Staging nine plays in three theaters, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland is in full swing. Four plays are on the boards in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, two in the Thomas Theatre and three in the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre. With so many choices, it’s possible to see two plays a day.
It’s also possible to see the same actor in different roles, a testament to the talents of the acting company. Also evident are outstanding design elements like sets, costumes, lighting and sound. It appears that OSF is trying to appeal to the younger set with music and dance. It also is continuing its commitment to diversity with color- and gender-blind casting and is employing actors with disabilities.
By the time of the final bows on Oct. 29, the festival will have staged 11 plays, starting with the two indoor theaters in mid-February. Here’s a rundown on six recently seen plays.
Have you heard of Ashland, Medford, Jacksonville and Grants Pass? Perhaps overshadowed by Portland, this affordable, seven-county region in southern Oregon just above the California border beckons to wine geeks, culture mavens and nature lovers everywhere.
This story first appeared in the June 06, 2017 issue of Variety.
The small town of Ashland, Ore., lies just over the California border in the forested foothills of the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges. It has a population of 20,000, a bustling restaurant scene and great hiking trails. It also has a large-scale nonprofit theater that has spawned two current Tony-nominated plays and one recent Tony winner.
For most of its 82-year existence, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has been something of an insider secret, best known among the West Coast theater fans who flock there to catch shows during its nine-month annual season. But as its robust commissioning programs have yielded new plays that have gone on to runs around the country — along with a string of recent successes on the theater awards circuit — OSF is fast becoming an important incubator of new stage work beyond the New York City limits.
When Bill Rauch applied to become the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in 2007, he pitched an ambitious ten-year project: the festival would commission thirty-seven new plays about moments of change in American history, on the model of Shakespeare’s thirty-seven-play canon. “Shakespeare wrote the history of his people onto the stage,” Alison Carey, who directs what became American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, told me. “Why don’t we do that?” Last week, O.S.F. announced eight more commissions, bringing the total to thirty-two, with five to go. So far, the commissioned playwrights—who include David Henry Hwang, Paula Vogel, Lynn Nottage, and Young Jean Lee—have written dramas about immigration, Presidential elections, the slave trade, Roe v. Wade, radical politics, and the decline of American industry. The results have raised a tricky question: Is Shakespeare still a useful guide, or do playwrights need to create a new kind of drama if they want to depict American history?
Rauch said, “It brings me such joy to share these eleven amazing, powerful stories with our audiences. The sense of adventure, discovery and revelation is palpable in every play. The 2017 season represents our ever-growing passion and dedication to represent voices and stories that reflect the cultural richness, and at times the painful legacy, of our country. The season also takes us deeper into our commitment to our namesake playwright and the exciting Canon-in-a-Decade project, with a particularly enticing opportunity in our most intimate theatre space. Patrons will have the rare opportunity to see both parts of HENRY IVin the Thomas Theatre, perhaps as part of a same-day marathon!”
At age 81, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival hasn’t lost its knack for reinvention. Last year, we reported how OSF “has become a national instigator of bold contemporary drama,” with 29 world premieres over the last decade. Then, in the fall, the festival announced it would be giving the Bard a facelift, commissioning 36 playwrights to translate 39 Shakespeare plays into contemporary modern English. (Freakouts ensued.) As OSF prepares to open its 81st season—instantly transforming Ashland from a sleepy southern Oregon burg to a bustling hive of blue-hairs and teenagers on school trips—let’s zoom in on the first four shows hitting the stage.
Ashland New Plays Festival, an annual event that presents a unique and exciting form of theatre to the Rogue Valley, is bringing this year’s four winning playwrights to town for ANPF 2015, October 21 to 25. The winning playwrights will spend a week in Ashland, rehearsing with their casts and seeing their plays performed as staged readings by actors from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the community.
Three of the four playwrights—Skye Robinson Hillis, Beth Kander, and Meridith Friedman—are prolific women writers with impressive bodies of work; this is the first play written by Brian Mulholland. The winners were selected through a months-long process of reading 572 blinded submissions. Playwrights will hear their work in both rehearsal and live readings performed by some of our finest actors and observe an audience react to their work, often for the first time. Those famously discerning Ashland audiences provide insightful feedback during the talkbacks after each performance. Previous winning playwrights without exception have said they find this process to be invaluable in their creative efforts to bring their work to full production.
