Friday, March 28, 2014

Fabulous theater awaits in the magical town of Ashland, Oregon


Ashland, Oregon's main street at dusk shows off its shops, movie theater and centerpiece hotel, the Ashland Springs.

The festival owns several cars and has a $32 million budget.

     WORLD CLASS theater is alive and well in Ashland, Oregon.
The gender-bending, stereotype-defying Oregon Shakespeare Festival is an annual tradition for this reporter, and has been for decades.
I can't imagine a year without my Ashland and OSF fix.  There are many enticements in this magical southern Oregon town.
    Ashland really has everything one needs for a varied, restful yet exciting escape.
Stage hands transform the Bowmer Theater for comedy in "The Cocoanuts."
     Its unique blend of sophistication and earthy appeal, of town and gown, city and country, soothing and exciting render it a jewel of America and the globe.
     CHIEF AMONG its pleasures is the world class festival, founded by enterprising Scotsman Angus Bowmer, who called the Rogue Valley home.
     In 1934,  Bowmer devised a way for the town's popular boxing matches to fund his deeper passion, the theater.
Cookie strolls by the Allen Elizabethan Theatre.
    The clever, play-loving gentleman  dreamed that Ashland could support live theater -- first rate productions.  
   HE WAS right. From his ambitious idea grew the internationally known festival.  In the Bowmer lobby, a lovely portrait of Bowmer smiles down on the lobby as the appreciative audience files in to surrender to the wonder of live performance.
Angus Bowmer's vision for top theater
 became a money-making reality .
We had the pleasure of sitting in the Bowmer seats for one of the roster of plays we enjoyed.  And we located two seats I endowed in memory of my late husband, Bruce Kemp Meyers, an actor and writing professor who spent many happy hours mesmerized by the festival.
I LIKE TO think that Bowmer and Bruce are sharing a scotch and theater talk in the great performance hall in the sky.
The Thomas Theatre is small, intimate and versatile,
named after a beloved OSF devotee and
staffer, the late Peter Thomas.
 Between plays, you can eat like one of Shakespeare's kings -- we hit the Oregon Chocolate Festival and sampled delectable cheese from Rogue Creamery (more later). You'll get hooked on Ashland  as you celebrate the dramatic arts.  Whether a theater newbie, or die-hard veteran, you'll be dazzled by OSF's diversity. THESE PROS serve up classic works by the Bard, much loved musicals always with a spin, and new, thought-provoking works by playwrights from around the world. Except for a couple of WWII years, Ashland has offered a knock-out roster of intriguing work, acted by top performers and musicians with an annual following in the tens of thousands.
Oregon Cabaret Theatre marks season 29 in an historic converted church.
JUMP IN and fasten your theatrical seat belt for a gorgeous and imaginative version of "The Tempest," a rousing laugh-filled "The Cocoanuts," a thought provoking story about relationships and change in "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window," and more. That's just at the Bowmer.
Cookie checks out the OSF Playbill during a week-long visit. 
The smaller Thomas Theatre, named after a late, beloved fundraiser at the fest, offers "The Comedy of Errors" set in Harlem, an upcoming world premier and "Water By the Spoonful," while the Allen Elizabethan Theatre will feature "Into the Woods," the Sondheim musical, plus "Richard III" and "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" with an all-female cast. Variety, daring and quality.
      THIS YEAR, we also took in the backstage tour -- a wonderful diversion for seasoned theater goers or anyone wanting to learn more about the inner workings of this successful operation.
The Allen
Most people do what my family and friends have done for years: check into the lovely Ashland Springs Hotel, stroll to the festival box office to pick up tickets, make a reservation for dinner (a tough choice in delectable Ashland) and begin savoring this magnificent year-round destination, just 15 miles north of the California border.
Actors John Keating and Galen Schloming deliver
in "Double Trouble" at Oregon Cabaret Theater,
directed by the talented Jim Giancarlo. 
      ASHLAND IS fun for a long weekend but there's plenty to do for a full week or more.  We try to visit either Portland or San Francisco (it is roughly half-way between).  This trip we stayed six days in Ashland, seeing all the fabulous works on the boards at OSF's theaters and topping it off with a delightful evening at the always entertaining Oregon Cabaret Theatre.
Oregon Cabaret
Theatre has a
lovely chandelier.
THE CABARET is also an Ashland family tradition, nearly 30 years old and always a treat.  We saw a dazzling "Double Trouble," with two gifted actors playing multiple roles in a 1940s musical "tour de farce."  It runs through March 30, followed by "The Marvelous Wonderettes Caps and gowns," "Ain't Misbehavin," "Backwards in High Heels" and the live radio play of "It's A Wonderful Life" for the holidays. for a totally enjoyable theater experience, stellar meal and the dramatic, comfy setting of an historic church. It's right up the block from the hotel: ashland
Jeffrey King takes theater lovers on a tour of the OSF's
three theaters.  Here, they gather in the basement of
the Allen Elizabethan Theater, which opens June 3. 

COMING UP: From center stage to backstage, join us to discover OSF backstage secrets.  One of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's seasoned actors takes us on an intriguing tour in the hidden places of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Remember to explore, learn and live, and check out our posts on Wednesdays and weekends:  

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