The Oregon Shakespeare Festival Focuses on Diversity

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By CHARLES ISHERWOOD

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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.

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