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Oregon Shakespeare Festival celebrates diversity

From the tastes of Mexico served from a taco truck to free readings of plays by multicultural playwrights, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has something for everyone during CultureFest.

Activities celebrating multi-ethnic heritage and diverse works run from Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 11-14, on the OSF campus, 15 S. Pioneer St., and at the Varsity Theatre, 166 E. Main St., in downtown Ashland.

"Everyone is welcome," says Antonio Lyons, co-producer of CultureFest 2014. "It's a moment for us to celebrate the work we're doing and make our audiences feel even more welcome than they already do."

A favorite from past CultureFest celebrations, the El Gallo Taco Truck will be parked near the OSF box office and Thomas Theatre, serving up Mexican food.

OSF's free Green Show performances held on the Courtyard Stage will take on a multicultural flair, ranging from traditional Mexican folk dances to Japanese taiko drumming.

At 8 p.m. Thursday in the Thomas Theatre, OSF Playwright in Residence Luis Alfaro will perform "St. Jude" — a piece mixing pathos and laughter that explores his childhood memories of picking grapes in the Central Valley of California, attending gospel-infused tent revivals and running away from his home. Tickets cost $10 to $20.

At 10 a.m. Saturday, actors will perform a free reading of Quiara Alegría Hudes' "Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue" in the Varsity Theatre. The first in a trilogy, the play explores the timeless impacts of war on multiple generations of one family. Tickets will be required. OSF is presenting "Water by the Spoonful," the second play in the trilogy, this season. It will present the third next year.

"Audiences will be able to have continuity and have the full experience of the plays," Lyons says. "They can take a journey with the playwright."

A free reading and discussion of the play "Leftovers" by young playwright Josh Wilder is set for 10 a.m. Sunday in the Varsity Theatre. Tickets will be required. Wilder has been compared to playwright August Wilson for his stories involving race and culture set in specific geographic places.

"Leftovers" is set in inner Philadelphia, where two brothers make wishes on a huge dandelion growing through a crack in a sidewalk.

"They begin to make wishes about the kind of life they would like to have amid disappointments. Some of the wishes begin to come true," Lyons says. "It's a story of family, longing, disappointments, loving and hope."

Spanish captions will be offered on electronic reader boards during OSF's performances "The Comedy of Errors" at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14; "Water by the Spoonful" at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13; and "The Great Society" at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13.

For more information, visit https://osfashland.org. For tickets to regularly scheduled plays and most CultureFest ticketed events, call the OSF box office at 541-482-4331. For tickets to Spanish-captioned plays and for discounted tickets to plays for under-represented groups and individuals, call 541-482-2111, ext. 295.

Thursday, Sept. 116:45 p.m. – Poetry, theater and music ensemble UNIVERSES performs during the Green Show. All Green Show performances are free.8 p.m. – "St. Jude" will be presented in the Thomas Theatre. Tickets cost $10 to $20.

Friday, September 1210 a.m. – Creating Inclusivity in the American Theater: A Conversation with Carmen Morgan, Sarah Bellamy (Penumbra Theatre), David Henry Hwang (playwright who wrote the Tony Award-winning "M. Butterfly") and OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch will be held in the Thomas Theatre. Admission is free, but tickets will be required.4 p.m. – "The Comedy of Errors": A Post-Matinee Discussion will be presented in the New Place on the OSF campus. The discussion is free.6:45 p.m. – Versa Style Dance Company performs at the Green Show.

Saturday, Sept. 1310 a.m. – Play reading and discussion of "Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue," by Quiara Alegría Hudes, will be held in the Varsity Theatre. Admission is free, but requires a ticket.Noon – Ballet Folklórico Ritmo Alegre presents traditional Mexican folk dancing at the Green Show.4:30 p.m. – A post-matinee discussion of the play "Water by the Spoonful" will be presented in the New Place. Admission is free.6:45 p.m. – Heiwa Taiko, a group of taiko drummers age 72 to 89, will perform at the Green Show.

Sunday, Sept. 1410 a.m. – Play reading and discussion of "Leftovers" by Josh Wilder will be held in the Varsity Theatre. Free with ticket.Noon – Mitsuki Dazai performs Japanese koto music at the Green Show.4:30 p.m. – "Whose Theatre is This?" a facilitated discussion with the audience, will be held in the New Place. Admission is free.6:45 p.m. – Versa Style Dance Company performs at the Green Show.

Mariachi group Las Colibri play at the 2012 CultureFest at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Photo courtesy of Jenny Graham