Bringing theater to the people where they live

Bill Rauch

Before becoming Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Bill Rauch was the Artistic Director of Cornerstone Theater Company. Cornerstone is a multi-ethnic theater ensemble, based in Los Angeles, which produces new plays nationwide.

BR: We started Cornerstone because we heard that only 2 percent of the American people went to professional theater on a regular basis. We thought, “Even if we’re lucky enough to be successful in the professional theater, we’ll have only performed for 2 percent of our fellow citizens. That’s not good enough.”

We went to isolated rural communities and put on plays with the people who live there, because we could learn more about what interested people, and re-invent theater from the ground up. We would move to very small towns, anywhere from 200 to 2,000 people — Towns that would make Ashland look like a giant metropolis.

We would usually adapt a classic play, and set it in the community that we were working with. It was incredible work; it was life-changing for all of us who were part of it. We did that work on the road, in small towns, for five years.

We actually did a project here in eastern Oregon in 1988 in a little town called Lawncreek, just over the mountain from John Day, adapting a Brecht play, “The Good Person of Szechwan.” We did it as the “The Good Person of Lawncreek.” We put it on in a cattle auction barn, where we would have to wet down the dirt floor before the audience came in, so that the dust wouldn’t rise up. We built an outhouse for the audience and pitched a tent for the actors as a dressing room. It was one of the best shows we ever did.

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