Welcome to Ashland
Our headquarters for this week is the historic Ashland Springs Hotel. It’s the tallest building in town (at 9 stories, the only tall building in town!) so we could never get lost. It was opened in 1925, when Ashland was a stopping place on the way to the gold fields in nearby Jacksonville, as well as a tourist destination for its famed Lithia Springs. You can still taste the spring water at the fountain in Ashland’s Main St. Plaza a few blocks away–to me it tasted like Alka-Seltzer!
Over the years the hotel deteriorated until the Neumans bought it and restored it to its former glory in 1998. The decor includes lots of historic artifacts including the framed pressed flowers and other botanical specimens that dot the walls.
The hotel is on Main St. in downtown Ashland, close to the Shakespeare Festival and all the trendy shops and restaurants. Except for our bus ride to the winery, we were able to walk everywhere.
We started our program with a tour of all three theaters, where we’d be seeing three Shakespeare plays. The festival was started in 1935 by Angus Bowmer, who taught at what is now Southern Oregon University. He was poking around the ruins of the dome where people had visited Ashland to hear music and lectures of the Chatauqua movement in the early 20th century. He noticed the shape of it was similar to what he’d read about Elizabethan theaters like Shakespeare’s Globe. So he proposed to build an outdoor stage there and put on Twelfth Night and the Merchant of Venice as part of the city’s 4th of July celebration. The city loaned him $400 for this enterprise, and the rest is history!
OSF is now the biggest nonprofit theater in the US and has won multiple Tony awards for regional theater. I wish I could share more photographs of the beautiful theaters and outstanding productions with you, but of course photos are forbidden during the performances. I was able to snap a few during the tour, and before the shows we saw–nothing you couldn’t see by going to the festival’s website at osfashland.org or their YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/orshakes
Our backstage tour gave us a rare glimpse into the costume shop, where the concepts of directors and designers come to life. They have buyers who hunt for special fabrics in New York, and artists who color the fabrics themselves when the perfect color or pattern can’t be found on any shelf. After the show ends, costumes might be deconstructed and the parts recycled, or the entire production’s costumes might be rented out to schools and theater groups from OSF’s new costume rental facility in the nearby town of Talent, OR.
At lunchtime we drove out into the hills around Ashland for a look at a local winery called Grizzly Peak. The owner, Al Silbowitz, and his family proudly showed us their partially built new state of the art facility, and served lunch accompanied by tastes of several of their wines.
After lunch we learned more about costumes in an exercise where we designed a superhero and picked out swatches of fabrics. Maggie and I created Electricia, who can electrocute bad guys with her fingertips and her magic electric scarf. Dinner was on Calle Guanajuato, a new area along the creek by the Main Plaza that honors Ashland’s sister city in Mexico.
Tuesday morning we met our host from the Festival acting company, Tyrone Wilson. Tyrone has been with OSF for 20 seasons, and plays several parts in Much Ado about Nothing. He and Suzanne Witucki, an Ashland resident and longtime Shakespeare teacher, introduced us to the characters and story of Antony and Cleopatra, or C & A, as they called it, which we would see this evening. We also met Christiana Clark, a terrific actor we would be seeing in both C&A and Much Ado. She told us her life story and what it’s like to audition for and take part in the OSF company. She had originally auditioned for Cleopatra but was asked to play Beatrice, one of the starring roles in Much Ado. Personally I thought she would have made a marvelous Cleopatra! Sorry I didn’t get a photo of her, suffice it to say she is very regal looking.
Tuesday’s dinner included a cooking demonstration by a chef from the Ashland Food Co-op. They have a great facility for this kind of program, with a mirror above the stove and counter, so you can see exactly what the chef is doing. The dinner included grilled chicken with mango salsa, quinoa, sauteed veggies and a chocolate dessert made with coconut milk.