Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Backstage look at Oregon Shakespeare Festival reveals treasures, technology, timing


The Allen Elizabethan Theatre opens for summer shows, this year two by Shakespeare, one by Sondheim.

The lobby of the Angus Bowmer Theatre is warm, welcoming.

It's a sweltering day on stage, he's loaded down with an elaborate costume.  The temperature is climbing.  He's sweating. It's still act one and the temperature is climbing.
But wait.  The actor has a brief moment off stage and gets relief from tiny ice packs dropped into his garb.
Thanks to clever costumers and seamstresses, the show goes on.  The actor is much cooler.
This is only one of the little known facts revealed by actor Jeffrey King, who took a couple dozen theater lovers backstage for a show as enjoyable as a regular production.
WE WERE privileged to gain insight into the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's behind-the-scene workings.
Actor Jeffrey King gives a lively backstage tour.
King has acted with the OSF company for 15 seasons, with an impressive range of roles in works --  from "A Streetcar Named Desire" to "Hamlet." He also derives pleasure from his role offstage as one of the able backstage tour directors, answering questions about the festival, which presents Greek tragedy, new work and everything in between.
He is a master of explaining the curious and little known facts about the festival, considered the oldest and largest professional regional repertory theater company in the country.
Established in 1935, OSF has garnered many honors and remains the oldest existing full-scale Elizabethan stage in the Western Hemisphere.
KING DESCRIBED the yeomen's effort of mounting nearly 800 performances a season, operating on a budget of $33 million and reaching an audience of more than 400,000 in three very different theaters.
For me, a return to the OSF's Ashland, Oregon, base, is going home.
I've logged decades of seasons with this Tony winning company of 600 theater professionals and an impressive 700 volunteers.

An ambitious student program is an Oregon Shakespeare Festival rule.
KING TOOK us to all three of the theaters which make up the festival venues:  the 600-seat Bowmer, the 1,190-seat Elizabethan and the 280-seat Thomas whose seating can be arranged in a variety of formats to accommodate up  to 360.
We learned:
* That understudies have understudies.  When an understudy takes over, the domino theory reigns -- someone steps in for the understudy.  That's all smoothly arranged, and happened the night we sas "The Comedy of Errors."
Entertaining and illuminating bits were gleaned
by an enthusiastic group on an OSF backstage tour.
* That the OSF has a "describer" so that the blind can "see" the play.  Just as the OSF offers audio enhancement for hard of hearing play lovers, the describer helps the blind, explaining the action from a booth.
* THAT THE Bowmer's green room is shared by two sets of actors -- one from the Bowmer production upstairs and the other from the nearby Elizabethan Theatre.  Each production has its own monitor.  One season, the actors from the period piece, "Henry IV," Part I, chatted between scenes with the actors from "She Loves Me."
* That there is a point in every June when all 11 shows on the annual playbill are either being rehearsed or performed.
* That most of the actors participate in at least two plays with three to five performances a week, usually a major role in one production and a supporting role in another.
The Allen Elizabethan Theater as viewed from lovely Lithia Park in Ashland.

* We also learned the reason for the happy presence of many young people at all the performances we saw:  the OSF's school visit program sends actors to more than 100 schools, presenting performances and workshops in Shakespeare and modern literature to more than 70,000 students in California, Kansas,  Oregon and Washington.
Its outreach program and courting of students is one of the most successful and ambitious programs in the U.S.

There's much backstage activity aboard a cruise ship, too!
COMING UP: From backstage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to backstage shipboard, behind the giant kitchen on Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas.  Cruising is dear to the hearts of Cookie and Keller and they learned a few shipshape tricks from the chefs.  Remember to explore, learn and live.  Let us know what you'd like us to write about in our Wednesdays and weekends posts. Tell your friends about www.whereiscookie.com

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