Few towns are as closely identified with theater as Ashland (pop. 21,500). Tickets to the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival are the coin of the realm here, with contemporary classics and off-off-Broadway shows joining productions by the Bard. You can immediately sense this is not just another timber town by the Tudor-style McDonald’s, vintage Victorian houses, and high property values.
Blessed with a bucolic setting between the Siskiyous and the Cascades, Ashland embodies the spirit of the chautauqua movement of a century ago, which dedicated itself to bringing culture to the rural hinterlands. Until the 1930s, however, entertainment in these parts mostly consisted of traveling vaudeville shows that visited the Ashland-Jacksonville area to cheer up the residents of a gold-rush community in decline.
Southern Oregon University, at the time named Ashland College, established the Shakespeare Festival in 1935 under the direction of Professor Angus Bowmer. Such noted thespians as George Peppard, Stacy Keach, and William Hurt graced Ashland’s stages early in their careers, and the festival has garnered its share of Tony Awards and other accolades.
Today, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is the largest classic repertory theater in the country and enjoys the largest audience of any kind of theater in the United States. Annual attendance generally exceeds 400,000.
Ashland’s tourist economy is also sustained by its auspicious location roughly equidistant to Portland and San Francisco. Closer to home, day trips to Crater Lake, Rogue River country, and the southern Oregon coast have joined the tradition of “stay four days, see four plays” as a major part of Ashland’s appeal.
Getting to Ashland
Greyhound (91 Oak St., 541/482-2516) serves Ashland with a handful of daily northbound and southbound departures. Local connections between Medford and Ashland are possible through Rogue Valley Transportation (541/779-2877, www.rvtd.org).
Pick up a bus schedule at area businesses or libraries, or on the website. Contact Ski Ashland (P.O. Box 220, Ashland, OR 97520, 541/482-2897) for information on the Mount Ashland ski area daily bus to and from Medford and Ashland.
Twenty-four-hour taxi service is available from Ashland Taxi (541/890-8080). United Express and Horizon Air fly into Medford/Jackson County Airport (1000 Terminal Loop Pkwy., 800/882-7488, www.co.jackson.or.us), 15 miles north of town. Amtrak (800/872-7245) has a station 70 miles east at Klamath Falls and 75 miles south at Dunsmuir, California.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel