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Posted inArts & Entertainment

How Oakland native Nataki Garrett brought the Oregon Shakespeare Festival through the biggest threat in its history — COVID-19

In 2019, much of the American theater world had its eyes on Nataki Garrett. The Oakland-bred director and California Institute of the Arts Master of Fine Arts had already distinguished herself with shows for Ubuntu Theater (now Oakland Theater Project), California Shakespeare Theater and Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre. But even though she’s helmed works by award-winning playwrights Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and Christina Anderson, and ushered in a world premiere by Katori Hall, it was her 2019 “ascension” of sorts that brought her the most attention. That was the year Garrett took the reins as artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, making her only the sixth artistic director in the history of the 87-year-old fest based in Ashland, Oregon. That’s a tall order even in the best of times. What Garrett didn’t know was that she was beginning her tenure the same year the world learned of the deadly virus that would shut down most arts and entertainment, including theater. As if that weren’t enough, the first pandemic summer began with the murder of George Floyd, forcing the world to briefly come to terms with the white supremacy inherent to its most cherished institutions — again, including theater.