The charming town of Ashland, Oregon, is known for its vibrant arts and culture scene and stunning natural beauty. In this episode, we took a deep dive into the world-renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Here, the performing arts scene is alive and thriving with the festival, showcasing a wide range of plays and performances.
We’ll explore the stages, types of performances, and behind-the-scenes events that make this festival special. And if you’re looking for more than just theater, don’t worry; we will highlight some great places to sip and eat in Ashland.
Let’s discover one reason Ashland is a Pacific Northwest must-visit destination.
Worth a Stop – Talking Water Gardens
My choice this week is Talking Water Gardens in Albany, Oregon. Albany is south of Portland, just off I-5. Talking Water is the perfect pit stop to get out and stretch your legs and maybe even have a picnic.
One of the main attractions is the interpretive water trail. It’s a two-mile self-guided tour through a series of ponds, streams, and waterfalls home to a diverse array of wildlife and plants.
We stopped in the early morning on a cold day and saw many, many songbirds and waterfowl. And once, on a hot day, we ate lunch with a resident mink and turtles sunning out on the rocks.
But what makes this little oasis so unique? It’s an engineered water treatment facility! You would never know it. It’s the coolest, most innovative green space – living laboratory – and wildlife habitat. It’s definitely worth a stop.
When is the best time to go to Ashland?
Let’s continue our way south to Ashland, Oregon.
When is the best time to go to Ashland? The festival season runs from February to October, so the best season depends on your preferences.
The surrounding Siskiyou Mountains are dusted with snow. February is the perfect time to visit if you love winter and picturesque snow-covered landscapes. This is when the Shakespeare Festival begins, and the downtown restaurants and merchants create a cozy atmosphere to welcome visitors.
For mild and sunny weather, spring is the ideal season to visit. It’s the heart of the Shakespeare Festival season and also a great time to explore the town’s natural beauty or wander around the charming downtown area.
And you may not want to miss the Ashland Independent Film Festival, which is in April.
During the summer, the festival is in full swing, and you can enjoy free outdoor theater, dance, and musical performances at The Green Show, which I’ll discuss below. It’s also an excellent time to experience outdoor activities like river rafting, touring local wineries, camping, hiking, and biking.
Fall is my favorite season in Ashland. The festival is starting to wind down, so you’ll want to check the performance calendar to ensure the plays you want to see are still running.
But for fall color in Lithia Park and the surrounding countryside, combined with the moderate weather in late September and early October, can’t be beaten.
So depending on your preferences, there’s a perfect time for you to visit Ashland and immerse yourself in the world of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Let’s break this down.
The theater in Ashland is huge. Not only is there the Shakespeare Festival itself, but you also have the Oregon Cabaret Theater, the Camelot Theater, and the Ashland Contemporary Theater.
What types of performances are at OSF?
All of the Shakespeare Festival venues revolve around downtown, or I should say downtown revolves around the festival.
The downtown area is a very charming district of unique little shops, coffee houses, restaurants, and tea shops, and it is very walkable.
As for the performances, let’s dispel a myth. It’s not all about Shakespeare’s plays.
Shakespeare is the central point, but only two of the six main performances in this season’s lineup are Shakespearean works.
And even if you think you don’t like Shakespeare, they’re performed in very creative ways. Often out of the original period, in a different setting, or from another character’s perspective.
Their upcoming rendition of Twelfth Night has a blues and jazz spin on it, for example.
They also show contemporary plays, often centering around a social or political issue.
For example, something new and innovative that came out of the rough-go theaters have had over the past three years is the Quills Fest.
It’s a digital festival that combines live performances and immersive technology.
The festival includes classic plays from various eras and cultures – from Greek tragedies to Broadway musicals.
Coming up, they’ll be performing Rent and The Three Musketeers.
They also produce new plays from emerging and established playwrights. Where We Belong is the upcoming solo show with a debut director.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival venues
There are three main theater venues at the festival.
You have The Allen Elizabethan Theater, the largest theater, modeled after the original Globe Theater in London. It features a large multimedia multi-level stage. The most elaborate performances happen here.
It’s open air. I repeat, it is open air.
Some of the seats are covered in case it rains, but in the evening, it gets cold. On our first visit, we didn’t know this, it was October, and even though it was nice and warm during the day, it got a little chilly when the sun went down.
On our second visit, we brought blankets.
Next, there’s the Thomas Theater.
