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.  The Rogue Valley surrounds 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.
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 "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 AND inventive recent play, "Indecent," which we saw in its world premier at the La Jolla Playhouse, will be performed in the Bowmer along with "Between Two Knees" in the Thomas. "As You Like It" will play the Bowmer, too." Something old, something new, that's OSF. Backstage tours, lectures, forums, and a popular Green Show enhance the options.  
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.
And don't overlook Oregon Cabaret Theater, which personifies Ashland's blend of sophistication and appeal.  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 unfolds in a lovely, historic renovated church and like Ashland itself, satisfies both town and gown tastes, delighting all the senses.;;;

The gorgeous Amalfi coast comes even more alive with the right tour.
A well tuned tour and a lively, intelligent guide enhances the journey.
UP NEXT: So much to see in Europe, so little time. It's so important to choose the right tour.  We found a fantastic way to explore Naples and the Amalfi Coast through Can't Be Missed Tours.  Come with us and meet our lively guides, with special treats in Positano and the lovely villages that pepper the hillsides. CBM makes Rome, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast come alive in new exciting ways -- even for those of us who have been to Italy many times. Tips on finding the right tour fit -- and more. 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.