Shakespeare Festival – Ashland, OR

I first heard of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival during my first visit to Ashland in 2005. I didn’t get to see one of the Shakespearean plays then, so now that I’m planning a return trip in 2017, I’m looking forward to that!

Shakespeare - me at sign

We’re talking a world class repertory company here, which produces 11 plays per year (773 performances) over a nine month season with performances “designed to touch your mind, your heart and your funny bone.”

Shakespeare-Stage

Stage-Directions.com – Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson

From StageDirections.com about the sound system in the outdoor theater.

The plays are held in three different theaters, one a unique open air Elizabethan Stage patterned on London’s 1599 Fortune Theatre, the impressive Angus Bowmer Theatre which can seat up to 600, and the more intimate state-of-the-art New Theatre.

Although the first performance was in 1893 in Ashland’s first Chautauqua building, the Oregon Shakespearean Festival was officially born on July 2, 1935 with a production of Twelfth Night. OSF History

Shakespeare - costume collage

Photo credits:
Left & top right: Costumes designed by David Crank for OSF’s 1996 production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. (Photo: Jenny Graham)
Bottom: Henry VI, Part One – Actress: Tyler Layton (Photo: Andree Lanthier)
Richard III – Actor: James Newcomb (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

I was treated to a peak at the backstage world of all three theaters by the Production Stage Manager, Kimberley. Her stories of the festival’s history brought a whole new dimension to the experience I had the night before. I was amazed at the complex mechanisms it takes to make this fantasy world come to life and at the same time make it look easy to maintain the illusion. I felt particularly blessed to be able to share in this remarkable production company’s 70th anniversary during my 2005 visit.

To me, it’s worth the price of admission just to gawk at the incredibly well crafted costumes made for these productions. I’m a sucker for foo-foo stuff like this!

I regret that I didn’t get to see a real Shakespeare play while here, but that’s just all the more reason to return again.

Shakespeare-Waters-of-Babylon

By the Waters of Babylon

It’s not all about Shakespeare, though. They feature more modern productions like the one I saw, By the Waters of Babylon. It was commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and premiered when I was here in 2005.

I always enjoy live theater – there’s that sense that anything can happen right in front of your eyes with no camera in between to interpret it for you.

This play’s setting begins in a neglected garden in Austin and since that is my hometown, I particularly enjoyed the references to familiar territories and the jokes about our presidential connection. It brings together a writer, escaped from Cuba, whose guilt has caused his words to fail him and a lonely woman who has been beaten by life in the form of her husband and then by the harsh judgment of others. It portrays a slice of the kind of life that has brought them both to their knees crying about themselves “unclean, unclean!” They warn each other away while at the same time are unable to keep from drawing closer together out of their mutual loneliness. This rhythmic interaction between them is like a dance as Arturo describes music to Catherine as “the relationship between two sounds taking place over time.” I really enjoyed these fictional characters’ portrayal and reminders of what’s important in real life.

I  look forward to more productions of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival whenever I return to Ashland!

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