The Oregon Shakespeare Festival

By The Beacon | October 24, 2013 2:03am

By Olivia Alsept Ellis |

Of course, I’ve known about the Shakespeare Festival that happens every year in Ashland for a long time (as you probably do too). Growing up in the Northwest, the festival is a hard tradition to ignore (“Have you gone yet?”/ “Think you might catch a show this year?”/ “You excited for next season?”).

However, taking the step from hearing to actually going to the yearly production took me a shameful amount of years. Shameful because I was completely and immediately enamored with the festival from the start and had been denying this to myself for so long. But this fall break was the perfect chance for my Ashland getaway - and for anyone who knows the town, it wears the season of fall extremely well.

If you don’t know already, the exciting catch to the Shakespeare Festival is each play has undergone radical interpretations compared to ol’ Shakespeare’s Rose Theater days. What this means is that none of the plays are dry, stale and dated (sorry to all you traditionalists). Rather, they are reinvigorated with a modern spin. Now, not all of them are necessarily set in modern day but the characters and setting are re-examined in a new context.

One play I saw was “The Taming of the Shrew,” which featured a rockabilly cast. The set was still Padua, if Padua were a neon-lit boardwalk. And it was completed with modern references, like to Beyonce and Jay-Z (“Jay-Zedd”). The director didn’t just push the Shakespearean rules but felt bold enough to break them.

“King Lear,” on the other hand, was set in the present. There were cars, flat screen TVs and Doritos. Rather than a monarchy’s game of thrones, “King Lear” was presented as a country-clubbin’ upper-class political battle for control. To the modern American viewer, the stupid political games that ended in mass-tragedy felt extremely relevant.

Because I had not yet gone to a Shakespeare Festival play before, the very concept of re-envisioning Shakespeare had a magical effect on me. I felt enabled to connect with the characters more than usual and able to understand the subtleties of Shakespeare that might normally be lost on me. I was also drawn into the world - and by drawn into the world, I mean I screamed embarrassingly loud when the Duke of Cornwall pulls out Gloucester’s eyeballs with a corkscrew.

About half of the festival isn’t Shakespeare at all but rather extremely worthy modern pieces.  “The Unfortunates” absolutely stunned me into a mild, theater-induced paralysis. It was an original, all-Americana steampunk musical that told an American prison tale through a dream-within-a-dream perspective. There were many layers of reality which added a sci-fi element that I had previously imagined was only possible for cinema. However, the show is sold out until the finale (which makes sense because my initial reaction to the show was to buy any possible tickets left available, as I’m sure everyone else did).

So while I can’t tell you to pack your things for Ashland to go see “The Unfortunates,” there are plenty of other plays that aren’t sold out and absolutely are worth seeing. The season won’t end until November and the new season begins in February. All in all, I’ve finally caved into the Northwest tradition and have already made plans for the 2014 season.

For information to buy 2013 season tickets or to see the 2014 season, visit