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OSF stages a revival

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Steven Anthony Jones, who stars in "August Wilson: How I Learned What I Learned," works on blocking during a recent rehearsal. The play's three-month run opens May 3 in the Bowmer Theatre. Photo by Elizabeth Carter.
Photo by Ken Savage A full-table reading for "Revenge Song: A Vampire Cowboys Creation," is conducted by Director Robert Ross Parker (standing) with playwright Qui Nguyen consulting on-screen. The play opens June 2 in the Elizabethan Theatre.
Photo by Elizabeth Carter Steven Anthony Jones, who stars in "August Wilson: How I Learned What I Learned," works on blocking during a recent rehearsal. The play's three-month run opens May 3 in the Bowmer Theatre.
Shakespeare festival, and Ashland businesses, prepare for first full season since 2019

After more than two years of the COVID-19 crisis, closure and now rebirth, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on April 12 will launch its first fully-programmed season since 2019.

Eight plays will be produced on stage in the Angus Bowmer, Thomas and Allen Elizabethan theaters, while special new programming will be presented on the festival’s O! Digital Stage.

The Green Show will also return, with performances on the outdoor stage on the bricks Wednesday through Saturday evenings from June to September.

“Our season is dedicated to the artists,” said Nataki Garrett, artistic director. “In this moment of reemergence, I rely on artists because they have their ears and hearts to the ground.”

The season is starting later than in previous years and will run through the end of December in response to customers asking for a winter show.

The 2022 calendar is based on analysis of OSF audience data and feedback from patrons. In a push toward a more sustainable financial model, OSF took a close look at audience metrics and found that 88% saw five or fewer plays.

Fewer plays are scheduled as well.

“The cost of presenting 10-11 plays was not manageable long-term,” said David Schmitz, OSF executive director, “so we’ll be presenting eight productions in our theaters in 2022.”

Schmitz started with OSF in August 2020, a time when any hope of producing a play on a stage felt far away. The pandemic and then the Almeda fire tested the community.

“Given those challenges, ‘Fannie’ last summer was an honest-to-goodness miracle, produced by the skin of our teeth with a skeleton crew, duct tape and chewing gum,” he wrote in an email to supporters.

The Ashland business community is practically giddy about OSF’s comeback season. The pandemic and the resultant closure of a major tourist draw for the area caused real pain for many businesses.

Paddington Station’s Pam Hammond is thrilled to see their neighbor planning a full theater season.

“I look forward to having a vibrant campus across the street from our family of stores,” she said. “The last two years have been extremely challenging for our downtown community and our stores.”

She said support by locals helped them weather the storm and planted the roots for growth as the business nears its 50th year in Ashland.

Sandra Slattery, executive director of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, echoed Hammond’s comments.

“The impact of having the festival operational again is very beneficial for our business community,” she said. “The economic importance of having the OSF campus open with employment is important to our downtown vibrancy. We look forward to the boost it will bring.”

Travel Ashland, operating under the chamber’s umbrella, has been working to promote additional reasons to visit Ashland and the Rogue Valley, and welcomes the festival’s reopening.

“OSF speaks to many in identifying our destination,” said Katharine Cato, Travel Ashland coordinator. “We are thrilled to have OSF open again. That said, in our new branding we promote Ashland as a modern mountain community that offers outdoor adventurers, foodies, families and culture seekers a beautiful destination, year around.”

It's no secret that hotels and restaurants were among those who suffered the most from the OSF closure.

“Our restaurants — Chateaubriand 30 and Alchemy — have seen amazing support from the local community,” said Winchester owner Drew Gibbs, “but the hotel has always been fueled by those traveling to the area, especially for OSF. The impact of the reopening will be enormous for our business.”

He says many of the hotel’s regulars bumped stays out a year or two.

“We are hoping to see things begin to return to something vaguely familiar in terms of the summer season,” Gibbs said.

Rehearsals began in late February for the first three shows of the season, and tech rehearsals began this week for the first two plays.

“It has been an extremely challenging time for OSF,” Garrett said. “It is no small feat that we are opening an expansive repertory season full of exciting, timely work and classics beautifully interpreted through a 21st century lens.”

Opening April 12 are “Once on This Island” in the Bowmer and “unseen” in the Thomas.

“Once on This Island” is a Tony Award-winning musical with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty, based on the novel, “My Love, My Love” by Rosa Guy, and directed by Lili-Anne Brown. It will play through Oct. 30.

The story takes place on a Caribbean island where a little girl is rescued from a storm by four gods. It’s a tale of Black joy and sorrow, the aftermath of colonization and isolation, and the triumph of love.

Running through July 12, “unseen” is the story of an American conflict photographer who wakes up at the site of a massacre in Syria, not sure how she got there. The West Coast premiere is written by Mona Mansour and directed by Evren Odcikin.

Opening May 3 and running through July 30 at the Bowmer is “August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned,” co-conceived by Wilson and Todd Kreidler, and directed by Tim Bond. Originally performed by Wilson, it is a theatrical memoir charting one man’s journey of self-discovery through diversity, and what it means to be a Black artist in America.

OSF Executive Director David Schmitz remembers how any hope of producing a play on stage felt so far away when he started with the festival in 2020.

“Given those challenges, anything that was produced — on stage or online — felt like a miracle every time,” he said.

Other plays on the 2022 schedule include:

* ”The Tempest” by William Shakespeare, June 1-Oct. 15, Elizabethan;

* ”Revenge Song: A Vampire Cowboys Creation” by Qui Nguyen, June 2-Oct. 14, Elizabethan;

* ”King John” by William Shakespeare, Aug. 17-Oct. 29, Bowmer;

* ”Confederates” by Dominique Morisseau, Aug. 23-Oct. 29, Thomas; and

* ”It’s Christmas, Carol!” by Mark Bedard, Brent Hinkley and John Tufts, November and December (dates TBA), Bowmer.

New in the digital lineup will be “The Cymbeline Project” by William Shakespeare, conceived by Nataki Garrett, created by Scarlett Kim; “Films for the People,” featuring two short films presented by Black Lives, Black Words International Project; and “Quilts Fest,” an immersive digital festival at the intersection of live theater and extended reality. For details and updates, go to osfashland.org.

OSF lowers ticket prices

With simplified ticketing options and reduced prices across the board, attending OSF plays will be more affordable.

OSF abandoned the dynamic pricing model it adopted in 2015, an industry practice that raised prices as the season progressed, correlated to scarcity and popularity.

The festival also lowered its top ticket price from $132 or more to $75 for 2022. The range this season is $35 to $75, depending on the day of the week, time of day and special circumstances, such as holiday weekends.

There will be only two seating zones in each theater, and thus only two ticket prices for any given performance. Depending on the performance day and time, the prices will be either $35 and $55, $45 and $65, or $55 and $75.

New ticket add-ons are available. For $5 per ticket, you can reserve a spot on a performance wait list. Ticket insurance is available that allows the purchaser to request a refund up to seven days before a performance.

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