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Ashland - Shakespeare & More

One look at Ashland, Oregon and it was love at first sight. With its historic, tree-lined streets and turn-of-the-century Victorian homes, the town—nestled in the verdant foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains just 15 miles from the southern Oregon border—is downright charming. The main draw, however, was the outdoor Shakespeare theatre I’d heard so much about. Without much ado, my friend and I dumped our bags and headed there without so much as an upward glance.

The stage of the amphitheater juts out from a stately Tudor facade like a wide castle moat. Sitting under the open sky, I began to feel as if I’d traveled back in time. As soon as the lights dimmed and the actors of Richard II hit the stage, I lost myself completely to the 14th century.

Midway through the performance, it started to rain. We put on what little rain gear we had and the actors put on theirs. With bright yellow slickers covering the ornate velvet costumes, it became impossible to tell which warring faction was which. But neither that nor the rain mattered, especially once we had dried off over Irish coffees in Paddy Brannan's Irish Pub. Think dark wood, Celtic music and great fun in a bar that’s been there for decades.

Shakespeare for—and Across—the Ages

During my second visit, I would experience Shakespearean comedy performed indoors in bebop style, complete with 1950s music, costumes and cars. Crazy, Daddy-o! The festival regularly transports Shakespeare into different eras. The 2014 version of The Comedy of Errors is set in the 1920’s Harlem Renaissance and features a primarily African American cast. What I love about this kind of modernization is that you realize that the Bard’s themes cross both cultural and timelines.

Shakespeare and Beyond

But there’s much more than Shakespeare at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). The 2014 season, which runs from February through early November, features just four plays by Shakespeare. The remainder of the eleven plays performed on two indoor stages and the flagship outdoor Elizabethan Stage (open early June through mid-October) include contemporary comedies, dramas and musicals as well as world premieres.

Don’t stop there. The play may be the thing, but it’s just one of many at this theatrical extravaganza. For a true front-row seat, take advantage of all the different ways to enjoy the country’s largest and most famous Shakespeare Festival.

Go Behind the Scenes

See “the show behind the show’ with a 1 ¾-hour walking tour led by a company member. In addition to learning about the festival’s history and the challenges of operating a theater in repertory, you can snoop backstage and check out the Green Room among other behind-the-scenes areas. The tour, which is deemed suitable for kids 6 and older, does require stair climbing but a stairless tour is available if you reserve in advance. Call 800-219-8161.

Family Fun

To really make the theater a family experience that all will enjoy, plan to attend a Family Day performance which is preceded by an entertaining introduction courtesy of a member of the Festival’s educational team. These aren’t offered often, so you’ll want to check the schedule and plan ahead.  While you’re at it, check into other Festival-related educational events. In 2014, for example, the Festival has partnered with ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum to lead in-depth discussions and demonstrations about the play A Wrinkle in Time. Check the calendar for dates and availability.

Go Big and Go Deep

For those playgoers who want to learn more about the theater, hour-long ­­noon lectures by visiting scholars and artists happen several times a week during the summer. Check the website for the schedule. Summer months also feature Evening Prefaces before Allen Elizabethan Theatre shows at 5:30 p.m.

Feel an urge to immerse yourself in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival experience? Take a class. Theater artists and scholars lead class sessions that include lectures and presentations. You’ll also get a chance to get company members’ perspectives and insights. Classes last anywhere from a weekend to five days. You can either purchase a package that includes the classes and the plays or buy a class-only package and book your play tickets separately.

Free Entertainment

During the summer and fall months, the Green Show features music, dance, storytelling and more from around the world on Tuesday through Sunday evenings from 6:45 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Courtyard Stage. Check the website for the schedule.

Pre-Theater Meal

Looking for a pre-theater lunch or dinner spot with great food that won’t cost you an arm and a leg? Try Pasta Piatti on East Main Street. I had the Cavatelli—house-made pasta with a sauce of pork braised in red wine, roasted garlic and Castelvetrano olives—while sitting outside on the restaurant’s lovely patio. That particular (and particularly fabulous) dish is only available at dinner, but the antipasti, soups, salads, panini and hand-tossed pizzas, to say nothing of all the other pastas, could keep anyone happily busy for a week of dining.