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Kamilah Long embraces the challenge of leading 'Play On!' program

While there’s always room for innovation, the “Play On!” program has proven itself capable of weathering the storm brought by a global pandemic by tapping into virtual platforms and continuing its mission to enhance understanding of Shakespeare’s plays, says new Managing Director Kamilah Long.

In fall of 2015, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced the program “Play On! 36 playwrights translate Shakespeare,” in which 39 Shakespeare plays were translated into contemporary English. Over three years, Play On! worked with 1,000 theater professionals on the project through readings, workshops and productions in collaboration with two dozen theaters and academic institutions worldwide, prompting the formation of the nonprofit, Play on Shakespeare.

The benefit of the format, according to Long, is offering a common vernacular in which to access Shakespeare. In more straightforward terms, understanding of the plays becomes clearer. Otherwise, listeners unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s speech might miss some great jokes.

Long attended the first major Play On! event in New York City and witnessed its capability firsthand to bring actors together in novel ways. As she transitions into the new role after more than five years in various positions with OSF, Long’s enthusiasm for collaborative potential is readily apparent. To begin, OSF and Play On! have partnered for a reading of “The Tempest” in November, with some actors who were cast in the original OSF version of the play.

Long came to the Rogue Valley for an OSF fellowship in 2014 and fell in love with the area and the festival. After the fellowship ended and a brief time at home, OSF called with an offer and Long never looked back.

She didn’t come back to OSF to hit the main stage, but nevertheless found a home with the institution. Long’s experience in acting, directing, producing, stage management and administration provides an understanding of what each role needs, how to collaborate in the room and support other leaders in their vision, she said. Her greatest strength is duality of artistic and administrative talent.

“When I say I’m a theater practitioner — I feel like I’ve played every position there is to play in the theater,” Long said. “The only thing I don’t do is lights. But the rest, I do, and I can channel that at any given time.”

Thrilled with where the organization has started, Long looks forward to bringing her own creativity and ideas to Play On! — connecting students at a school in Montgomery, Alabama, to contemporary translations of Shakespeare, for example.

Long once served as the musical theater director at a school in Montgomery. The position was then taken up by a former OSF actor, who plans to introduce students to Shakespeare using Play On! materials in the classroom.

“In Montgomery, Alabama, my home town, in 2021, hopefully they’ll do a Play On! translation,” Long said.

During her own schooling in Montgomery, Long experienced “Romeo and Juliet” during her senior year of high school, the first time she read Shakespeare. It was a story that left an impact.

Through the Play On! network, Long looks forward to working with more people and growing connections on a global scale.

“It’s not about the Shakespeare, it’s about the people who we partner with and the way they want to do it — the way that it’ll shape or serve that community who’s interacting with the Shakespeare,” Long said. “They say the sky is the limit but I feel like that’s putting a boundary on Play On!.”

Play On! Shakespeare recently announced its October schedule of events, including a reading of “Much Ado About Nothing” in partnership with 1623 Theatre Company, Oct. 12 and 19, which can be streamed on Play On!’s YouTube page or 1623’s social media platforms.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter, @AllayanaD.

Kamilah Long Photo by Jenny Graham