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Spear carrier cum dramaturg offers series on Shakespeare

Barry Kraft plays one of his all-time favorite roles, Mark Antony in Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" at OSF in 1982. Photo by Hank Kranzler.

Barry Kraft got his first Shakespeare role by answering a cattle call for “Hamlet” at the Laguna Playhouse in his home town of Laguna Beach, California. It wasn’t the title role. He was 12 years old.

“Mom said, ‘go down and audition,’” Kraft said. “Mom and dad were good about encouraging us to follow our interests.”

He had only three lines, but was thrilled to be in a play starring John Carradine, one of the most prolific and famed Hollywood actors of his time.

Today, Kraft has a resume that would stuff a suitcase.

In 30 seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, he acted in numerous roles and served as dramaturg on nearly 50 Shakespeare productions as well as for “Equivocation,” “Cyrano de Bergerac,” “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus,” “The Cure of Troy,” “The School for Scandal” and “Arcadia.”

He has acted in 86 productions of all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays in more than 100 roles.

The list of theaters where he’s worked as an actor or dramaturg includes Berkeley Repertory, Marin Shakespeare Company, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Utah Shakespeare Festival, American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and Seattle, San Jose Repertory Theatre, Berkeley Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University, among others.

He also has taught at several universities and done numerous guest lectureships.

“Since few things give me more pleasure than talking Shakespeare, my wife, Jessica Sage, encouraged me to get back on the circuit with Rogue Theater Company producing,” Kraft said.

“I’ve put together a six-session series that will explore my favorite plays — 'Romeo and Juliet,’ ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘Hamlet.’ People can participate in person, with live streaming in real time, or with a link to watch whenever they want.”

The sessions will be held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on the weekends of Sept. 11-12, 18-19, and 25-26 at a location to be announced after registration is completed.

“I’ve lectured on Shakespeare for decades, but this is the first time I’ve incorporated current technology, including using a Power Point presentation,” he said. “O brave new world!”

“Hamlet” has been one of his favorite plays since that first foray into the theater as a 12-year-old. Hamlet is also one of his favorite roles, which he first played in 1965 at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

Two other favorite roles were Mark Antony in “Antony and Cleopatra” and Joseph Kerner in Tom Stoppard’s “Hapgood.”

“I had practiced the ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears’ line for years,” he said. “And Stoppard is my favorite English playwright.”

He liked the espionage theme of “Hapgood” and played Kerner in American Conservatory Theater productions in both San Francisco and Seattle.

His first paying gig was at San Diego’s Old Globe.

“It was a summer scholarship,” he said. “I was a spear carrier in ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ Later I joined ACT in San Francisco and got my equity card.”

Kraft didn’t study theater or acting in college, instead majoring in literature.

“Then it dawned on me that all my checks were coming from theater work,” he said.

OSF was on his radar long before he secured a spot in the company.

“I had always known about OSF as the Mt. Everest of Shakespeare festivals,” he said.

In 1977, James Edmondson, an actor and director for OSF for 38 seasons, invited Kraft to audition.

“I had been with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival for five years and then at the Old Globe,” Kraft said. “I had a good resume, but I didn’t get the part.”

Two years later, after getting good reviews for “Pericles,” he sent a copy of a review to OSF to see if there was any interest in auditioning him again. OSF Artistic Director Jerry Turner did better than that. He offered Kraft a role as John of Gaunt in “Richard II.”

“My goal at the time was to act in all 38 Shakespeare plays. ‘Richard II’ would be number 30. I said yes.”

The move toward dramaturgy came out of the blue.

“At the end of OSF’s 1992 season, artistic director Henry Woronicz asked me if I would like to be OSF’s dramaturg starting the next season. I asked Henry, what’s a dramaturg? Henry said he wasn’t sure, but we’d find out together.”

As it turned out, dramaturgy became an immensely satisfying complement to his lifelong love of Shakespeare. He especially enjoys working with collaborative directors.

For more information and to register for Kraft’s Shakespeare Series, go to roguetheatercompany.com.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.