Ashland- Oregon’s Cultural Getaway

I’ve settled into my seat with a blanket on my lap and a cup of hot chocolate in my hands.  I’m staring at the Tudor-style façade of a circular, Elizabethan theater. Stars shine above me.  Excitement builds as the head of an actor suddenly emerges from a windowed gable in the theater.  He raises a flag to the sound of a trumpet and waves to the cheering crowd.  The show is about to start!

One of the coolest things about living in Portland is that so many great places are within reach; an hour west the ocean, an hour east the mountain, two hours east the desert.  But when I need something a little more…theatrical I head south to Ashland.  With it’s world class theater, Ashland is Oregon’s cultural getaway.

Small Town – Big Drama

A small timber town in the hills of southern Oregon doesn’t really sound like a place people would travel to to see plays.  Indeed, it would probably be nothing more than a charming little college town, except that in 1935 a local drama professor named Angus Bowmer decided to stage performances of Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice. This was the birth of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival  and except for a brief interlude during World War II, it has been putting on plays ever since.

This small town does theater in a big way; three theaters, 750-800 performances of eleven different plays each year.  The season starts in February and extends into November with around 400,000 people attending annually.

Not a fan of Willie the Shake? Not a problem. About half of the plays performed each year are Shakespeare.  The others could be anything.  My visits to Ashland have taken me to the Russia of Chekhov and the South Africa of Athol Fugard.  After seeing The Threepenny Opera and The Good Person of Szechwan, I decided that Bertolt Brecht was my favorite play-write. But then I was blown away by Lorraine Hansberry.  She takes on such huge topics- gender roles, racism, colonialism- and during the course of the play some character is guaranteed walk on stage and say every important thing that can possibly be said about the topic! And the Shakespeare plays may be presented in way you’ve never seen them. For instance, this year’s production of Troilus and Cressida has been transplanted from ancient Troy to the U.S. conflict in Middle East.

Today’s Plays. Photo by Clyde Adams III

Three Theaters – Infinite Possibilities

  • The Elizabethan Theater
    Also, called the Outdoor Theater is an emblematic symbol of Ashland.  There is nothing like seeing a play under the stars. Sometimes the natural elements add an extra element of entertainment, as when the character on stage speaks about the wonderful weather just as thunder crashes outside. Most of the plays performed here are Shakespeare, but other play-writes can be represented as well.
  • The Angus Bowmer Theater
    Named for the festival founder, the 600-seat Bowmer theater can accommodate whatever magical effects the director dreams up.  I’ve seen rotating stages, sets disappearing into the floor and suspended performers flying overhead.  If you’ve ever wondered what a Tony Award looks like, you can check out the one displayed in the lobby.  The Festival earned it in 1983 for outstanding achievement in regional theater.
  • The New Theater
    The New Theater is small, intimate and flexible.  Seating can be arranged into various configurations depending on what the director thinks best suits the play.  Plays performed here are often (but not always) more contemporary and experimental.

Elizabethan Stage. Photo by Clyde Adams III

Tips for Viewing

  • Green Show
    Whether or not you have tickets to see a play, you can enjoy a free music and dance performance Tuesday – Sunday evenings.  The “Green Show” takes place in the festival courtyard, known as “the bricks,” at 7:15 PM (6:45 PM after August 7th).
  • Getting Tickets
    Depending on when you’re going you may need to get your tickets well in advance. For instance if you want to see a show in the Elizabethan theater in August, you’ll probably want to buy your tickets before Christmas.  Spring and fall shows are less crowded. You can order tickets online or by phone, mail or fax.  Contact the Box Office for more information. Also, it is not unusual to see someone standing outside of the Box Office trying to buy or sell tickets.
  • Membership
    One way to increase your chances of getting good tickets is to become a festival member.  This allows to you access to tickets before they go on sale to the general public, and also entitles you to a discount during low season.  This is especially valuable if you decide to go to more than once per year (which you need to do if you want to see all of the plays).
  • Matinees
    It takes about five hours to drive from Portland to Ashland (290 miles).  This means that if you get an early start, you can make it in time for a 2:00 show.
  • Elizabethan Theater
    It’s easier to enjoy a play if your teeth aren’t chattering.  Late September and early October in the outdoor theater can be chilly so come prepared.  There are blankets for rent, but one time when I knew it was going to be cold I brought my sleeping bag and was as cozy as the proverbial bug in a rug.
  • Lithia Park
    Taking in all this theater involves a lot of sitting.  The Bowmer and Elizabethan theaters sit on the edge of Lithia Park, a great place for a stroll and stretch of the legs.  The park includes a rose garden, a play ground, a running/hiking trail, a Japanese garden, an orchard, tennis courts and several ponds with ducks, swans and turtles. There are also plenty of grassy areas suitable for afternoon naps.

Lithia Park. Photo by Kirsten Comandich.

Getting There is Half the Fun

Well, almost.  Admittedly, Interstate 5 is a pretty boring, but therefore easy, drive. Even if you have an iron bladder, you’ll need to stop once or twice along the way.  A good place is at the K-R Drive In at Rice Hill (exit 148). I’m not recommending it for its bathroom facilities- in fact, I think it’s a port-o-potty.  But the unpleasantness of using a honeypot is more than compensated for by the Umpqua ice cream which they dish out in extremely (this is a warning) generous portions. Taste worthy of burning through a whole box of Lactaid.

