ASHLAND, Ore.—Summertime means outdoor theater in this cozy hamlet some 140 miles north of Redding.
Many north state residents join visitors throughout the West Coast at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) for stellar performances on the repertory company’s full-scale Elizabethan stage, the oldest stage of its kind in the Western hemisphere.
If you’ve never treated yourself to a show under the stars here, it’s worth the two-hour, twenty-minute trip. Performances start at 8:30 p.m. (30 minutes earlier starting Aug. 6), so darkness falls as the plays progress. It’s a multi-story stage, with the pavilion offering arena and balcony seating. Snacks and beverages can be purchased prior to the show and during intermission. Many patrons bring jackets or blankets (rain ponchos if drops are forecast); some bring seat cushions for the hard plastic chairs.
It’s a more informal feel than OSF’s indoor venues, the Angus Bowmer Theatre and intimate New Theatre. At a recent performance of “As You Like It,” a few astute audience members spotted actor John Tufts, who played the lead in “Henry V” the night before, sitting in the middle section and made their way over for an autograph prior to the start.
Opening mid-June on the outdoor stage and running till mid-October (before the night air gets too chilly): Shakespearean drama “Henry V,” his comedy “As You Like It,” and a modern adaptation of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” titled “The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa.” (The links are to promo videos of each performance.)
Click here for a list of other OSF plays still running this season in all three theaters. For the record, “As You Like It” offers beautiful costuming and stage backdrops, delightful a capella numbers, cud-chewing sheep played by actors, and OSF’s standard non-traditional casting in a few key roles. Deaf actor Howie Seago—a delightful stage presence in the past four seasons at OSF—plays the banished Duke Senior, with other
actors interpreting his sign language for the audience.
If you’re looking to enhance your cultural experience, OSF also offers several intriguing summer options: backstage tours (reservations required; $13 for adults; $9 for youth 6-17); “prefaces” to learn themes and background on the three plays already mentioned (from 5:30-6 on evenings the plays are offered; tickets are $6.50); and “Festival Noons” on Tuesdays through Sundays, offering lectures, workshops and other demonstrations ($9 for adults; $7 for youth 6-17).
Other popular Ashland attractions include myriad dining, shopping and strolling options. The crowd-pleasing Green Show events are hard to miss during the summer season. Performed on the bricks in the central Festival courtyard, these free shows are held Tuesday through Sunday evenings prior to evening performances. They include a range of performances, including modern dance, taiko drumming, folk Americana bands, youth chamber orchestra, and aerial dance. (Those interested in applying to perform in a Green Show can find submission information here.)
For more A News Café coverage on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Writer Lincoln Kaye reviews OSF’s 2012 productions of “Romeo and Juliet,” “Animal Crackers,” “The White Snake,” and “Seagull” here, and its world premiere of “Medea/ Macbeth/Cinderella” here.
Candace L. Brown has been a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor for 20 years. She lives in Redding and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.