Dive into OSF’s First Holiday Production with OSF Favorite: John Tufts

Photo by Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Last month the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) announced the schedule for its 2021 season, all featured online until fall, when live performances will recommence and continue through December. It’s their very first combined onstage and digital season where they will be streaming the shows they are unable feature in person. OSF will also offer a holiday production for the first time, a new show written by OSF actors John Tufts, Mark Bedard and Brent Hinkley who many will recognize from OSF’s productions of “Animal Crackers” and “The Cocoanuts”.

The Siskiyou caught up with one of the writers of “It’s Christmas, Carol!”, OSF veteran/heartthrob all-around cool guy John Tufts. Tufts got his start at OSF where he met his wife and acted in over twenty of the esteem-able productions, along with developing brand new works, before moving on to perform all over the world. Now he’s come back to his roots to create OSF’s very first winter special.

Tell me about OSF’s first winter play

OSF reached out to Mark, Brent, and I to see if we would be interested in creating something for a winter/holiday time slot. We were totally on board from the get go. We, like many people, had long been hoping OSF would eventually have a holiday offering. Winter and the holidays are such a lovely time to see a play. It’s cold outside, so getting to be indoors is nice. But also, when it’s the holidays, a sense of community seems to be floating in the air, and since theater is basically all about community, it’s a perfect match. I suppose writing for that time generally means that you’re writing for all audiences. We want everyone from 6 to 106 to come and have fun. But we also want to maintain our sense of comedy through it all, which is to say irreverence and anarchy.  

What inspired you to write something new(ish), instead of adapting a Christmas classic?

I wouldn’t so much say it was we who were inspired to create something new, but OSF.  I think by virtue of them asking us to begin with, they knew they didn’t want to have a “traditional” holiday offering. “A Christmas Carol” is a beautiful story and I’ve acted in a few productions, probably have done the show a couple hundred times. I love it, but OSF was inspired to ask for something a little different, so we pitched them our crazy idea, and they said, “OK!” In terms of our idea, I think we were inspired by the things that have always inspired us—The Marx Bros. Those 3 (or 4) guys were just brilliant at satirizing those things we hold to be dear. Well what could be more ripe for satire than the holidays? It’s such a schizophrenic time of year. On the one hand it’s sacred and precious—birth, light, festival. On the other hand, it’s this crazy time of year that’s all about buying stuff.  It’s perfect for us to mess with.  

Tell me about the relationship between you, Brent and Mark while co-creating this play. How closely do you guys cooperate on it, and how has that process changed due to the pandemic?

We work on it together all the time. We meet a few times a week to write as a team, making our way through the outline we gave ourselves. Mark does the majority of the writing. He’s our head writer, or show runner, in a way. Then we have assignments we give ourselves. For me those assignments are lyrics for songs, sometimes melodies too. I’ll write a song, edit it, rewrite it, then record it for Mark and Brent and play it for them. In our group sessions we always read what we’ve written so far, see what’s still funny and then keep making our way forward. Right now we’re trying to really overwrite it, and then down the road we’ll trim the fat, and make it nice and lean, with room for us to be crazy on the night of the show.  

What is it like to work for OSF? I understand it’s been several years since you were with them last.

OSF is my artistic home. I worked there for 12 years. I met my wife there.  We had our son in Ashland. My closest friends are Ashland people. My favorite productions are OSF shows. It’s an extraordinary and intense place to work. When I’m working there I’m up early and in bed very late, and my creativity is running on all cylinders. We moved [to New York] almost six years ago, and I love raising our son in a city. Still, since we left I’ve missed Ashland the way you miss your very best friend in the entire world. I’m just over the flipping moon to be coming back to work.

Keep an eye out for “It’s Christmas Carol!” in December. Now, onto OSF’s new season!

First up, running from March until May, they’ll be showing several classics from their archives. Namely, “Julius Caesar”, “Manhatta” and “Snow in Midsummer”, all older shows that deserve a second chance in the sun. More archival shows will be announced in the coming weeks. Next up, four new projects, not shows, are planned and currently announced to begin streaming sometime in the near future: “The Cymbeline Project”, “You Go Girl!”, “’19’ Micro-Commissions” and “The Visual Sovereignty Project”. Finally, five shows are currently planned for the fall, all without release dates for the moment.

August Wilson’s “How I Learned What I Learned”, an examination of what it means to be a black artist in the United states.

“unseen”, the story of an American wartime photographer who wakes up as a partial amnesiac in war-torn Syria, forced to piece her memory back together in terrible circumstances.

“Confederates”, a linked story of racism and challenge between two black women at drastically different times and in dramatically different circumstances.

And a community favorite, the Green Show, will be returning with free admission!

Make sure to check out OSF’s streaming platform, O!, and get ready for live shows in the fall.

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