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Here & There

Frank McGinity: The Play’s the Thing, But Ashland Could Not be a Better Stage for Shakespeare

Santa Barbara Museum of Art trip to Oregon Shakespeare Festival a charming opportunity to renew love of theater

The historic Ashland Springs Hotel, built in 1925, is the only building in Ashland, Ore., over three stories.
The historic Ashland Springs Hotel, built in 1925, is the only building in Ashland, Ore., over three stories. (Frank McGinity photo)

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
— William Shakespeare, in As You Like It

William Shakespeare has been one of the world’s best and most enduring playwrights for more than four centuries. Today his plays are still performed all over the world.

So, when the opportunity came along to attend the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., we jumped at the opportunity. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art made the arrangements for a small group of 16.

The city of Ashland is somewhat similar to Santa Barbara. It’s very restrictive in its building codes, and maintains charming streets with quaint restaurants and inns.

Of course, the center of cultural life are the three live theaters in the heart of downtown. Ashland is also surrounded by large mountain ranges to add to its beauty.

We all stayed at the historic Ashland Springs Hotel, built in 1925. The hotel at 212 E. Main St. is the only building in the city over three stories.

But we were there, primarily, to attend the world renown Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Founded in 1935, the festival is one of the oldest and largest professional nonprofit theaters in the country.

Each year the festival presents a season spanning 8½ months, staging 11 plays, in three theaters. And, as Charles Isherwood reported in a Sept. 2 article in The New York Times, the festival strives to be very inclusive of minorities in its plays.

Our favorite performance during our four days was Shakespeare’s Pericles. As a plus, our guide for the trip, Devon Scott, arranged for a conference with one of the lead actors after the performance. He provided an extensive briefing, not only of the background of Pericles, but also on many of Shakespeare’s works.

Ashland, Ore., is the proud home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, one of the oldest and largest professional nonprofit theaters in the Unite States. Click to view larger
Ashland, Ore., is the proud home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, one of the oldest and largest professional nonprofit theaters in the Unite States. (Frank McGinity photo)

We had two professional actors in our group, so that added to the depth of the conversation.

The following day we attended Sweat, a ready-for-Broadway play about the tremors of closing down the main factory in Redding, Pa. This performance was at the Angus Bowmer Theatre and, like Pericles, was followed by a debriefing of the play.

Three theaters are clustered together in Ashland: 

» Angus Bowmer Theatre, 68 E. Main St., seats 600.

» Thomas Theatre, 325 N. Main St., is more intimate with 274 seats.

» Allen Elizabethan Theatre, 15 S. Pioneer St., is the largest with 1,200 seats in an outdoor amphitheater configuration. Here we attended a magnificent performance of Romeo and Juliet on our final night.

While we were in Ashland, we couldn’t overlook the many fine restaurants, as well.

Our favorite was the Alchemy Restaurant & Bar at the Winchester Inn, 35 S. Second St., but Amuse, 15 N. First St., wasn’t far behind. I was disappointed that there wasn’t one pear dish on the menus, since this is one of the largest pear harvesting regions in the country.

We came for Shakespeare and we couldn’t have been happier with the performances. And we renewed our acquaintance with the best playwright of all times.

— Frank McGinity is a Santa Barbara resident. The opinions expressed are his own.

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