SEVERE WX : Air Stagnation Advisory View Alerts

Shakespeare Festival's 80th Anniversary

ASHLAND, Ore.–For eight decades, drama lovers have flocked to the stages of the Oregon Shakespearean Festival in Ashland. From the first Fourth of July weekend in 1935, the festival has exceeded

Posted: Mar 11, 2015 5:03 PM
Updated: Oct 19, 2017 1:38 PM

ASHLAND, Ore.–For eight decades, drama lovers have flocked to the stages of the Oregon Shakespearean Festival in Ashland. From the first Fourth of July weekend in 1935, the festival has exceeded expectations.  Festival spokeswoman Debra Griffith says, “we started at three days and two plays, and now we’re up to three theatres and 9-1/2 months of the year.”

The festival was the brainchild of Angus Bowmer, a young English professor at what was then Southern Oregon Normal School, before it became Southern Oregon College and University. Griffith says, “when he was teaching at the elementary school he and his first wife Lois would convince the towns to build a stage to put on productions to raise money for other things that the schools needed. So he was sort of a ‘‘Johnny Appleseed’ of theatre” coming across the country.”

A year after staging a state-sponsored Diamond Jubilee in Medford, he approached Ashland city fathers with a plan for a Fourth of July stage event that would help raise money for the town. “The city is like, ‘well o.k. We could do that. But, we’re going to stage boxing matches to make up the loss.’ But it turned out to be the other way around!’ says Griffith with a chuckle. They put on “Merchant of Venice” and “12th Night”, with Bowmer playing the lead role of “Shylock”.

Bowmer set up a stage in the place where Chataqua programs had been presented in the decades before. Griffith says, “he liked to say that he and Bob Stedman, one of the first actors, were just sitting out on the hill out here one day and looking down into the old Chataqua walls. And ‘what does that look like to you?’ ‘Looks like an Elizabethan stage!’ And it kind of grew from there.”

She adds that, “right from the beginning he called it the ‘first Shakespearean festival’, fully intending that this was gonna go on forever! Like he liked to say, all his ‘dreams are open ended!’ there is no, y’know, ‘now we’re at the end’!” She adds that “the first season went really well. The second year they got up, did another season and still very short. Less than a week. Again they made a profit. But that season they were sort of co-producing with the Normal School, and the Normal School’s athletic department had a deficit. So their money got wiped out again! So in 1937 we incorporated!”

In 1939 festival players went to the San Francisco exposition and presented a radio version of a play nationwide over the NBC radio network. It was a surprise hit and the fame achieved then carried over after World War Two, when the festival was on hiatus. “There was enough name recognition. There were enough people still saying, “hey, whatever happened to that festival?” so the memory of people was much longer than the town thought it might be! So they were able to restart in 1947.”

In 1959 a new outdoor Elizabethan theatre opened. But still the festival only produced Shakespeare’s plays. But when the outdoor festival sold out for several years in a row a dream of Bowmer’s was realized with the opening of an indoor theatre in his name, allowing a longer season and more plays to be produced.  Griffith notes that “that opened in 1970, and for quite a few years we were able to just with the two theatres continue to grow.”

In 1977 the small Black Swan theatre opened. 25 years later what is now the Thomas theatre was built from scratch and provides another venue for more non-traditional productions. The first non-Shakespearean plays were produced in 1960, first with Shakespeare’s contemporaries, then later, more modern playwrights. Griffith says “Angus had actually wanted to go to non-Shakespearean productions much earlier, but there was some difference of opinion with the board about how we would be perceived. We were the Shakespeare festival. We should just do Shakespeare!”

In the fifties the festival adopted a new slogan called “stay 4 days and see 4 plays.” And while the festival was still only producing Shakespeare productions it was also tying in to the area’s economy, which also led to a flowering of the theatre industry in southern Oregon.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 590270

Reported Deaths: 5953
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah97106944
Washington71639465
Marion57369570
Clackamas51367461
Lane46136397
Deschutes38929226
Jackson35599418
Linn21339221
Umatilla20036190
Douglas16606324
Yamhill14371169
Josephine13575291
Polk12394115
Benton1177246
Klamath11734179
Coos8765129
Malheur715896
Columbia616267
Jefferson598371
Lincoln550962
Crook487262
Union428165
Wasco412950
Clatsop380137
Tillamook300154
Hood River293039
Baker278540
Curry266541
Morrow264126
Grant141018
Harney133335
Lake117223
Wallowa102013
Sherman2703
Gilliam2394
Wheeler1722
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 7907630

Reported Deaths: 78798
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles251977828507
San Diego6788794566
Riverside5538325661
San Bernardino5312966281
Orange5285305970
Santa Clara2707802005
Sacramento2571612624
Alameda2250151583
Fresno2094302430
Kern2030661974
Contra Costa1694961092
Ventura1619651261
San Joaquin1530831959
Stanislaus1192851521
San Francisco114106704
Tulare1110101219
San Mateo106229647
Santa Barbara76208590
Monterey72854654
Sonoma71321432
Solano70902400
Placer60385518
Merced58766730
Imperial54251824
San Luis Obispo47086386
Kings45237397
Santa Cruz38399237
Madera34397336
Butte33592350
Yolo33229273
Marin31618253
Shasta31403515
El Dorado25497179
Napa21682111
Sutter19031200
Humboldt16139129
Yuba14524103
Nevada14357112
Tehama12538145
Mendocino12437113
San Benito1163591
Unassigned109613
Tuolumne1049191
Lassen899459
Lake8946118
Amador730973
Calaveras626695
Siskiyou587264
Glenn563639
Del Norte451843
Inyo395550
Colusa392621
Mono28914
Plumas252812
Mariposa243719
Trinity120319
Modoc8686
Sierra2800
Alpine1200
Out of CA00
Medford
Partly Cloudy
56° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 56°
Brookings
Partly Cloudy
58° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 58°
Crater Lake
Clear
56° wxIcon
Hi: 38° Lo: 18°
Feels Like: 56°
Grants Pass
Partly Cloudy
56° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 56°
Klamath Falls
Clear
48° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 45°
Few showers on the westside today, stagnant weather begins tonight
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events