The Elizabethan holds 1200 guests. The intimate Thomas Theater seats 300. This is usually where they stage experimental or non-traditional performances. It’s a flexible stage venue, meaning the layout will likely be different each time you attend a performance.
And finally, you have the Angus Bowmer Theater.
This is the original festival theater. It’s been in operation since 1935 and accommodates 600 guests. It has a traditional Proscenium stage.
What is a proscenium stage? It’s the stage you think of when you think of a stage. It has an arch with a curtain that separates the auditorium from the performance area.
The space is intimate, and it is often used for classic productions.
Other festival events
The Green Show
Keep your eye out for The Green Show. This is an outdoor stage that is right outside of the Elizabethan Theater.
There are pre-show performances here. You don’t even have to be a ticket holder. They’re free.
An outdoor area with huge concrete blocks that are artfully arranged and serve as seating.
The performances will feature music, dance, or theater acts relevant to the festival’s lineup.
The backstage tours.
This is one of my favorite things about the festival. You get behind the scenes and see how it’s all done.
Make reservations because these tours fill up fast, and there is a small fee.
They’ll take you in, under, and around the theater complex. We were allowed to go through the dressing room area and costume shop when we took the tour.
There are also the ‘Behind the Curtain‘ summer tours geared towards younger folks, aka kids.
Classes and workshops
The festival puts on workshops and classes.
If you’re interested in stagecraft, acting, playwriting, and theater in general, you’ll want to check out the schedule of classes.
Festival Noons is a monthly series of hosted workshops.
And finally, the 30-minute post-show talks happen right after the performance of select shows. These are free to ticket holders.
Eating in downtown Ashland
I can’t leave you without a few recommendations for where to eat. All of these suggestions are an easy walk from the festival events.
For breakfast, I would try Brothers.
They have a full menu but are also famous for their corned beef hash.
We had the skillet breakfast, and it was wonderful.
For coffee houses, you have Noble Coffee.
This is a large, bright, modern space with a roasting room that you can see through glass windows.
The baristas take their craft very seriously. Noble Coffee is rated one of the best coffee roasters in the Pacific Northwest, and that’s saying a lot.
Bloomsbury Blends is a coffee house and wine bar, and they often have live music.
They serve a few breakfast and lunch options. It’s absolutely charming and cozy, and picnic tables are on the secluded patio.
You also have the Mix Bake Shop, which has coffee, bakery items, and ice cream.
Lunch and dinner
If you’re looking for a meal, I have a few suggestions.
Oberon’s Restaurant and Bar has a Shakespearean Mid-Summer Nights’ Dream theme.
They serve British-style pub food, craft beer, and cocktails. They stock over a hundred whiskeys and often have live music.
My favorite for dinner is Blue Toba. They serve Indonesian food. The chef travels to Indonesia and brings back fresh spices. It is delicious.
There’s the Taj Indian Cuisine, which is a good option. They have a great lunch buffet.
Thai Pepper is also a favorite. They have a patio down on the creek, so try to get a seat down there if the weather cooperates.
Agave Gourmet Mexican is popular. You’ll definitely want to try the tamales.
There are many restaurants with seating out on Lithia Creek, from wood-fired pizza to fancy. And if it’s in the downtown area, it’s probably good, or it would not survive the competition.
Ashland Food Co-op is another great option. Pick up quality deli breakfast and lunch options and take your food to Lithia Park for a picnic.
Travel tip of the week
My tip this week is to take the tour, specifically the Shakespeare Festival’s backstage tour. (And remember, they sell out fast.)
Behind-the-scenes tours make your experience so much richer.
As an overall tip, if there’s a tour, I suggest you take it.
In Boston, we toured Fenway Park before we went to a Boston Red Sox game. You don’t have to be a baseball fan; this was fascinating.
You can see Aplets and Cotlets being made in tiny Cashmere, Washington.
In Seattle, you can see inside Boeing or Microsoft.
In Tillamook, Oregon, you can peek inside the Tillamook Cheese Factory.
And in Washougal, you can tour the Pendleton Woolen Mills.
From brewery tours to factory tours, always jump at the chance to see what’s behind the curtain, so to speak, even if it costs a little more.
- OSF Backstage Tour
- Fenway Park Tour
- Aplets and Cotlets
- Boeing Tour
- Microsoft Tour
- Tillamook Cheese Factory
- Pendleton Woolen Mills