This picture shows the outside of the theatre. Entrances are beside the lampposts nearest the ivy covered wall, which runs around the entire back of the theatre, towards our left in this picture. We learned that this wall, the ivy covered one, marked the back wall of the original ampitheatre at the site that housed travelling Chautauqua troupes before the Shakespeare festival started in 1935.
“America’s First Elizabethan Theatre”: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has a long history on this site, dating back to 1935. There have been three Elizabethan style theatres on this site that the Festival has built.
This picture shows the Elizabethan Theatre’s stage, set up for Much Ado About Nothing. As a repertory theatre, plays are performed in rotation, with two plays usually trading places on the stage on consecutive nights. Only evening performances are possible on this stage, because of the heat; during our back stage tour, we stood on the stage for a few moments – it was sweltering in the almost desert like conditions of an Ashland afternoon. Henry VIII, the other play we say there, had a larger balcony, a prominent staircase, and projections on the white walls at the sides. It was amazing to see how quickly the crews could completely transform the stage. A flag is run up the flag pole about five minutes before each performance, by an actor leaning out the centre top window, to add to the festive atmosphere of the experience. All three levels are usable for acting, although the actor who gave us our backstage tour said that they usually only use the stage level and the one above it.
In this picture, you can see part of the balcony and most of the ground level seats in the Elizabethan Theatre. The theatre is incredibly well designed to create excellent sight lines; there are no bad seats in the theatre. However, because it is an outdoor theatre, some of the dialogue was difficult to hear. Two sets of stairs provide access to the balcony, coming up from the courtyard in the space between the theatre and the ivy covered wall pictured earlier.
This is the only interior shot I got of the Angus Bowmer theatre, before an usher chastised me for taking photos inside the theatre – they take their rule against doing so very seriously. This is a magnificent lobby: the glass wall overlooks the courtyard between the Angus Bower and Elizabethan stages, towards the administration building; its ceiling is made up of sloping cedar beams connected by cedar paneling. It’s reminiscent of Arthur Erickson’s architectural style, without the concrete.
The theatre space itself is amazing. The audience is placed in long curving rows, without a centre aisle; the result is that there are no bad seats – perfect sight lines in every direction. It is also almost acoustically perfect for spoken dramas; whispers are audible in virtually all circumstances. The sound system, however, was not designed properly for musicals, so watching The Music Man in that space wasn’t as nice as in other theatres that I’ve had the pleasure of watching from.
The stage in the Bowmer is also incredible. They put on two shows a day in there, so set changes have to be done in only a few hours. During the backstage tour, we saw a time lapse video which showed the highly choreographed and oft rehearsed process of changing between two productions – the crew can do a full set change in under two hours! Hydraulic lifts and large backstage areas help make the crew’s magic possible.
Every night, before the evening shows, there’s a free “Green Show” in the courtyard between the theatres. Traveling performers audition to play during the Festival; a large variety of acts come to show their stuff. This picture shows two of the five members of Anai, which is a Ghanaian drumming group. I didn’t catch their names.
This is a picture of the beautiful Art Deco movie theatre in Ashland, the Varsity. One night while we were there, with no theatre shows to attend, we saw Away We Go on one of the four tiny screens. Both the exterior and interior feature well preserved examples of its Art Deco heritage, including the neon accents outside and wood detailing inside.
I wish we taken more photos of the hotel we stayed in – The Columbia Hotel is a beautiful old building, with lots of original details. The service there was excellent. The location perfect, being in easy walking distance to all the tourist attractions and well connected to bus routes. As long as you can handle shared bathrooms and steep stairs (pictured here – beautiful wood), this is a great place to stay in Ashland.
One of the most delightful parts of our trip was how dog friendly Ashland is. This was the only dog bar we found during our frequent walks through the picturesque town, but we saw lots of dogs. A tourist town that is so dog friendly that you can’t help but come across two or three a block is quite impressive. I use it as an informal measure of a place’s livability; if there are lots of dogs around:
- A person’s “best friend” is a welcome feature of the community, leading to good mental and physical health on average.
- There are lots of people out walking their dogs, at many different times of day, creating lots of “eyes on the street.”
- Because there are lots of “eyes on the street,” there’s a greater tendency to create good pedestrian and park infrastructure, in ways that encourage other people to use public spaces.
- In helping to generate diverse uses by diverse people, dogs help to create the kind of city that Jane Jacobs envisioned in The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
Francesca and I will hopefully return to Ashland next year. If and when we do, I will provide a more critical commentary on the city and the dangers associated with becoming a “tourist town.”