Elizabethan Theater Experience

Global Traveler

by Patricia Vanikiotis

My husband and I viewed two very different types of theatrical performances a week apart in the same venue, but we enjoyed each one on its own merits. We are blessed to live a short 30-minute drive from one of America’s oldest Elizabethan theatres and a Tony-awarding winning theater company, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. The company has been producing plays since 1935 and today produces works by Shakespeare, premieres of new plays, musicals and comedies in three venues during a season running from February through November. My favorite stage is also the oldest, although it has seen updates over the years. This is the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre, so named to honor the $3 million grant the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation provided in 1993 to build a roofed pavilion of balcony seating around the original bowl of orchestra seating, which still remains open to the stars.

I last enjoyed a performance at the Elizabethan theater over two decades ago, and I recall how, just before the play began, a fanfare of trumpets played, and the OSF flag was raised from an upper window of the playhouse façade. Tiny bats swooped and screeched far over our heads, just out of range of the stage lights. On my return for Richard III, the same pre-performance ceremony occurred, and we also observed a few bats flitting through the darkness, but the new pavilion made the space feel more intimate (though it still seats 1,190 audience members). That evening was quite warm, and we never needed a jacket even though the play ended after 10:30 p.m. Only a week later on our return to see Into the Woods, the weather proved quite different, and we bundled up in jackets and warm hats. Rain spattered down during the first act, but our seats strategically rested just under the overhang of the balcony seating. Performances go on regardless of the weather, with the actors first donning clear capes over costumes if rain persists and changing to street clothes if it becomes a deluge. Patrons can turn in their tickets for a voucher for a future performance if they depart before the end of the first act, but most come prepared for the conditions, and I saw only one couple leave our performance.

We thoroughly enjoyed both performances, finding the staging over the multilevel space delightfully inventive (the 25 orchestra performers for the musical were placed directly on stage and woven into the action) and the costuming (sumptuous and rich for Richard III, bright and fantastical for Into the Woods) wonderfully appealing. The performances at OSF are always superb, and one can still take in a show this season (until early November) or begin making plans for a visit next season.  Visitors come from all over the world to experience the plays and the beautiful Rogue Valley; I’m so fortunate to have it in my own backyard!

> Read the original report on GlobeTravelerUSA.com.