The staged readings are Wednesday through Sunday, October 21 to 25, with two readings of each winning play at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. All performances are followed by a talkback moderated by ANPF 2008 winner and returning host playwright EM Lewis.
When the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s artistic director Bill Rauch isn’t curating seasons of classic and original theater, he’s on the Rogue River with his family, rafting.
“There’s such a strong culture of outdoors: You can hike, you can raft in the summer, you can ski in the winter,” Rauch, a Harvard alum and seasoned director, said in a phone interview. “Ashland, even though it’s a small town of only 20,000 people, has the cultural amenities of much larger cities in terms of extraordinary restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, galleries, and art house movie theaters. It’s part of the reason I fell in love: the best of a small town with a lot of the culture of a large city.”
A new translation effort aims to make all of Shakespeare’s plays comprehensible to today’s audiences
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival will announce next week that it has commissioned translations of all 39 of the Bard’s plays into modern English, with the idea of having them ready to perform in three years. Yes, translations—because Shakespeare’s English is so far removed from the English of 2015 that it often interferes with our own comprehension.
ASHLAND, ORE. — A first-time visitor to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival might be struck by any number of things. The festival’s idyllic location in this small city surrounded by vistas of rolling hills. Or the splendid Tudor-style outdoor Elizabethan theater, just one of the three spaces where performances take place six days a week for more than seven months, for an impressive total of roughly 800 shows.
But even before visiting the festival, you might notice something unusual when you scan the website: It’s the rare theater site that you can navigate if your only language is Spanish.
Once settled in your seat, I suspect the first thing you’d notice would be the unusual ethnic and racial diversity onstage. The casting of men and women of color in prominent roles — whether it’s Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls” or the titular prince in “Pericles,” both of which I saw this year portrayed (terrifically) by African-American men — is standard practice at the company and has been for many years.
With a Book, Music and Lyrics by Tony Award Winner Jason Robert Brown (“Urban Cowboy,” “Bridges of Madison County,” “Honeymoon in Vegas”) “The Last Five Years” is an intensely personal look at the relationship between writer Jamie Wellerstein and struggling actress Cathy Hiatt. The show’s unconventional structure lets Cathy tell her story backwards while Jamie tells his story chronologically; the two characters only meeting once, at their engagement and wedding in the middle of the show. Told predominately through song and from both points of view, this gem of a musical is an emotionally powerful and intimate tale about two ambitious New Yorkers in their twenties who fall in and out of love over the course of five years.
Reading, the Pennsylvania city whose name has become a byword for Rust Belt poverty, is the subject of not one but two new plays this year, Douglas Carter Beane’s “Shows for Days” and Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat.” But while Mr. Beane gave us a frothy farce about how he fell in love with theater by joining a local drama troupe, Ms. Nottage has chosen instead to take a searching look at the workers who lost their jobs when the factories of Reading started shutting down.
"The ensemble is exemplary, so uniformly excellent that I cannot point to a single performance as rising above the rest. To laud them individually would require another review. Let it be enough to say that each actor locates the rich humanity in his or her character, and transmits it to the audience with deceptive ease. When the play reaches its climax, we feel so swept up in the fracturing lives of the people onstage that the distance between that world and the real one it reflects with such searing precision has all but collapsed."
The internationally-renowned, 80-year-old Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) isn’t really a festival in the traditional sense of the word. Like a Renaissance tragedy, it’s epically long — running this year from Feb. 27 to Nov. 1. And it doesn’t only focus on the works of William Shakespeare, as classics by other writers, musicals and new dramas complement the Bard’s titles.
Despite the misnomer, the high quality of OSF’s theatrical offerings and the bucolic nature of its surroundings draw playgoers from all over world each year, including many from the Bay Area. (Nearly a quarter of the audience comes from San Francisco and its surroundings, according to OSF data.)
