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OSF, Oregon Cabaret has a hit with Spelling Bee

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

As Seattle area GLBT theater fans prepare for the annual August AIDS fundraiser at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, it's a good time to take a quick look at all of the theater and entertainment offerings in the Rogue River area. OSF is the major focus, of course, and the upcoming Daedalus Project, celebrating its 22nd year, is the magnet for many GLBT Ashland visitors. Other local theaters have interesting schedules that add to the diversity of the Ashland experience. Productions of __Cabaret__ and __Shirley Valentine__ at respected community theaters ran through mid-July. New productions are planned. Read on:

DAEDALUS CELEBRATES 22nd YEAR, HOPES FOR $60,000 ON AUGUST 17
OSF's annual Daedalus Project raises money to support AIDS research and people living with AIDS on a local, statewide, national and international level. The one-day AIDS fundraiser has averaged $60,000 for the past several years, raising more than $230,000 in the past four years alone. OSF estimates the total for the first 21 years at more than $750,000. The 2009 Daedalus Project is planned for Monday, August 17.

"The first year, we raised about $6,000 and thought that was big-time," the project's founder told __Bits&Bytes__ several years ago. "We had no idea it would balloon into such a success." Each year, the whole community draws together to raise funds for AIDS. The annual Monday evening OSF Talent Show, with tickets starting at $25, raises the bulk of the funds but other events add to the total.

An afternoon play reading, usually a contemporary play with a GLBT theme, is a popular event. This year, Tony Kushner's __Angels In America, Part Two: Perestroika__ will be presented Monday afternoon. Tickets are a modest $15. (__Part One__ of the Pulitzer Prize-winning work was presented last year.)

One of the emotional highlights of the evening performance is the closing role call, in which each member of the cast steps forwards and speaks the name or names of family or friends lost to AIDS. At the end of the candlelit event, audience members are asked to add names to the role call. It is often a tearful closing. A stark contrast to the solemn closing is the intermission "underwear contest" where various groups from OSF model "underwear" made from the most unlikely sources - the ushers won in a recent year with underwear made from recycled ticket stubs. Audience members "vote" with cash donations for the favorite - and, often, the least-dressed - model.

Free events on the Festival's Green Stage, the Arts & Treasure Show, a sampling of homemade offerings (jams, jellies, craft items), and a quilt raffle all add to the Daedalus treasury. Tickets are on sale at (541) 482-4331. Check it out.

OCT HAS BIG H-I-T WITH __SPELLING BEE_, RUNNING TO AUGUST 30
The Oregon Cabaret Theatre, known locally as "The Little Theater That Could," is one of the most popular groups with Ashland and nearby area residents. Housed in a converted church just blocks from OSF's three-theater complex, OCT hosts a series of mini-musicals and small cast comedies that seem to always delight. __Bits&Bytes__ looks forward to the often zany or nostalgia-filled productions as the perfect contrast to the more "serious" nature of many OSF offerings.

Clever programming finds OCT open on Monday nights, the "dark" night for OSF. Visitors can add OCT to their travel plans without skipping an OSF production. A dinner or brunch option turns OCT into a "special occasion" venue for local audiences--there's almost always a large table of birthday or anniversary celebrations adding to the fun of the outing.

Continuing through August 30, OCT has a big H-I-T on stage with the Tony Award winning __The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee__. Using mainly students from the drama program at Southern Oregon University, OCT happily nails the charms of the mini-musical. The show has a small cast by Broadway standards, but a large cast by OCT tradition. The college students play the junior high students, and local actors take on the adult roles, often double cast, as they were on Broadway (and on a national tour that played Seattle).

The concept is simple: We are at the title event - the 25th year of the spelling bee in Putnam County. Three volunteers from the audience even join the production as contestants - and are quickly disqualified to keep the show moving along. Each of the young contestants has a quirky, charming backstory.

One girl has two dads, two Gay dads. One has a distant mother. One, an overweight near-winner from last year, has a "Magic Foot" (and a song of the same name) which helps him spell out every word. One girl lacks the entrance fee and could be disqualified if her father doesn't arrive with the money. One, an overachieving Boy Scout on the verge of puberty, has his first sexual arousal and sings about it in "My Unfortunate Erection." That distraction gets him bounced from the bee - but turns the audience into a hilarious support group.

Jim Giancarlo, OCT's artistic director, directs and choreographs __Spelling Bee__ with his usual style. It's a delight from start to finish. OCT continues its 24th season with __What's Goin' On: Songs Of The '70s_, another in the popular musical anthologies that OCT stages so well, running September 9-November 1. __Holiday Memories__ runs November 11 through New Year's Eve. Ticket information on all OCT productions is available at (541) 488-2902 or check at www.oregoncabaret.com. The upcoming 25th anniversary season will be announced this fall - watch this space.

NEW SHOWS AT OSF BRING 2009 TOTAL TO 11 FULL PRODUCTIONS
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival produces 11 plays a year, a mix of classic titles, including four by Shakespeare, classics from world theater and contemporary choices. __SGN__ reviewers reported on the four winter openings and four spring and summer titles. __All's Well That Ends Well_, a Shakespeare comedy, and Clifford Odet's rarely staged family drama, __Paradise Lost_, opened in mid-summer. Goldoni's 250-year old comedy __The Servant Of Two Masters_, in a new adaptation, joined the mixed repertory season in March. All three continue through the end of the indoor season, November 1.

Complete play information is available at (800) 219-8161, toll free, or www.osfashland.org. August is the busiest month for OSF, so expect sell out dates. Be sure to ask to be added to the season mailer for the 2010 season.

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