Fans of Will Shakespeare KNOW the Stratfords: England. Ontario/Canada, Connecticut/USA, but Ashland/OR is a bit out of the way, and its name lacks their resonance. Except. of course, to those of us for whom it is our closest, most professional troupe, leaning toward the Bard. (For those unfamiliar: Ashland offers several Shakespeare plays, as well as “oldies-but-goodies”, plus lesser-known playwrights. Its acting company, engaged thru much of the year, acts in “repertory” mode, so a “star” of one play, may be an incidental character in another.)
Ashland itself, a medium-sized TOWN, rests just east of a low range of mountains separating it from ocean breezes, just a few miles north of California’s border. In terms of mileage, it is roughly the same distance from Seattle/WA and San Francisco/CA on a major Interstate.
There are four theatres, of which three continue to be active (the fourth, a wonderful in-the-round “Black Swan” is used primarily for practicing): the great outdoor “Elizabethan” designed in the style of Shakespeare’s “Globe”; the Bowmer, an indoor theatre of seats steeped sufficiently that line-of-sight is never more than 65′ from its stage; and, the New Theatre, which, designed along “in-the-round” style seems, sometimes, like a high school basketball gym.
For most of us, it’s the Elizabethan Theatre, a sense of seeing Will’s plays presented (and, usually, its performances are from his pen) in a manner close to their original, which provides an emotional and historical connection. (For those of you w/greater interest about this festival, consider looking into osfashland.org).
Commanding space between Bowmer and Elizabethan, there’s a modest platform on a small, brick and grass “green”. Before evening shows, an eclectic assortment of musicians offer an hour of pre-play delight.
The high, ivy-laced dark walls of the Elizabethan seem a bit bland, but, once inside, long rows of plaques identify every play performed, each year, since 1934. A sloping ground floor and (for those sissies unwilling to “soak up” Will during one of Ashland’s occasional rainstorms [no umbrellas allowed]) a covered balcony offers seats akin to a baseball stadium. Its stage has a mock-Tudor motif, and, typically, “sets” are cleverly designed to enter and exit quickly and conveniently. (Don’t mean to sound “promotional”, but guided tours backstage are wonderful).
The Bowmer is a more conventional space, tho not to a point of proscenium arch. It’s an irregularly shaped stage before a traditional seating arrangements. As indicated, the New IS… modern, a bit stark, but a good-sized stage which handles “open” sets quite well.