Editor’s note: Face coverings (ages 5 and up) are required at all indoor and outdoor public spaces statewide, regardless of vaccination status. Learn more here. It’s also wildfire season — plan ahead and do your part to prevent wildfires.
When it comes to memorable evenings, there’s nothing quite as magical as one spent at the theater. While all of Oregon’s arts venues have had a tough year, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival began welcoming back in-person audiences in July 2021, nearly a year after the 2020 wildfires that tore through Southern Oregon. Here’s why you should make a trip to Ashland to show your love for the iconic thespian-filled event.
Spotlight on Racial Justice
With the first performances underway, SF executive director David Schmitz says that the excitement in rehearsal, backstage and among those itching to return is all palpable.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be back on stage. We’ve heard a lot of excitement from both the community and our patrons about getting performances going again.”
In many ways, OSF’s first production following the year-plus hiatus is a perfect one, as it has chosen a show that bolsters the recent social-justice movement, Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer. Hamer organized the Freedom Summer in 1964, which aimed to help with African American voter registration and established the Freedom Farm Cooperative, which purchased Mississippi land for Blacks to own, farm and benefit from collectively. The show, written by Cheryl L. West and directed by Henry Godinez, takes place in the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre through Oct. 9, 2021.
“We’ve been dealing with two pandemics: The pandemic of COVID and racism,” Schmitz says. “The uprising for racial justice over the past year is an important part of where we are as a society.”
The production is a one-woman show that tells the first-person account of the Mississippi-born activist who fought for equal rights and incorporated art into her activism — and the show mimics this in an inspiring call-to-action musical.
“It’s part spiritual revival, part call to action, part life lesson. It’s all wrapped up in this really amazing auditory, participatory sing-along,” Schmitz says. “It’s going to be really fun having that experience coming out of COVID.”
The Show Will Go On
Following Fannie, OSF will move indoors to put on its first-ever holiday-season special, It’s Christmas, Carol!, which will run from Nov. 23 to Jan. 2, 2022. Written by OSF performers Mark Bedard, Brent Hinkley and John Tufts, the show tells the story of Carol Scroogenhouse, who is taken on a journey through time and space by three ghosts who push her to reckon with her prioritizing of capitalism over love and artistry. The show promises to be a silly and uplifting way to mark the holidays.
In a normal year, the OSF season puts on back-to-back performances and spends the off-season preparing for more productions. Schmitz says that one upside to the pandemic is that it gave the organization time to improve.
“We’ve been really focused on the pandemic being the beginning of the next 85 years for this organization,” he says. OSF fans may see some notable changes in 2022. One thing that the production company will keep from the pandemic is streaming performances. Schmitz says it is something that they’d planned to offer for years but that became a priority when they closed their doors. Though Fannie won’t be available to stream, he says future shows will.
The Theater Gives Thanks
While the theater was forced to shut its doors between March 12, 2020 and July 1, 2021, due to COVID-19 safety and smoke and wildfire impacts, Schmitz is quick to point out how resilient the Ashland community has been. The organization is showing its appreciation for COVID-19 essential workers and wildfire first responders with discounted tickets.
“The difficulty of the last 15 months for this theater has been hugely dwarfed by the work that those people had to do to get us through,” Schmitz says. Frontline workers “made it possible to get us to this moment. They saved the lives of countless people and put themselves in danger to keep all of us safe, so we just want to say thanks.”
Plan Your Getaway in Ashland
In addition to these stellar performances, OSF is also putting on a weekly series of outdoor concerts held every Wednesday from July 21 to Oct. 6, 2021.
Tickets are $15 and the series includes an eclectic lineup of performers, such as Urban Jazz Dance Company, folk duo Hollis Peach, and blues musician Chic Street Man, who also performs music in Fannie. It’s just another reason to make an extended trip to Ashland. Experience the city’s vibrant energy like a local and see why it’s a great launching point for outdoor excursions. With so many ways to experience the region, you’ll be planning a second trip before even returning home.