Friday, December 7, 2018

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: All hail a wondrous arts achievement

The Allen Elizabethan Theatre features a classical setting for three plays each season at Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Three theaters offer a dozen plays for the 2019 season, a far-reaching variety from "Macbeth" to "Hairspray."


The Allen Elizabethan Theater will feature "Macbeth"
while the Thomas Theatre features "How to Catch Creation."

View from a suite at Ashland Hills Hotel, a beautiful way to preface or
follow a play.  Rogue Valley surroundings are peaceful and picturesque.
SEEING TEN PLAYS in a week can be a downright dizzying experience. But it's energizing, intriguing, and fun. Ashland, Oregon's world famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival brings out the theater buff in even the unwashed.  But for lifelong devotees, the festival offers a stimulating banquet of delights. For me, the festival represents a half-century plus of family trips to Ashland, to immerse ourselves in world class theater in a setting dear to our collective heart.
THANKS TO an enterprising visionary, Scotsman Angus Bowmer, we frequent the  festival in an arts-friendly, walkable town. Bowmer lived in the Rogue Valley long before World War II, championing theater and building interest in a small offering of plays.  Through his persistence and clever promotion, his 1934 dream became a flourishing festival. Thank the drama gods that clever Bowmer devised a way for the town's popular boxing matches to fund his deeper passion, theater. Today his name graces one
The Bowmer Theater lobby readies for a performance. 
of the festival's three very different venues. The Allen Elizabethan Theatre and Thomas Theatre are the other two venues. Ashland relies on theater to keep its impressive number of shops and restaurants afloat.
BELOVED LITHIA Park near the complex welcomes strollers, who find high-quality buskers entertaining and beautiful birds, trees and water to enjoy.
A quality pair of sister hotels leads the parade of fine places to stay: the historic and beautifully appointed Ashland Springs Hotel downtown, and the pretty Ashland Hills Hotel and Suites, a quick mile from the center of the action in a beautiful hillside setting.
Strollers in Lithia Park pause to enjoy Bach played by
a world class cellist, one of many treats in Ashland.
 The festival's first production, the bard's "Twelfth Night,"  has been performed many times and Bowmer's shoestring enterprise now boasts a budget of more than $40 million. The festival enhances the state's economy, last year contributing more than $128 million. Our family is part of the 88 per cent of theater goers who travel more than 125 miles to attend the Festival. We've chatted in the Bowmer, beneath a portrait of the founder, with friends from our two favorite hotels.  Fellow guests come from as far away as England and Canada, and many U.S. states to the Tony-winning festival.
AND WHILE Shakespeare is still offered -- this season a brilliant "Othello" and "Henry V" -- there are stimulating new plays, and fresh takes on old favorites for 798 performances. This year, we enjoyed a spirited, gay version of "Oklahoma" -- the romances featured two same-sex pairs.
Known for its daring casting, OSF's
"Oklahoma" featured two same-sex
couples. Here Curly talks to Aunt Eller.

                           --photo courtesy OSF
Luna is a relaxing place to unwind for a bite at Ashland Hills 
Hotel,  with tasty food, pleasant environment. 
Curly was a woman and Ado Annie was a guy, Ado Andy. OSF thinks outside the box, pushes the envelope in gender-bending ways, expanding possibilities with interesting ethnic casting and a rejection of cliches and party-line interpretations.  Next season's line-up will offer the Broadway hit "Hairspray" for its musical, and "Macbeth" will be presented in the outdoor theater, along with "All's Well That Ends Well" and a musical "Alice in Wonderland."
Cookie enjoys a sip of water from an iconic
fountain in the center of Ashland. The water
is supposed to be healthy, full of minerals.

A DARING, inventive recent play, "Indecent," which we saw in its world premier at the La Jolla Playhouse, runs in the Bowmer along with "Between Two Knees" in the Thomas. "As You Like It" plays the Bowmer, too." Something old, something new, that's OSF. Backstage tours, lectures, forums, and a popular Green Show enhance.  
Oregon Cabaret Theatre offers a pleasant addition to the
theater scene in Ashland. For more than three decades,
the Cabaret has offered first-rate dinner theater. 
Shakespeare one afternoon, a classic drama that evening. Musical theater the next afternoon.  A new, cutting edge play at night, a bite to eat, a rest, another play or two. Members have a beautiful lounge in which to relax and enjoy a beverage and snack. Memberships are as little as $35, a wonderful way to support this imaginative endeavor.
DINNER THEATER is alive and well in Ashland, too.  Oregon Cabaret Theater entertains in an historic, welcoming setting -- with a fine menu and famous desserts. This picturesque little town of Ashland has a thriving dinner theater, one of the country's most successful.  And it performs on Monday when OSF is dark. Steps from the Festival in a beautifully converted church, the Cabaret personifies Ashland's blend of sophistication and appeal.
We have been devotees of the Cabaret as long as we've been coming to the Shakespeare Festival.  It never fails to entertain, and the food is delightful. This year's "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" featured a tasty French inspired menu.  The holiday show looks wonderful and the run has just been extended. The cabaret -- like Ashland itself -- satisfies both town and gown tastes, delighting all the senses.;;;

Cookie, right in the red plaid, and her niece, Amarylla,
with her two youngsters, James and Peny, enjoy Filoli.

UP NEXT: Filoli is decked out for the holidays. The extraordinary country house south of San Francisco is set in 16 acres of formal gardens on the eastern slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The house is celebrating the season with color and light and a fresh new take on holiday decor in every room. The spectacular gardens are open during this magical time with special holiday touches by day and elegant lighting in the evening. Find out who owned this magnificent estate and how a visit has become such a popular tradition for thousands in the Bay Area and beyond. Artisan markets and entertainment, delightful food and even horses make an outing a family friendly event. Nest CafĂ©.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, the arts, nature, family and living outside the box.


  1. Since as long as we can recall, we, too, have not missed a visit to this remarkable festival. So nice to hear another person's testimony to the wonders of theater -- and a visionary man who made it all possible. Here's to Ashland.

  2. Santa Fe Drama BuffsDecember 10, 2018 at 5:33 PM

    Fun story, fun photos. Great to see this terrific Festival remains so inventive and far-reaching. Ashland always thinks outside the box. You do too.