Planning to Make History - Literally - in Ashland

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), June 18, 2009 | Go to article overview

Planning to Make History - Literally - in Ashland


Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

Thunder, lightning and rain marked the opening last weekend of three new outdoor plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

It rained so hard during the first half of "Henry VIII" on Friday night that the entire audience in the festival's outdoor Elizabethan Stage hunkered down with cups of coffee and hot chocolate under parkas, rain gear and even the occasional umbrella as Oregon's famous climate lived up to its reputation.

But as near as I can tell, not one person walked out of the nearly full house during the two-hour performance. This is a hard-core bunch, these Ashland theater addicts, willing to brave borderline hypothermia for a chance to experience the festival's production of a seldom-produced William Shakespeare play.

Although opening night wasn't quite sold out, the size of the audience made you wonder whether there's really a recession going on out there. While arts groups are dropping dead around the country, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival continues to blossom. It isn't all good news, of course.

The festival cut more than $1.6 million out of its operating budget this season. Artistic Director Bill Rauch swore to make the cuts as invisible as possible, and above all to hold the festival's 11 plays sacred. He seems to have made good on his word, as there's nothing bargain-basement about any of the shows.

Maybe it's lineage. This is a festival that got its start in 1935, smack in the middle of that other Depression, the big one.

Although the festival has made cuts, it's continuing to look to the future. At the beginning of the weekend, Rauch met with critics and reporters to announce the festival's second round of selections for its proposed 10-year cycle of new United States history plays. …

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