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The shows will go on

Play, concerts in Elizabethan, holiday season in the Bowmer

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival will be up and running for in-person audiences earlier than planned when the curtain lifts July 1 on the Allen Elizabethan Theatre.

In addition, there will be weekly Wednesday outdoor concerts at the Elizabethan from July 21 to Oct. 6, and OSF’s first-ever holiday season, Nov. 28 to Jan. 2, in the Angus Bowmer Theatre.

Cheryl L. West’s “Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer,” a musical play inspired by the life of the civil rights activist, will run from July 1 to Oct. 9, starring two luminaries of the American stage — E. Faye Butler (July 1 – Aug. 28) and Greta Oglesby (Sept. 1 – Oct. 9). An onstage band will provide backup music for the one-woman show.

Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Concerts take over the Wednesday slot once they begin on July 21.

The creative team includes director Henry Godinez, music director Felton Offard, costume designer Michael Allen Stein, lighting designer Xavier Pierce, sound designer Bernard Johnson, and stage managers Gwen Turos and Quy Ton.

“Fannie” is a co-commission of the Goodman Theatre and Seattle Repertory Theatre, where it will open in October and early 2022, respectively, after the OSF run. Asolo Repertory Theatre of Sarasota, Florida, launched the rolling world premieres of “Fannie” earlier this year.

The “utterly unstoppable” (Chicago Tribune) Butler performed “Fannie” in the Asolo Rep premiere. Oglesby, an actress and singer of “earth-shaking vocal prowess” (Minneapolis Star-Telegram), has been featured in five previous seasons at OSF, most recently as Motormouth Maybelle in “Hairspray” and G. K. Marche in “How to Catch Creation.”

“Fannie” tells the story of the Mississippi-born civil and voting rights activist (1917 – 1977), painting a portrait of courage, humor, and grit. The play provides a first-person account of Hamer’s remarkable life, alternating between autobiography and song, just as Hamer herself incorporated art into her activism.

She organized the Freedom Summer, which in 1964 recruited racially diverse college students to assist with African American voter registration in the segregated South. At the Democratic Convention later that year, Hamer’s Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenged the all-white control of her state’s delegation.

She also established the Freedom Farm Cooperative, which purchased land for Black people to own and collectively farm in Mississippi. And she lifted spirits through song, as captured on the 1962 recording of “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” a collection of spirituals that she helped transform into civil rights anthems.

Although OSF offers Shakespeare programming on its digital platform, nothing of the Bard’s will be performed live in 2021 because large casts are out of the question as the pandemic winds down.

“Because it is manageable in scale, ‘Fannie’ is the perfect show with which to return to in-person performance,” said OSF spokesman Blake Zidell. “The cast is just one singer-actor and provides what live theater uniquely can deliver: an intimate, in-the-moment connection with a virtuosic performer in a show full of live music.”

For financial, public health safety reasons, and in accordance with union guidelines, OSF says it needs some time before it can produce plays with sizable casts

Holiday Season

On the heels of “Fannie,” OSF will move indoors for its first-ever holiday season with performances in the Bowmer Theatre of “It’s Christmas, Carol!”

Performance dates and times will be announced later.

Written by beloved OSF performers Mark Bedard, Brent Hinkley and John Tufts, the story follows three ghosts who take the miserly Carol Scroogenhouse through time and space to reckon with how she’s abandoned love and artistry for capitalism.

“From the twisted minds of your favorite OSF clowns, this show promises to be a silly and uplifting way to mark the holidays and celebrate the festival’s return to live performance,” said Zidell.

The trio may be best known to OSF fans for their appearances in the Marx Brothers comedy romps “Animal Crackers” in 2012 and “Cocoanuts” in 2014.

Wednesday Concerts

Throughout the run of “Fannie,” OSF will present outdoor concerts on the big Elizabethan stage 8 p.m. Wednesdays from July 21 to Oct. 6.

Kicking off the concert season will be the Bay Area’s Urban Jazz Dance Company, which will perform two nights, July 21-22.

Other bookings so far include Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Phoenix and Four Directions, Hollis Peach, Brother Angus, Ballet Folklorico Ritmo Alegre, Chic Street Man, The Singer and The Songwriter, Dancing Spirit Drum, and Flamenco Pacifico.

David Schmitz, OSF executive director, is relieved that state guidelines will permit the festival to resume, albeit on a limited basis this year.

“We couldn’t be more excited to open our beautiful Allen Elizabethan Theatre this summer,” Schmitz said. “Our theaters closed March 12 of 2020 and we have been yearning for live theater since then.”

OSF Artistic Director Nataki Garrett echoed Schmitz’s comments.

“We are tremendously moved to have artists back onstage,” she said, “performing work that speaks to the moment.” She looks forward to welcoming back locals and travelers to Ashland “to join us in this joy.”

August Wilson’s “How I Learned What I Learned,” Mona Manson’s “Unseen,” and Dominique Morisseau’s “Confederates,” previously anticipated for fall of 2021, will take place in future seasons.

Tickets and Protocol

Tickets for the summer season will go on sale June 18 to the general public. Pre-sale for OSF members and donors starts June 15.

Tickets are $35 for “Fannie” and $15 for the summer concerts. They can be purchased at osfashland.org or by calling the OSF box office at 800-219-8161.

As a gesture of appreciation, OSF will announce special ticketing offers for wildfire first-responders and COVID-19 essential workers.

The OSF board expressed its appreciation for the continued support of donors who made it possible to invest the more than $1 million required to reopen the Elizabethan for the summer. There have been significant upgrades to the HVAC systems for indoor portions of the venue, funded in part by a grant from Travel Oregon.

While the State of Oregon has loosened its requirements for outdoor performances, audiences must wear masks and seating is planned to allow for social distancing as required by OSF’s union partners. Those requirements may shift during the run as circumstances change.

Audience members must present proof of full vaccination completed at least 14 days prior to performance date, a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of performance time, or a negative rapid antigen test taken within six hours.

Each patron’s exact seating location will be determined by the box office, and the patron will be notified of that location prior to the performance. Tickets will include a specific section.

Masks are required and will be provided if a patron does not have one. Face shields will also be available for patrons unable to use masks.

Tickets will be digital only, and will be scanned with no-contact scanners. No concessions will be served.

For more information on the 2021 season and OSF digital offerings, go to osfashland.org.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.