If you’re not pressed for time take a detour and go to Crater Lake National Park, especially if you haven’t been there before.  Your first view of Crater Lake will be a moment you’ll never forget, but that’s a story for another post.  The road is often closed due to snow from early fall to late spring, so check the conditions beforehand.

Make the return trip more interesting by following 66 east to Klamath Falls.  From there you can get on Highway 97 and make your way north on the eastern side of the mountains.  Cross back over to I5 whenever you feel inclined.  I like to take Highway 58 which passes through Oakridge and comes out near Eugene.

Nearcations Blog Carnival

Well, ” Our revels now are ended… We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”  (William Shakespeare. From The Tempest, Act 4 Scene 1)

However, if you’re still reveling check out some of the sites listed below – great as “nearcations”  or stand-alone travel destinations:

Jim of AroundtheWorldinEightyYears.com
My kids aren’t quite turned on by the image I hold of myself as an intrepid Saharan explorer. So we load our little tent, sleeping bags and some coolers of food and drink into the car and hustle a quick two hours north on Highway 522 from our home in Taos, New Mexico, into Colorado and to the 85,000-acre Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

http://www.aroundtheworldineightyyears.com/great-sand-dunes-colorado/

Lauren of SpanishSabores.com
Extremadura is a part of Spain that few people know about. But only an hour away from busy Madrid, Extremadura makes a great choice when traveling in Spain. Visit the charming town of Trujillo to see its gorgeous castle and taste world famous Torta de Caser cheese. If you prefer something bigger try the capital, Cáceres, to see its perfectly preserved old town. Finally, head down to Mérida where the Roman ruins rival those of Rome, without groups of tourists getting in your way.

http://spanishsabores.com/2012/06/01/the-3-places-you-cant-miss-in-extremadura/

Travis of FlashPackerHQ.com
The best possible day trip you can take to get away from Los Angeles is a quick two-two hour drive down to San Diego.  Ideal weather, great beaches, interesting neighborhoods and activities that cater to adults just as much as families, make it a great candidate for getting out of the big city craziness that can come with living in, and even visiting, Los Angeles.

http://flashpackerhq.com/quick-trip-to-san-diego/

Lis of LisTravelTips.com
Just over the hill from Wellington is the very New Zealand combination of wild rugged coastline and fine wines. Whatever your budget or interests there is something for you in the Wairarapa, and all under 2 hours drive from home!

http://listraveltips.com/wairarapa-nearcation-from-wellington-plus-video/

Amanda of NotaBallerina.com
There are quite a few benefits to living in Perth, Western Australia, the most isolated city in the world – and one of them is that a typical “nearcation” is to hop on the ferry to idyllic Rottnest Island, just an hour away.
http://www.notaballerina.com/2012/06/8-reasons-i-love-rottnest-perths-best.html

Ele of Kootvela
In 1772 there was a partition of one European country by its neighbours. A mere 30 years before there was a boy born in a poor family in France. Both events are related because this boy grew up to be one of the greatest botanists in the world and he came to spend a great part of his life in a partitioned country. The result today are the beautiful Kairenai botanical gardens.
http://kootvela.blogspot.com/p/blog-carnival-nearcarnations.html

Eva of ThatsHamori.com
When you think of southern France do you conger up an image of vine covered countryside and Plane trees along the Canal du Midi winding its way towards the Mediterranean Sea? Do you dream of sun bathed afternoon walks, a baguette under arm and sandy coast lines? With so much tradition and culture for tourists to sample, the south keeps visitors coming back back for more.
http://www.thatshamori.com/

Craig of IndieTravelMedia.com
Most Aucklanders live well outside the city centre, only venturing in for business or a night out. There’s plenty to do during the day though, especially when you’re out exploring the sparkling Waitemata harbour. Find the best things to do in Auckland harbour.
http://indietravelpodcast.com/new-zealand/auckland-harbour/

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Avatar of Jennifer Choban

Jennifer Choban

Editor & Author at Gear Up & Play
Seasoned traveler, avid reader, over-eater, clumsy but determined hiker, nascent piano player and wannabe Spanish-speaker.

12 thoughts on “Ashland- Oregon’s Cultural Getaway

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  3. Ele

    I have been to the Globe theater in London and I understand how you felt. The architecture is very simple but sophisticated at the same time. They used sheep wool for building it, I wonder what was the case of the theater you described? :-)
    Ele recently posted.."Mama Afrika" renginys Vyno KlubeMy Profile

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  8. Elmer Cruz
    Twitter: duckyigmat

    This is a great find! I love Shakespeare and Bertolt Brecht. Now I need to save up to get to Oregon next year. Is there a specific season when its great to go?

  9. eva hamori
    Twitter: thatshamori

    Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!
    Great post! Thanks for including us in your carnival post.

    I am a Shakespeare fan, and this adventure would be right up our sleeves…
    :)

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