|To Be in Ashland by Rosario Albar|
|This article was published in the Manila Bulletin USA, April 24-30, 2003 issue.|
|The Elizabethan stage was modeled after the old Fortune Theatre in London. It provides an authentic backdrop for Shakespearean productions.|
|The road to Ashland on Highway 5 is long but rewarding. The flat and uneventful terrain leads to cool, Alpine country of the Cascade Range. Mount Shasta at 14,161 ft. dominates the surrounding area with its powerful presence. Its snowcapped summit is often shrouded by clouds. Lake Shasta meanders between steep hillsides and a basalt-covered shoreline. It is one of many lakes and rivers in this region. The solitary Black Butte dome is hard to miss. It rises like an Egyptian pyramid with its near perfect silhouette.
Ashland is a small university town with a rich cultural life. Its main street is a temptation of delights and treats with art galleries, restaurants, cafes, boutiques and bookshops that invite visitors to browse and linger. Lithia Park is a hundred-acre oasis smack in the center of town.
Angus Bowmer, a teacher from Southern Oregon Normal School (now Southern Oregon University), had the idea to present Shakespearean works during the July 4th festivities of the city. With $400 from the Ashland city council, he launched the first festival in July 1935 with the presentation of Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice. But there was a catch. Bowmer had to allow daytime boxing matches onstage because the city fathers thought these matches would attract a big crowd and they could safeguard their $400 investment. As it turned out, the festival had to cover the losses incurred by the boxing matches. Now on its 68th year, the Tony award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) runs from late February to October. Since 1960, works by other playwrights are repesented in repertory along with selections from the Bard.
The three theater venues for the festival are located on Pioneer Street. The Angus Bowmer Theatre seats 600 comfortably. The New Theatre provides intimate indoor seating for 250-350 playgoers and a flexible staging area while the Allen Pavilion has outdoor seating for 1200 people. The latter officially opens in mid June. The Elizabethan stage in the Allen Pavilion is modeled after the Fortune Theater in London (which opened in 1600), lending an authentic backdrop for Shakespearean productions.
A theater tour is conducted daily (except Mondays) and is a fascinating way to go behind-the-scenes. A guide takes visitors backstage for an informative and fun look at how lighting, sound equipment, props and background scenery can transform the stage and enhance a play or how costume and make-up can change an actor and add depth to the character he is performing. You will have an opportunity to stand on the Elizabethan stage and if you're not shy, you can deliver a line or two from your favorite play.
The 2003 season brings 11 plays to the stage. There are four Shakespeare plays, three world premieres of contemporary works, and four classical dramas. We watched Romeo and Juliet and were caught in the timeless love story of two young people whose feuding families would put their love to the ultimate test and lead them to a tragic end. The play is set in contemporary Verona and the actors are clad in black leather pants with Italian designer accessories. This is a quite a novelty, one which I personally enjoyed. At the end of the show, the audience rose to its feet and applauded the performers amidst tears and sniffles from many who were moved by the outcome. As Juliet so poignantly tells Romeo in Act II. Scene II:
"Parting is such sweet sorrow
That I shall say good night till it be morrow".
For a change of pace, the Cabaret Theater on 1st and Hargadine (a block from Pioneer St.) presents musicals, revues and comedies in an elegant nightclub setting. You may choose to order dinner or merely come for the show. Their summer production "Pageant" is about a beauty contest where men will portray the role of female contestants. It promises to be a "hoot".
If you prefer outdoor pursuits, there are many options to choose from including kayaking, whitewater rafting, fishing trips and jetboat excursions on the Rogue River or wine tasting tours in the Rogue Valley. How about exploring the Oregon Caves or spending a day at Crater Lake returning to Ashland in time for an evening play? You may also wish to pamper yourself with a spa treatment or perhaps splurge on a shopping jaunt. Whatever you decide to do, Ashland offers a diversity of activities. If I may quote Hamlet from The Tempest, "The play's the thing." And Ashland is center stage!
Getting there: From San Francisco take Highway 80 to 505 then connect with Highway 5 north. The drive will take approximately 6 1/2 hours. Alternatively, United Airlines flies from SFO to Medford, Oregon. Frequent shuttle bus services connects Medford and Ashland.
Hotel: The Best Western Bard's Inn is at 132 North Main St. and a short walk to the teaters and Main street shops and restaurants. There is free parking (a plus especially during the summer months when parking is at a premium). Continental breakfast is included. Their phone number is 800/528-1234 or you may access their website at www. bardsinn.com.
Tickets: For more information on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, check out their website at www.osfashland.org or call 541/482-4331 for the repertory schedule. To purchase tickets online for the Cabaret Theater shows, log on to www.oregoncabaret.com or call 541/488-2902.