In The Room Where It’s Happening: A Conversation With Evren Odcikin
Tuesday, November 19, 2019
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
by Rotimi Agbabiaka
This June, Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced the appointment of Evren Odcikin as interim associate artistic director. For years, Odcikin‘s work as a director, theatre administrator, and adapter of plays has moved audiences in the Bay Area, where he most recently served as director of new plays and marketing at Golden Thread Productions, the first American theatre company devoted to the Middle East.
Four months into his new position we checked in with Odcikin to see what it’s like to help helm one of the largest theatres in the country and how he remains connected to the Bay.
Odcikin (center) directing Heartland by Gabriel Jason Dean at InterAct Theatre Company in Philadelphia. Photo by Angel Gardner.
What does the associate artistic director do at an organization like OSF?
The position is quite different from organization to organization and at OSF with Nataki [Garrett] coming in [this year as artistic director] it is redefined as very much as a producer. I am one of the senior team members and manage, along with the director of production, the artistic producing of the repertory of ten, eleven productions we do in a year. Because OSF is one of the few true repertory companies left in the world, it has its own unique machine. I’m very much involved in season selection and casting and stage management selection, so it’s a really wonderful opportunity to get to create teams around projects I’m passionate about but also to advocate for projects that are bringing stories and artists that have not necessarily been at the center of the American cannon. It’s a real gift to be able to do that at an organization like OSF, which has an immense size but more importantly holds a real leadership position in the field, in terms of everyone looking to OSF to see what the new models are.
What’s been most exciting about your new position?
It really does feel like this is a historic moment in the country for our whole field but also specifically at OSF—Nataki Garrett coming in as the first black woman to lead an organization of this size. Given her background and the visionary artistic leader that she is, it’s humbling to be in this position to help create, support and execute her vision for what OSF can be, and in turn what American theatre can be. It’s moving from day to day to think that I’m in the room where it’s happening.
In what ways has this transition challenged you?
Of course you can’t live your life in a historic moment. An eleven-show repertory comes with a lot of logistical challenges and emergencies at a level that you do not experience unless you’re working at OSF. So the learning curve has been steep. I am pulled in many directions at the same time and that has been challenging. But the thing that I love about OSF is that it’s filled with incredibly talented people who rise to the occasion on a daily basis in truly unexpected ways. If you told me four months ago that I would be problem solving in the way and at the scale that I am doing now, I would have told you it was impossible. But now I know it isn’t. It’s been challenging and joyful and hard and celebratory—all of those conflicting things all at once.
Do you split your time between Ashland and the Bay? What’s that commute like?
I’m based in Ashland. My husband is still in San Francisco because this is where his work is. We have become a dual-house family which is a challenge in itself. The thing about OSF is that we are one of the large theatres of the Bay Area—that’s how it feels. So much of our audience, so many of our artists, so many of our highest level supporters and champions are based in the Bay Area. I love our Bay Area community, and I feel quite at home at OSF because the values and artistry that I’m used to here [in the Bay] are present at OSF. It’s been great getting to come back and forth because I still feel connected to the folks who raised me as a theatre maker in the Bay Area. The idea that I get to stay connected to that—bring some of those folks up with me to OSF—and can continue to have a hand in making art in the Bay Area has been nourishing in this moment of crazy transition.
What artistic projects are you currently creating in the Bay and beyond?
I’m in the Bay this week workshopping a new play, that I am cowriting with Leila Buck for California Shakespeare Theatre, that responds to One Thousand and One Nights. It will have its world premiere in 2020, which I will also direct. It’s really fun to get to do a classical piece—considering that I’m starting at OSF—that is based in a different culture, my culture, and to find ways, along with Leila, as a modern day Middle Eastern American man, to respond to and wrestle with this tome that is very much looked to as one of the defining pieces of literature from the Middle East. And then I’m actually translating a piece for Golden Thread Productions and Crowded Fire Theater called On The Periphery, which is by Sedef Ecer, a Turkish French writer. It feels really lovely to be doing that with two of my longtime artistic homes in the Bay Area who are literally the reason why I have any career in the American theatre.
Outside of the Bay Area, I’m doing a production of Heather Raffo’s Nine Parts of Desire at Portland Center Stage, which will be part of [artistic director] Marissa Wolf’s first season, who of course has deep deep Bay Area roots—ten, fifteen years ago, back in the day, working in basement theatres. And getting to be in her new big house doing a play as part of her first season feels so perfect right now. Nora el Samahy, who’s a Bay Area actor, is going to be performing in it. Kate Boyd, who is a Bay Area scenic designer, is doing the sets. So I’m bringing some of my Bay Area family up with me to Portland to work on that show.
Rotimi Agbabiaka is the Features Curator for Theatre Bay Area. He is an actor, writer, director, and teaching artist. Learn more about him at rotimionline.com