Oregon Shakespeare Festival
While Lithia Park is the heart of Ashland, Shakespeare is the soul of this community. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival began when Angus Bowmer, an English professor at Ashland College, decided to celebrate Independence Day weekend in 1935 with a Shakespeare production.
The city fathers were so unsure of the reception it would get that they asked him to allow boxing matches on the stage during the day prior to the performance. By the time he retired as artistic director of the festival in 1971, his Fourth of July dream had grown into an internationally acclaimed drama company with three theaters, one named in his honor.
The Elizabethan Theatre, built on the site of Ashland’s Chautauqua Dome, was modeled after the Fortune Theatre of London, circa 1600. This outdoor summer-only theater, the largest of the three, is primarily the domain of the Bard. While Shakespeare under the stars is incredibly romantic, it can also get very cold after sunset. Curtain times run 8–8:30 p.m. with most shows ending around 11 p.m. The theater closes by mid-October, and the festival itself ends October 30.
The second-largest playhouse is the 600-seat Angus Bowmer, an indoor complex with excellent acoustics, computerized sound and lighting, and nary a bad seat in the house. Finally, the 150-seat New Theatre is where modern works and experimental productions are the norm. This theater is small enough to stage plays that might be overwhelmed by a larger venue.
Getting tickets to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland, OR 97520, 800/219-8161 or 541/482-4331, www.osfashland.org, box office 9:30 a.m.–performance time Tues.–Sun., 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon., closed most holidays) is as much a part of the show as the performance. Due to tremendous popularity, seats sell out months in advance. All seats are reserved; ticket prices range $20–81. Children under age 6 are not permitted. Once tickets are purchased, there are no refunds.
If you are unable to get advance tickets, your best bet is to show up at the Shakespeare Plaza an hour or two before the show with a sign stating what show you want to see. If you are lucky, you will score tickets from someone with extras. Avoid bidding wars with other would-be theatergoers, as ticket scalping is frowned upon. Otherwise, be at the ticket window at 6 p.m.; any available seats will be released at that time. And remember, there is no late seating.
In addition to the plays themselves, two other events are popular with theatergoers. Backstage Tours (10 a.m. Tues.–Sun., high season $12 adults, $8 youth ages 6–17, off-season $9 adults, $6 youth, reservations required) explore the history, design, and technology of all of the festival’s repertory theaters, including the fascinating Elizabethan Stage. The regular tour is a walking tour and has six flights of stairs; call ahead to schedule a tour without stairs.
Catch the free Green Show before the play. It begins at 7:15 p.m. (6:45 p.m. in Sept.) on the plaza outside the Elizabethan Theatre and features live music, lectures, performance, storytelling, and other entertainment. It ends just before 8 p.m. when the outdoor performance starts in the Elizabethan Theater.
Shakespeare isn’t the only act in town; other local companies include the Oregon Cabaret Theatre (1st St. and Hargadine St., 541/488-2902, www.oregoncabaret.com), with musical revues in a club setting, and Southern Oregon State College productions.
Ashland is also home to the Ballet Rogue (541/773-5113, www.balletrogue.com), Southern Oregon’s only professional company, with some Sunday outdoor performances in the band shell at Lithia Park (340 S. Pioneer St.).
The Ashland Visitor Information Center (110 East Main St., 541/482-3486, www.ashlandchamber.com) has complete information on all the goings-on.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel