Black History 365: Nataki Garrett

Nataki Garrett is the Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, one of the largest theater-producing organizations in the U.S., and is widely recognized as an innovative and influential arts leader. Across her career, Garrett has fostered and developed new work—having directed and produced the world premieres of vital contemporary playwriting voices including Katori Hall, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and Aziza Barnes—and has been at the vanguard of adapting and devising new ways of performing the classics. 

Since becoming OSF’s Artistic Director in 2019, she has led the 85-year-old institution through one of the most cataclysmic periods in its history, raising $19 million while mobilizing federal support for the non-profit theater industry during the pandemic. At the start of her tenure, she conceived an interactive and immersive digital platform, O!, which became all the more vital in live theater’s absence as a source of groundbreaking performance, art, and discussion. 

Her approach to revitalizing classical theater is driven by both an appreciation for these works and a desire to expand their visions and audiences with new models of access. She explains, “I love Shakespeare because…he tried to teach the people that the world was always evolving and always changing, and their job was not to try to hold onto the way things were.” She has said, “I’m actually really blessed to be one of the gatekeepers, because I’m going to hold that gate open as wide as I can for as long as I can for as many people to come through.” 

Her credits at OSF include directing Christina Anderson’s How to Catch Creation. She was in the process of producing OSF’s 2020 season when the COVID crisis forced the theater to shut down. That season featured the world premiere of Karen Zacarias’ The Copper Children and Upstart Crow’s brilliant adaptation of the Henry VI trilogy performed in two parts with an all-female cast. Garrett served as the acting artistic director for Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company (DCPA) during the $66 million organization’s 18-month leadership transition. There, she produced a provocative Macbeth—which became the most successful production in the Space Theatre’s 40-year history—and initiated and negotiated the first co-world premieres in ten years for two DCPA-commissioned plays. Garrett was former associate artistic director of CalArts Center for New Performance. 

Garrett is a recipient of the first-ever Ammerman Prize for Directing, given by Arena Stage. She also received the National Endowment for the Arts and Theatre Communications Group Career Development Fellowship for Theatre Directors. She has served on nominating committees for countless awards supporting artists around the world. She is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and a member of the board of directors for Theatre Communications Group; a company member at Woolly Mammoth; and an advisory board member for Mixed Blood Theatre.