There’s no direct flight from New York to Ashland, Ore. But more and more people in the entertainment industry have decided to make the trek all the way there — thanks to “All the Way.”
The success of Robert Schenkkan’s LBJ bio-play “All the Way,” which won Tonys this year for best play and for the headturning Broadway debut of Bryan Cranston, has directed attention back to the 80-year-old Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the robust but relatively remote regional theater that commissioned “All the Way.”
Amping up the attention: Schenkkan’s sequel to “All the Way,” “The Great Society,” just opened (with Jack Willis, pictured above, starring as Lyndon B. Johnson). Thanks to Broadway’s spring spotlight on “All the Way,” the follow-up attracted the notice of big-time critics at papers including the New York Times and the L.A. Times. The New York Times also reviewed the OSF premiere of “Family Album,” the latest from the “Passing Strange” creatives.
“We’re getting a lot of attention from prominent critics that we haven’t gotten before,” said Cynthia Rider, executive director of OSF. “The New York Times ran our season announcement this year, probably for the first time.”
The festival has been clicking with audiences, too. According to Rider, the second half of the OSF season (which runs every year from February through November) has sold better than most years.
“There’s no doubt that we’re seeing the results of the attention from ‘All the Way,'” said OSF artistic director Bill Rauch, who helmed both “All the Way” and “Great Society.” When demographics reports are compiled at season’s end, OSF leadership will be combing the data to see if the festival — which typically draws the majority of its audiences from California, Oregon and Washington — had a broader reach than usual.
“All the Way” has also pulled the focus of the broader entertainment industry as well. “I’m getting a lot more interest from our colleagues in New York now, and I was just on the phone with a Hollywood producer who’d never been here. He was enthusiastic about ‘All the Way’ on Broadway and wanted to see where it came from,” Rauch said. The producer ended up to catching a performance of OSF’s current staging of “Into the Woods,” he added.
The OSF campus, located about 16 miles north of the California border, fills its three spaces each year with 11 productions ranging from new works to musicals to Shakespeare titles, four of which tend to land on the slate in any given season. Founded in 1935, the long-running festival has an operating budget of $33 million and sells about 400,000 tickets annually. “All the Way” was part of OSF’s 10-year commissioning initiative American Revolutions, tasking playwrights with exploring important moments in American history on a broad canvas that suits a theater company that has a 90-thesp acting company at its disposal.
More and more people know those OSF factoids already, thanks to “All the Way.” And the rising profile of the theater will likely draw even more theatergoers and industry members to some of the 2015 season’s titles that would have attracted attention anyway — including “Sweat,” the latest by Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage (and another American Revolutions commission), and musical “Head Over Heels,” the Elizabethan-era period comedy by Jeff Whitty (“Avenue Q”) and featuring the music of the Go-Go’s.
Increased attention, of course, brings with it increased pressure. “A two-edged sword, to be sure,” said Schenkkan. “Part of the positive aspect of developing a new play at OSF was it was off the beaten path. Before you couldn’t get anyone to come out, if you thought you had something good. Now you can’t keep people away.”