American Revolutions

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

Three years ago, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival embarked on a breathtakingly ambitious program called American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle.

Conceived by Bill Rauch shortly before he took over as the Ashland-based festival's artistic director, the 10-year program calls for commissioning 37 new plays about critical moments in American history.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Rauch explained that he was inspired by the role that William Shakespeare's historical plays filled in helping his fellow citizens grapple with the daunting political questions of their day.

Shakespeare, as Rauch noted, "lived in an age of anxiety about who would replace the childless monarch Elizabeth. He dramatized stories from his country's past to study the transfer of power and to entertain and move and provoke people, and that got me thinking about our own country's history."

So why 37 plays? Rauch says he was moved by Shakespeare's 10 historical plays, but opted to commission a hyper-ambitious 37 plays to reflect the total number of plays that Shakespeare is believed to have written (sonnets, narrative poems and lost plays not included).

Rauch recruited Alison Carey, with whom he had started a theater company that presented classic plays in rural communities across the nation, to oversee the program.

Carey's vision for American Revolutions was to commission new works that promote a national conversation on American identity.

"If these plays can be part of a conversation about who we are, so that we can create a shared vocabulary and a shared understanding of even broadly defined values and goals, how much easier will it be to move forward?" Casey told The Times. "We have so many decisions to make that are being stymied by a very confusing and fractured discourse. …