Thursday, September 21, 2023

Oregon Shakespeare Festival fights back with smaller but stellar season

The audience begins to file in and take seats in preparation for "The Three Musketeers" at Allen Elizabethan Theater.

The "pre show" Green Show is a tradition at Oregon Shakespeare, which has
 struggled since COVID and fires put a serious strain on the much loved fest.




Oregon Shakespeare's outdoor venue, the Allen Elizabethan
Theater, presents two plays: "Twelfth Night" and  
YOU CAN'T keep a good thing down. The award winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival is proof of that time honored observation.
As the embattled festival heads into autumn and its Oct. 15 closing, it's a perfect time to salute the labors of hundreds of staff and thousands of supporters who are rallying to save the Tony winning regional theater and southern Oregon gem.
SINCE 1935,  the enterprising OSF has produced an impressive docket of hundreds of plays -- from Shakespearean tragedy to farce and contemporary comedy, musicals and drama. The festival has garnered international raves for turning out as many as eight or 10 polished productions running in repertory fashion.
The elegant Ashland Springs Hotel is an oasis for
this column's team and an international clientele. 
Traditionally, the festival begins in spring and continues into autumn. COVID clipped the festival's wings, shortening the season and number of works. But OSF is learning to fly again. 
The operation includes three theater spaces and other buildings, occupying a four-acre campus fronting one of Oregon's prettiest sanctuaries -- the peaceful, well loved Lithia Park. Nearby is the Plaza, a bustling and varied complex of shops and eateries in this charming southern Oregon town of 21,600. Front and center is Ashland Springs Hotel, the elegant grand dame in a town full of interesting eateries and welcoming B&Bs with a range of other accommodations for all budgets. Ashland Springs remains our favorite for its beauty, service, artwork, comfort and proximity -- steps away from the festival. Ashland Hills is just a couple miles away from town center, and has proximity to hiking and nature. Both properties have fine restaurants.
The house lights dim, the stage lights go up, a ray of hope
for a continued future of a much loved institution, OSF.
IN 2020, AS OSF struggled with the pandemic and fire, radical lay-offs were instituted. 400 staff and 80 per cent of the workforce were gone, but with determination, financial gifts and adjustment, the festival survived.
Even pared down, the quality and diversity of founder Angus Bowmer's dream live on.  Bowmer, a clever Scotsman, created the fest in 1935, staging boxing matches to fund his theatrical vision. His early festivals offered variety and originality, making theater lovers of sports fans and vice versa. Today's shortened playbill still honors that concept through new work and classics with the trademark inventive OSF spin: gender-bending, colorblind "play's the thing" bravado.
Ashland Springs Hotel is at the center of the city, a lovely oasis
elegantly restored by an enterprising couple. It's our favorite.
If you want to be closer to nature, Ashland Hills is a nice option.
The festival has yet to recover from that near knock-out punch. Besides the layoffs and other emergency measures, a fundraiser was devised. "The Show Must Go On: Save Our Season" raised $2.5 million to complete the 2023 season. But insiders say the fest is not out of the woods yet.

Former artistic director
Nataki Garrett, whose
"Romeo and Juliet" won raves. 


Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie"
Meyers in Lithia Park, Ashland, Oregon.

TURMOIL AT THE TOP and revamped financial goals  result in what OSF board chair Diane Yu calls "a more sustainable business model." The goal "is to foster strong relationships with local businesses, audiences, and donors, to strengthen our fragile infrastructure." Online productions and amped up educational outreach are also planned. 
Along with financial turmoil and recovery from both fires and pandemic, artistic director Nataki Garrett's resignation added to the fest's challenges.  She resigned after death threats and racial slurs and Tim Bond was named to take over as new OSF artistic director Sept. 1.  Garrett is missed -- known as she was for her vision, dynamism and for putting a new, fresh spin on classical works while inviting fresh perspectives in new productions. Her "Romeo and Juliet" this year was an engaging, contemporary interpretation of the great love story. She wrote inciteful program notes.
A young actor spreads
her wings in the Green
Show, a popular feature.

IN ITS GLORY days, up to 2019 -- before the woes of the pandemic -- the festival reached an attendance of an
impressive 360,000. Each patron averaged three shows. We encourage readers to help keep the tradition alive, check out the website, catch the end of the 2023 season ("Rent," "Twelfth Night," "The Three Musketeers," and more). Check out OSF's unhinged "It's Christmas, Carol!" over the holidays and watch for the 2024 season. Consider a donation to sustain the troubled theater and continue founder Bowmer's vision.  Supporters worldwide hope the festival continues. or 800 219-8161 or 885 795-4545

Oregon Cabaret Theatre presents a lively season of
shows, including "Kinky Boots" which added shows
because of sell-out audiences at the popular venue.

We have a fun story for theater lovers as we step inside another Ashland institution, the town's lively cabaret. Fashioned from an old and stately church with a famous chandelier, it is a historic Oregon landmark.  So while we're in an Ashland frame of mind, don't overlook Oregon Cabaret Theatre where "Kinky Boots" is winning raves.  It's just across the street from Oregon Shakespeare Festival and well worth your time for an entertaining evening or afternoon. Then we're off to Florida's Kennedy Space Center, a week with the whales in Depoe Bay, Oregon, a visit to a stunning Portland, Oregon, grotto, and a ride on a trolley in Montana's state capital, Helena. Remember to explore, learn and live with us for a fresh weekly spin on nature, performance, family, travel and more.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant state and national treasure.