I'm embarrassed to admit I'd lived in Ashland for nearly eight years before attending Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Park Talks or other Festival Noon events. Festival Noons are casual lectures, panel discussions or workshops with OSF company artists and visiting scholars. The phrase "visiting scholars" may give some people pause, but these events aren't stuffy.
OSF In Residence Programs Manager Sarah Langan says the noontime events have a broad appeal.
"We try to offer a variety of programs," she says. "Our patrons enjoy them and are always anxious for more."
This season, lecture titles have ranged from "Balconies, Barnacles, and Brothers: Romeo and Juliet and Theatrical Anecdotes," to "Smokin D'bate: Acoustic Soul, Funk, Rock, Hip-Hop, Shakespeare and Improvisation," along with sword-fighting demonstrations, actor talks and a discussion with members of the Black Panthers and Young Lords.
Each week, OSF offers a list of activities. Lectures happen Wednesday and Friday. Thursdays, there are longer versions of OSF prefaces called Preface Plus, where one can learn more about themes and characters in specific plays.
"The prefaces are fascinating," Langan says. "They serve as a way of preparing for the play you are about to see and let you look at a show from a different angle. For me, it's great to see the faces in the audience light up as they see something new in the story."
Tuesdays and Sundays offer free Park Talks with company members and artists. The talks take place in the Bill Patton Garden at Lithia Park. Langan says Park Talks are a particular favorite because visitors have a chance to spend time with company members they won't see onstage.
"There's wonderful value in meeting actors, but it's also a great experience for patrons to meet the costume designers, construction supervisors or sign interpreters."
I recently attended a talk by Lydia Garcia, one of the festival's dramaturgs. A dramaturg, I learned, is a theatrical adviser who does many things. Using a car analogy, Garcia says the play is the car, the director the driver and her job is to sit in the passenger seat with a map and a tool kit. I also learned loads about the festival's process of bringing a play to the stage, and the sheer joy Garcia takes in her work.
The audience of about 50 people was allowed plenty of time to ask questions, which ranged from "How do you become a dramaturg?" to "What the heck is going on in 'Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella?'"
Saturdays bring discussion panels and workshops.
"We break with tradition for the Saturday workshops," Langan says. "They are the most interactive and family-oriented. We'll have musicians from a certain production, or we'll stage a fight demo. The fight demos are a blast. When they break out the blood packets, the kids love it."
Recent Saturday events have included a demonstration and lecture by deaf hip-hop artist Sean Forbes, titled "Deaf and Loud," and a performance and discussion with OSF actor Robin Goodrin Nordli, titled "Virgins to Villains: My Life With Shakespeare's Women."
The festival plays alone are entertaining and thought-provoking, but these OSF activities surrounding the plays make for a richer experience and a chance to delve into the inner workings of the theater.
Park Talks run through September. Admission is free, and no tickets are required. All other events are at noon in Carpenter Hall on the OSF campus. Tickets are $9, $7 for ages 6 through 17. For information about Festival Noons see www.osfashland.org or call 541-482-4331.