Add to this the fact that Ashland, Oregon is among very few places in the world where you can get a discount at the local frozen yogurt shop simply by waving a theater ticket at the cash register, or have an in-depth conversation with a stranger in a bar about lighting design or the size of a lead actor’s codpiece, and you’ve got a compelling case to make the five-and-a-half-hour drive north.
FROM A DISTANCE, Ashland is a storybook town: a village cradled by steep forested slopes on one side and hills that change from green to tawny, to white and snowy on the other. The illusion doesn’t fade with proximity. Wellpreserved historic Craftsman and Victorian houses perch in the hills above a picturesque downtown. Its centerpieces are a bustling plaza, the jewel of Lithia Park and the economic engine that is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. In summer, Ashland is jammed with theatergoers, buskers, Pacific Crest Trail throughhikers and other travelers. Loyal visitors make the pilgrimage year after year to catch the new season of plays, revisit favorite restaurants and stay in bed and breakfasts.
While dinner-and-a-play makes for a satisfying outing, there is also excellent hiking and mountain biking, spas, vineyards and rapids ranging from Class I to IV on the nearby Rogue and Upper Klamath rivers.
The third and final play in the ‘Elliot trilogy’ continues the story of Elliot Ortiz, a young Iraq War veteran haunted by his actions in the war. In part two of the trilogy, Water by the Spoonful, staged last season at OSF, Elliot and his cousin Yaz are dealing with ghosts present and past, and seeking ways to forgive, connect and move forward. In Happiest Song, we find them a couple years later. Elliot has landed a new career as a movie star, but shooting a film in Jordan, with the tumultuous Arab Spring rumbling nearby, activates his wartime nightmares. While on location Elliot befriends Ali, a translator, and Shar, an Arab-American actress, who offer him his first real opportunity to get to know the people he once viewed as enemies. Back in Philadelphia, Yaz has her hands full cooking for the homeless and trying to keep her beloved community from crumbling. She develops an unexpected friendship with Agustín, an activist, teacher and musician who infuses the play with música jíbara—traditional music of Puerto Rico.
With a new mash-up of Belinda Carlisle and Elizabethan drama, the festival struts into the spotlight of American theater.
“See the people walking down the street
Fall in line just watching all their feet
They don’t know where they want to go
But they’re walking in time....”
No, it’s not Shakespeare, but the saucy new wave bounce of “We Got the Beat” nonetheless rocks into the Northwest’s fortress of iambic pentameter this summer. In the quaint hamlet of Ashland, where we lay our scene, the playwright Jeff Whitty mixes the Go-Go’s “canon” with a tale of royal prophecies, star-crossed lovers, and mistaken identities lifted from The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, a sprawling 16th-century prose epic by Sir Philip Sidney. The Coos Bay–born Whitty, who snagged a Tony for the racy puppet musical Avenue Q, calls his genre- and gender-bending imaginative outing Head Over Heels. (Needless to say, high heels abound.)
“This show is so difficult,” says director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. “People who can act in heightened text, sing in a rock idiom, and dance—that Venn diagram is tiny.”
But vaulting ambition reigns supreme at Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Though the 80-year-old attraction is best known for lavish productions of the Bard and other classics, in recent years the company has become a national instigator of bold contemporary drama. OSF produced 29 world premieres over the past decade; many have gone on to national acclaim, from last year’s Tony-winning production ofAll the Way on Broadway to The White Snake at San Diego’s Old Globe this spring. This season, OSF debuts three diverse works: Head Over Heels; Sweat, Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage’s tale of 20th-century industrial decline; and an adaptation of Sarah Waters’s Victorian thriller Fingersmith by Friends and This American Life vet Alexa Junge.
Previews begin June 2 with Antony and Cleopatra, Head Over Heels and The Count of Monte Cristo
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival opens its outdoor theatre the weekend of June 12-14 with Shakespeare’s ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, directed by Bill Rauch; the world-premiere musical by Jeff Whitty with music and lyrics by the Go-Go’s, HEAD OVER HEELS, directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar; and Alexandre Dumas’s THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, directed by Marcela Lorca. The shows will close the weekend of October 9-11.
Previews begin June 2, as do Green Show performances. The Green Show features free live entertainment on the Courtyard Stage six nights a week at 6:45 p.m. throughout the run of the Allen Elizabethan Theatre productions.
