Friday, August 11, 2017

Bold, beautiful, sometimes brash, Oregon Shakespeare Festival charms

Outside the Allen Elizabethan Theater, people take the summer night's air between acts. Next door, the Bowmer
Theater has a play underway, too, and across the street the smaller Thomas Theater also has a production. 




A back-stage tour takes one behind the scenes, here into the Bowmer Theater where
 two of Cookie's seats are pictured in the foreground, and the bed frame from "Shakespeare
in Love" awaits viewers. Patrons may purchase a chair plaque to honor a loved one.
AS A CHILD, theater cast a spell on me.
Its user-friendly witchcraft opened doors to travel and daring, shaping my imagination and enhancing my life.
For decades I've enjoyed the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, viewing hundreds of plays of every genre. Contemporary theater and Shakespeare's classics -- with the fest's famous gender bending, age defying, multi-racial, shake-it-up, spin.
Here in this small, village-like but hip
southern Oregon town, the festival and its three distinctly different theaters offer more than the bard's brilliant works.  A beautifully staged potpourri unfolds: new challenging work, time honored classics of both the American and European stages and the occasional musical take bows as well. This year's festival was a thrilling, exhilarating mix.
THE LINE-UP REFLECTS Ashland's blend of sophistication and earthy appeal, its ability to satisfy town and gown tastes, to bring together in the love of fine
Ashland Hills' Luna offers delightful fare and a fun happy
hour, with perfect small plates for before or after a play.
theater, both city folks and small-town dwellers who have chosen Ashland for its culture and proximity to the outdoors.
Nick and Nora enjoy the dog-friendly
atmosphere of the Neuman properties. 
To find a place that offers diversions both soothing and exciting render Ashland a jewel of America and the globe.
The renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival reaches an audience approaching a half-million and its budget is creeping near $40 million. The fest is the crown jewel
 Ashland Hills Hotel, just a pleasant few minutes from town
center and the plays offers tranquility, pretty landscaping
and attentive service, plus a fun restaurant, Luna. 
Ashland's main street at night shows off the beauty of
Ashland Springs Hotel, once the tallest building between
San Francisco and Portland. It is steps from fine theater.
of Ashland's attractions, which includes two splendid sister properties artfully run by the Neuman Hotel Group. Ashland Hills on the fringe of town offers a tranquil, rural setting, and Ashland Springs downtown offers old-world charm, sophistication and proximity to the action.  Both properties exhibit ambiance aplenty, friendly, efficient service, and fine dining in Larks at the Springs and Luna at the Hills.
THE FESTIVAL, now a world class enterprise, was founded by a Scotsman, Angus Bowmer, who called Rogue Valley home.
In 1934, Bowmer organized boxing matches to fund his deeper passion, theater.
Cookie strolls in the Allen Elizabethan
Theatre grounds, a beloved venue.

As the play- loving audience grew, so did the town's tourism.
Today's Ashland also offers a delightful dinner theater, Oregon Cabaret; a fun movie theater, the Varsity; many boutiques, pubs, specialty shops, bars, unique clothing stores and art galleries.  Ashland is also a foodie's paradise. We've dined in a bounty of fine eateries with family and friends from San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Denver, Chicago and Billings, Montana, my home for many years.
Actor Jennie Greenberry
plays Belle in "Disney's
Beauty and the Beast" and
took time for a photo
 with a young fan.
ONE ASSUMES that Bowmer's spirit is blessing the abundance. The clever, play-loving
Temperatures last week topped 110 degrees in Ashland,
Oregon as Cookie and Keller took in a raft of cool plays.
gentleman's dream that Ashland could support live theater came true. The boxing that funded the first plays was phased out, as audiences opted for Shakespeare, contemporary comedy and drama over pugilism.
This year's season has the "something for everyone" credo that Bowmer espoused.
In three complementary venues, and 10 productions, one may span centuries, styles and cultures.
FOR FANS of Shakespeare -- whose eloquence headlined the festival for decades -- four plays run in three venues. The time honored "Henry IV" pair -- parts One and Two -- is on tap in the Thomas Theatre, while in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, a magnificent "Julius Caesar" unfolds. "The Merry Wives of Windsor" is regaling crowds in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. A gifted female actor delightfully renders Falstaff, one of the bard's most colorful creations. "The Odyssey" takes us on an unforgettable journey to ancient lands. The Green Show begins each evening with sprightly music. 
Oregon Cabaret Theatre presents entertaining theater and fine fare
in a beautifully restored old church in Ashland. Because it offers quality
productions and runs Monday, dark day at OSF, it is usually sold out. 
The season includes a memorable pair of world premieres, "Hannah and the Dread Gazebo," in the Thomas, and "Off the Rails" in the Bowmer. The Elizabethan also features a mesmerizing "Disney's Beauty and the Beast" with gorgeous voices. "Unison," with high-tech staging and versatile singers, honors the poetry of August Wilson.
EACH ACTOR  participates in at least two plays with three to five performances a week, usually a major role in one production and a supporting role in one or two others.
It's fun to recognize actors in the pubs and on the street, while on stage, observing them in multiple roles. "Hey, that guy played in 'Caesar' and now he's in an old-west hero." (Cicero is played by a female actor, too.) A player may headline in one production and join the ensemble in the next, since repertory means the shows run in rotation for the February to October season. There's an intense point each June when all shows on the playbill are either being rehearsed or performed.;;;

Barcelona's famous Las Ramblas is perhaps Europe's
best known walking street, beloved by locals and tourists.
UP NEXT:  The terrorist attacks in Barcelona and southern Spain -- beloved by Cookie and Keller, who will soon return -- have left Cookie depressed and determined to do something, even in a small way. What can we do -- as global citizens -- to halt extremism and take a stand against terrorism. Its most recent victims were simply enjoying a sunny summer day on Barcelona's famed Las Ramblas. What is our individual responsibility? Give it some thought, and travel safely -- with savvy and kindness -- remembering to explore, learn and live. Catch us Friday evenings when we post for each weekend, our take on travel, nature, the arts, famous cities, friends, family, pets and food. 


  1. Our family has deep Ashland ties, too. Interesting the ways in which live theater creates lifelong bonds and indelible memories. Thank you.

  2. Portugal Fellow TravelersAugust 16, 2017 at 12:09 PM

    What, plays and playing in nature. Great combination. Fun photos, too. Look forward to more on Oregon.