ASHLAND, Ore.—‘Tis the season once again at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, our first-class theatrical neighbor some 140 miles north of Redding. As always, a mix of freshly interpreted classics by the Bard, original scripts and other dramas and comedies are on the docket.
Behind the scenes this year: a new production building that will streamline and enhance the work of the dozens of workers who produce the costumes and build the sets that provide the backbone of every production.
While guiding a recent tour through the massive new production building, festival property manager Jim Clark said he initially felt a little guilty about the size and scope of the facility, which measures 71,544 square feet.
“This thing is really amazing,” he said, noting he’s not aware of any other comparable structure in the U.S. that’s been built from the ground up.
But then, he said, he would think about the fact that the 79-year-old Oregon Shakespeare Festival has grown into a world-class company, employing 600 theater professionals, with a 2014 operating budget of more than $32 million.
“Now we have a production building that’s on par with it,” he said.
Perhaps the only disadvantage of the new building, which will be fully occupied by the fall, is that it’s about a 10-minute drive north of Ashland, in the small hamlet of Talent. The current 22,504-square-foot production facility on First Street in Ashland is within walking distance of the three theaters (Angus Bowmer, Thomas, and Allen Elizabethan).
But the advantages far outweigh the added time and travel. In addition to space for building sets, the new facility has plenteous room for costumes, props, painting, machine and metal work, as well as a brightly windowed breakroom for the approximately 40 people who eventually will be working there.
The costume shop, an impressive warehouse filled with wardrobe items of all kinds, is also a revenue-generating business for OSF. For 10 years, the festival has rented costumes, now to more than 1,000 customers nationwide. Clients include TV shows “Saturday Night Live,” “30 Rock,” “True Blood,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “Castle,” and “Portlandia.”
Clark noted that the festival’s costume selection used to be housed in three places, making it a challenge to know where to find particular pieces at times.
The layout of the building, with large doors between areas, allows for easy transport of large set pieces between, say, the design area to the painting room, and finally out to a streamlined loading dock – without needing to pull pieces back through construction areas.
Scenic artist Sandy Phillips offers a video tour of the new building and the paint shop where she works.
Visit http://www.osfashland.org to purchase tickets and learn more.
- “The Tempest” (Shakespeare), Angus Bowmer Theatre, through Nov. 2
- “The Cocoanuts” (Marx Brothers musical), Angus Bowmer, through Nov. 2
- “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window,” Angus Bowmer, through July 3
- “Comedy of Errors” (Shakespeare), Thomas Theatre, through Nov. 2
- “Water by the Spoonful,” Thomas Theatre, through Nov. 2
Later this season
- “A Wrinkle in Time” (world premiere), Angus Bowmer, April 16—Nov. 1
- “Richard III” (Shakespeare), Elizabethan outdoor stage, June 3—Oct. 10
- “Into the Woods (Stephen Sondheim), Elizabethan, June 4—Oct. 11
- “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” (Shakespeare), Elizabethan, June 5—Oct. 12
- “Family Album” (musical), Thomas Theatre, July 1—Aug. 31
- “The Great Society” (world premiere), Angus Bowmer, July 23—Nov. 1
Of the opening shows this season, “Comedy of Errors” and “The Cocoanuts” both deliver on witty banter and physical comedy. The former is staged in the much smaller Thomas Theatre (depending on set design, seats 270 to 360, compared with the Bowmer’s 601), which always lends an intimate feel to the action.
“Comedy” stands out for its scripted complexity. One set of identical twins can make for laughable mistaken identity foibles; Shakespeare upped the ante by making it two sets, both dressed alike.
The three actors who played Marx brothers Groucho (Mark Bedard), Harpo (Brent Hinkley) and Chico (John Tufts) in 2012’s production of “Animal Crackers” return for another round of raucous, off-the-cuff verbal and physical comedy in “The Cocoanuts.” For a more interactive theater experience, consider purchasing café seats in the front row.
The other Shakespearean delight, “The Tempest,” offers a sparsely beautiful set (fans of 2012’s “White Snake” won’t be surprised that the same scenic designer—Daniel Ostling—was involved here, too) in the Bowmer. A soft-spoken Prospero lends a different balance to this power role, and some viewers might strain to catch all his lines. The acting, costumes, and special effects combine for a production well worth seeing.
“The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” follows young couple Sidney and Iris, residents of Greenwich Village in the politically tumultuous 1960s (the sign, by the way, says, “Fight Bossism”). It’s the last work of black playwright Lorraine Hainsberry, who died of pancreatic cancer in 1965 at age 34.
It’s an intense work that delves into the dynamics of a marriage and into the question of commitment – to a cause, partner, beliefs and ideals. The characters – including Iris’ two colorful sisters, a writer who lives upstairs, and a friend running for political office – grapple honestly, humorously, and, eventually, quite darkly, with choices, cynicism, and secrets.
Candace L. Brown has been a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor for 20 years. She lives in Redding and can be reached at [email protected].