Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Bill Rauch and Executive Director Cynthia Rider "and the OSF Leadership Team" issue an open letter today in the wake of recent events and threats of violence not only around the world but aimed specifically at the Ashland, Oregon, company.
The letter begins with a quote by Lorraine Hansberry from The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window: "[I am] a fool who believes that death is waste and love is sweet and that the earth turns and men change every day and that rivers run and that people wanna be better than they are and that flowers smell good and that I hurt terribly today, and that hurt is desperation and desperation is energy and energy can move things."
The letter continues, in full, as follows:
Dear Patrons, Supporters and Community Members,
"Inspired by Shakespeare's work and the cultural richness of the United States, we reveal our collective humanity through illuminating interpretations of new and classic plays, deepened by the kaleidoscope of rotating repertory."
This is our mission statement. Today, it feels woefully inadequate, not only in terms of describing what we should be doing as an organization, but also what we are doing. We cannot reveal our collective humanity without addressing the fact that the humanity of a majority of the human race is under attack. This threat is felt by people of color, by the LGBTQ+ community, by women, by people of various faiths, and—as the recent shootings in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas remind us—the law enforcement community can be perceived as both a source of violence and a target for it.
You may have heard by now about the racist verbal assault directed at one of our actors and about a death threat leveled at another female company member of color only days later. As far too many people in our community have experienced, these are not isolated incidents—they are happening daily in Ashland, and all over our country. They are happening to our box office employees, who bear the brunt of racially charged and homophobic complaints about our approach to casting and season selection. They are happening to our education staff, who sometimes must weigh their own sense of safety and ability to do their job against their instinct to turn an ignorant comment into a teaching moment.
Social justice is central to our mission. Doing whatever we can to provide a safe and welcoming environment for our company and our patrons is also a central priority. To both those ends, we will not tolerate hate speech or other acts of racism and prejudice on our campus, and we will not be silent when such acts are committed beyond our campus.
We have been inspired by recent OSF company member-driven efforts to address oppression and violence—from enlisting theaters and artists nationwide in the Every 28 Hours project, to quickly organizing a community vigil in response to the mass shooting in Orlando, to flying the LGBTQ+ Pride and Black Lives Matter flags over campus and wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts in the Ashland Fourth of July Parade, to taking flowers to the Ashland Police Department after the tragedy in Dallas.
We express our solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement not to say other lives matter less, but to acknowledge that our society does not treat Black lives as if they matter as much. “We are committed to collectively, lovingly, and courageously working vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension all people,” the Black Lives Matter website states among its Guiding Principles. “As we forge our path, we intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.”
We will continue partnering with other local and national organizations to bring about events like the community gathering on July 2 that packed the Historic Ashland Armory with people willing to try to unpack racism. We will work with the Ashland Police Department, the local business community, and our tourism partners to address the bias that people of color encounter here regularly while driving, walking, shopping, and dining.
We will continue to choose plays and cast them in ways that reflect the world we live in now, with pride and without apology. We will continue striving to bring greater diversity to our workforce and our audience. We will recognize that we have a long way to go to live up to our goals of equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice, and that we don’t and won’t always get it right—but we will keep trying.
We hope you will join us.
July 26, 2016