Web Analytics Made Easy - Statcounter

Ashland and its Oregon Shakespeare Festival prove well worth the all-day drive

Share this Post:
Alice in Wonderland (2019) in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Allen Elizabethan Theatre — Photo by Kim Budd
Alice in Wonderland (2019) in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Allen Elizabethan Theatre — Photo by Kim Budd

The drive from Seattle to Ashland, Oregon, takes one long day or two short days. I've made this journey nearly every June since 1998, usually carpooling with a friend or two.

But with perfectly good theater available right here in the Seattle area, why make this annual trek south? So many reasons!

First, spending a week in Ashland is like attending an immersive theater camp for grownups. Pre-pandemic, it was possible to see as many as 10 plays in a week, or, as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) motto used to recommend, "Stay three days, see four plays."

The company has slowly been returning to a full-scale repertory schedule in its one outdoor and two indoor theaters, and this season (late March to mid-October), it will mount 10 plays, with six running concurrently. In addition, the festival offers pre-performance educational sessions and post-performance "talkbacks." During the summer, when the outdoor theater is open, a Green Show on the Courtyard Stage showcases Southern Oregon musical talent before each evening performance.

Macbeth (2024) Erica Sullivan and Kevin Kenerly — Photo by Jenny Graham  

Second, the productions are top-notch, with superb direction, casting, and design. After a rough patch during the past few years, OSF is back on its feet. Tim Bond, who was associate artistic director from 1996 to 2007, has returned as artistic director. he lives in Ashland and has strong community ties, as well as good working relationships with many of the directors and actors who have made OSF such a great festival over the years.

For the current season, he has brought back some of the audience's favorite actors, including Kevin Kenerly, Erica Sullivan, Kate Hurster, David Kelly, Jennie Greenberry, Rodney Gardiner, Robin Goodrin Nordli, Rex Young, Vilma Silva, John Tufts, Barzin Akhavan, and Amy Kim Waschke. Seeing the same actor do an outstanding job in completely different roles is one of the joys of attending several plays at OSF.

Born with Teeth (2024) Alex Purcell and Bradley James Tejada — Photo by Jenny Graham  

Third, the audiences are the best. I've attended co-productions between OSF and Seattle Rep, and found that the Seattle Rep audience was more impatient and less attentive. It makes sense: they live locally and need to get up early the next day for a job or household responsibilities. In Ashland, the audience is there for theater, period. And even though the resident population is predominantly white, OSF's social justice initiatives (championed by Bond and others) have led to diversity in casting, which in turn has attracted a diverse audience.

Finally, even if you're not a theater nerd, Ashland is a delightful, Queer-friendly town, the only place in notoriously right-wing Southern Oregon where most of us can feel comfortable.

If you stay in a hotel there, you can park your car for the duration of your stay and walk to performances, meals, shops, and galleries. There are a couple of beautiful parks right in town too, including Lithia Park adjacent to the festival grounds. If you prefer to camp, Emigrant Lake County Park is a lovely spot for your tent or RV.

What's in store for this season
In the medium-sized indoor Angus Bowmer Theatre, two plays are already running: William Shakespeare's Macbeth, which requires no introduction, and Born with Teeth, a new comedy by Liz Duffy Adams that envisions a testy collaboration between Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe.

Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender (2024) Lisa Wolpe — Photo by Jenny Graham  

In the intimate Thomas Theatre, three one-person shows currently take turns: until May 4, Lisa Wolpe's Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender; until May 12, Rodney Gardiner's Smote This: A Comedy about God and Other Serious $H*T; and opening on May 16, Robin Goodrin Nordli's Virgins to Villains: My Journey with Shakespeare's Women.

In the large outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre, two plays will open in early June and run through mid-October: Shakespeare's comedy Much Ado about Nothing and a stage adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

Over the summer, three additional plays will open in the Thomas Theatre: the indie-rock musical Lizard Boy, starting on June 11; Shakespeare's Coriolanus, beginning July 23 with an all-women cast; and Barzin Akhavan's one-person play Behfarmaheen (if you please), about his experience immigrating to the US from Iran, opening July 31.

For more information and to purchase tickets to OSF performances, visit http://osfashland.org