All are invited to enjoy five months of free entertainment on OSF’s Courtyard Stage
Free outdoor entertainment returns to the Bricks June 2 when Taiwanese Aborigines Culture Tour takes the Courtyard Stage as the first Oregon Shakespeare Festival Green Show performers of the season. The Green Show continues through October 11, six nights a week at 6:45 p.m.
“This year we celebrate OSF’s 80th anniversary with shows that reflect the spirit of OREGON with talented artists from our state, partnerships with Oregon arts programs, and some former company members returning for shows,” said Claudia Alick, OSF’s Associate Producer, Community. “We have acts inspired by SHAKESPEARE and music and dance from the Renaissance. Artists from China, Taiwan, and Iceland, spectacular fire juggling and aerial silks, and unique acts from around the country round out our season with the spirit of FESTIVAL. We’re looking forward to seeing you on the Bricks!”
In 1887, when the last Golden Spike was pounded into the tracks in Ashland, Oregon, and the iron horse officially encircled the nation, the Railroad District was the bustling hub of the Rogue Valley. The area was bristling with railroad workers, Chinese immigrants, gamblers and hustlers of all stripes, looking to make their fortune in the Wild West.
Nowadays, the star of the town is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary by staging 11 plays on three stages for nine months. But old-timers are quick to point out that the rambunctious spirit of the railroad's golden age has not yet vanished. Indeed, there's one feisty ghost, in particular, who is said to roam the halls of the historic Peerless on 4th, a stylish 1894 hotel that seduces its guests with the romance of the past, from clawfoot tubs to hand-painted, trompe l'oeil murals and stained-glass lamps.
This popular destination is celebrating its 80th season, but it’s no stodgy old-timer. In fact, Ashland recently announced three new play commissions, part of its ambitious series “American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle,” devoted to new works focusing on significant periods of change in American history. Shakespeare still has pride of place here, and “Pericles,” “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Antony and Cleopatra” will be presented this season alongside several other productions. If you can’t get your fill in the busy, long season, there’s a Shakespeare-theme cruise to look forward to in December.
American Revolutions is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 10-year commissioning program (2008-2018) of up to 37 new plays that look at moments of change in America's past, with the goal of helping to establish a shared understanding of our national identity and illuminate the best paths for our nation's future.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival will open Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, directed by Christopher Liam Moore, on March 29 in the Thomas Theatre. Preview performances are March 25, 27 and 28.
Long Day’s Journey into Night, a semi-autobiographical work for which O’Neill posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is considered among the finest American plays of the 20th century. In it, actor James Tyrone’s summer home is haunted by alcohol, addiction, failed dreams and ghosts of resentments gone, but hardly forgotten. Mary, his delicate wife, nurses her losses and lives in an idealized past. His eldest son Jamie is a failed actor who excels at one role: the scapegoat who, more often than not, tells the brutal truth. Only Edmund, the youngest, might succeed if he can overcome his heredity and precarious health.
The Tony Award–winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival will open its 80th year with preview performances beginning on February 20 and the season officially kicking off Friday night, February 27, in the Angus Bowmer Theatre with Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing (director, Lileana Blain-Cruz). On Saturday afternoon, Shakespeare’s Pericles (Joseph Haj) takes the stage in the Thomas Theatre, and the classic musical Guys and Dolls (Mary Zimmerman) opens in the Bowmer Theatre that evening. Sunday afternoon the world-premiere production of Fingersmith (Bill Rauch) by Alexa Junge, based on the novel by Sarah Waters, opens in the Bowmer Theatre.
"Each season brings with it the thrill of offering our audiences the work of the world’s foremost playwrights brought to life by our amazing acting company,” said OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch. “And in 2015, our 80th year, I am delighted to open our season with two Shakespearean classics, a Golden Age American musical and an exciting world premiere. And that’s just the first four plays.
ASHLAND, Ore. — “All the world’s a stage” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The plays produced on OSF’s stages are captivating audiences across the country, and while the demand is increasing, it really comes as no surprise to the cast and crews who call OSF home.
