SHAKESPEARE IN SOUTHERN OREGON??
There’s a beautiful community just North of the California border on Interstate Highway 5 that offers not only the best theatrical experience outside of San Francisco or similar metropolitan cities, but a great many other fine experiences. That small berg is Ashland, Oregon… home to the nationally known OSFA, Oregon Shakespeare Festival of Ashland.
I have visited this community at least annually since the late 1970s when I was working as a Probation Officer in Shasta County (Redding, California). A group of us would make the trip to Ashland to enjoy a weekend packed with three plays. We originally stayed at the Motel 6 or Motel Orleans until we realized we all earned enough money to stay at some of the darling B & Bs that existed in Ashland. We started staying at Chanticleer B & B and didn’t branch out for many years. I think the year we took our Mothers with us and were told we couldn’t return unless the Mothers weren’t with us was pivotal to that change. Who would have thought their Mothers could get you into such trouble?? But that’s another story!
I was lucky to have learned to love Shakespeare because of 2 marvelous people: Mr. Fairgreaves, my Lodi High School English teacher, and Dr. Homer Swander, my Shakespeare professor at UCSB. The fact that we could go to Ashland, Oregon and enjoy a Shakespeare play in a replica of the Globe Theater was just the epitome of awesome!! Indeed, the productions were awesome … and they still are! But you don’t need to go to Ashland just for Shakespeare (in the Elizabethan Stage/Allen Pavilion). The Angus Bower Theater, named after the man who founded all this, also does Shakespeare, classical and contemporary productions as does the smaller, more intimate Thomas Theater. You can go to Ashland with the idea of totally immersing yourself in plays (like we used to do for many years) or go to enjoy the many other things this charming community has to offer and maybe only see one play… if that!! My 5 girlfriends and I now only see one play per weekend and spend more time enjoying each others’ company (we now converge on Ashland from 2 states and 6 different cities).
The plays used to run from February to the end of September, but now are almost year round. While most people drive to Ashland, it is also possible to fly there. You simply need to decide what time of year you’d like to be there… Winter is cold and often snowy, Spring has beautiful blossoms and flowers with cooler temps, Summer can be downright hot and Fall brings the beautiful changing of foliage in this normally green valley. Don’t worry about everyone having to do the same thing, there are numerous activities available. It’s probably one of the best places to go with a small group of friends who are willing to break into smaller groups to increase the diversity of activities. Some things to consider:
• If you are coming for the plays, go online to www.osfashland.org to see the play schedule for the year. You may have a play you particularly want to see or know a time of the year you want to be there and can pick plays accordingly. My “Girl Group” always goes in late April or early May. One memorable experience I would recommend doing at least once is seeing the LAST Shakespeare performance in the outdoor theater as the ushers line the exterior aisles of the theater with candles in hand at the conclusion of the performance. It is a memorable, moving experience. There are also several classes and activities you can take advantage of that will give you “behind the scenes” exposure. Worth doing!
• If you intend to see lots of plays or don’t want to drive, then I recommend that you choose accommodations in the downtown area so you just park once and then walk everywhere. The Winchester Inn and Ashland Creek Inn have been two of our favorite downtown stays. Both provide outstanding breakfasts and the Winchester Inn also serves fine dinners in its “Alchemy” restaurant. We stayed at the Lithia Springs Resort in 2014. Very lovely accomodations, great breakfasts and really good staff! The Spa services (4 of us had massages… they do 2 at a time) are outstanding!! However, we were just there for 1 play. We agreed we would definitely return. It is less expensive that staying downtown, but you have to drive in for dinner and plays. We found the parking easy on our weekend.
• Know that the Ashland dining choices are plentiful and most are excellent. We had a great dining experience at Smithfield’s across from the Winchester Inn. They call themselves “Meat-Centric” and most certainly are.
• Lithia Park, right behind the theaters in Ashland, is another reason to stay downtown. It’s a beautiful park to walk or run through any time of the day. There are also tennis courts there.
• Other activities available for people visiting are golf, hiking, fishing, white water rafting, kayaking, wine tasting, several spa facilities, ENDLESS shopping opportunities and even the possibility of just relaxing at your room and reading a good book!
Ashland, Oregon offers a myriad of experiences in a small, friendly community. Our annual return for almost 40 years is a testament to the versatility of a vacation here.