering with an unquenchable smile, waved off my embarrassment and described the intensity of her creative process. When she was done, I ought to have asked, “How could you possibly design costumes for as many as three plays a season?”
Beginning as a guest designer in 1979, and taking the reins as resident designer in 1995, Deb is stepping aside after this season to have time to explore other creative options.
Tom Curtis & the OSF Stage Hands
The plot gets old fast and the dialog is less than scintillating. And, frankly, the costumes were lackluster: jeans, t- shirts, muscle shirts, tool belts. But the action is non-stop and visually compelling, coming at you at a breakneck pace with an element of suspense and a hint of potential danger in the wings to keep it interesting. The ensemble is about as well-disciplined, dedicated and unselfconscious as any you’ll find in professional theatre. You can tell they care. And their coordinated effort is like clockwork.
The show is a must-see. But the thing is, you can’t get a ticket. Because this was just a set change, not an OSF play. I was a guest of the director and choreographer, Tom Curtis, an 11-year veteran as Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s stage operations manager.