“Really exciting time for the work that we’re doing. Outside of Manhattan we have the highest density of high qualified performers in any one area,” said Heath Belden, the “Into the Woods” Stage Manager. “This is a hotbed of creativity. Especially under Bill Rouch it’s driving a lot of the theatrical conversation across the country right now.”
7 years ago, Artistic Director Bill Rauch established a project called “American Revolutions”. The goal was to commission 37 plays on great moments in American history. More than half way through, the most notable play “All The Way,” went all the way to a little place know as Broadway.
All the world is becoming OSF’s stage as our commissions, premieres and productions continue to find audiences and great success beyond Ashland. All the Way and The Great Society will soon run in rep at Seattle Repertory Theatre, while Into the Woods journeys to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in December. Berkeley Repertory Theatre has extended the run of Party People twice, and this American Revolutions commission is now slated to run through November 30. Having completed its run at Wuzhen Festival in China, The White Snake will head to The Old Globe in San Diego in the spring of 2015. The near future also holds new mountings of The Unfortunates at American Conservatory Theatre and The Liquid Plain at Signature Theatre.
Early autumn in Ashland may be the best time of year to visit the southern Oregon town: The leaves are turning, and this year, its legendary Shakespeare fest is as lively as ever. We sent writer Christopher Hall to check it out. Here are his picks for the five perfect components to an autumn Ashland visit.
During the first season of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival 80 years ago, Ashland residents and students served as actors on a simple stage that also hosted boxing matches. Now the Tony Award-winning company has three state-of-the-art theaters—and not a fist-swinging bout in sight. It produces everything from the Bard (Richard III runs through October 10) to modern musicals (Into the Woods runs through October 11). It also stages its own new commissions during a season that goes from February to November. September offers a full slate of performances, including an outdoor series that seems perfectly timed to the weather: Days this month stay mostly sunny, even as a nip starts to spice the air each evening around curtain time.
Go-to fall foliage
Picnickers, Frisbee tossers, and kids on swings populate the busy end of Lithia Park (pictured below), near Ashland’s downtown plaza and the Shakespeare Festival complex. But deeper inside this 93-acre oasis, tranquility prevails along the forested paths that follow Ashland Creek through a wooded canyon. September is especially scenic. “That’s when our fall color starts, usually with the maples in the Japanese garden,” says park superintendent Bruce Dickens.
Congratulations to Tony Award-winners Robert Schenkkan and Bryan Cranston and everyone involved in the creative journey of All the Way, newly crowned as Best Play at Sunday night’s 2014 Tony Awards. Oregon Shakespeare Festival presented the world premiere here in Ashland during the 2012 season.
Now is your best opportunity to secure tickets for The Great Society, the world premiere sequel to All the Way, running July 23 – November 1 in the Angus Bowmer Theatre. Tickets have been selling briskly for this highly-anticipated journey deeper into LBJ’s presidency, so act now to secure your preferred dates and seating.
The cast of The Great Society includes many of the great performers you saw in All the Way, including Jack Willis as LBJ, Kenajuan Bentley as Martin Luther King, Jr., Peter Frechette as Hubert Humphrey, and many other OSF favorites reprising multiple roles.
To Shakespeare or not to Shakespeare – that is the question. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) in Ashland is becoming a popular all-ages destination thanks to recently expanded family programming.
Now celebrating its 80th season, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is nationally renowned for a diverse mix of Shakespearean plays, musicals, classics and world premieres. Plays are staged in one of three theaters, all within easy walking distance of downtown Ashland. The outdoor Elizabethan Stage – one of the nation's oldest – is a unique experience not to be missed
Say Ashland, and the word Shakespeare leaps to mind. But veteran visitors of the charming Southern Oregon town find other words - shoe shopping, Class III rapids, pinot noir and tuna tartar - also are part of the Ashland lexicon. Many plan the six-hour pilgrimage from Northern California to the mecca of summer theater as a weekend getaway. In a three-day trip you can cram in four shows, maybe catch a free lecture, and eat extremely well.
But if you've got a little longer, or have had your fill of theater, there's lots more to discover. (That said, it would be a small tragedy to visit Ashland and not see a single play.)
So, here are suggestions for a midsummer's dream vacation.