When the Oregon Shakespearean Festival in Ashland first dangled fine drama before an audience in 1935, boxing matches were staged, just in case Shakespeare couldn’t draw a crowd. Now the Shakespeare festival in Ashland, about 300 miles south of Portland, is the one of the largest in the country, attracting more than 100,000 people a year.
The slogan in days of yore was, ”Stay four days, see four plays.” These days, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival still puts on four Shakespeare plays, but also seven others.
And the festival runs much of the year, from the end of February to early November, with the highlight being the opening of the 1,200-seat outdoor theater on June 5. It joins the festival’s two indoor theaters, the 600-seat Angus Bowmer and the 270-seat New Theater, which are already in full swing.
This year, the festival presents the premieres of several new and original productions. Including “Animal Crackers” based around the Marx brothers, the love story “The White Snake”, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” and the original “Party People” among others.
Before Shakespeare reinvented Ashland, this southern Oregon town of 20,000 was known for it’s naturally carbonated water, dubbed Lithia Water because it contains lithium. Thought to be salubrious for bathing and drinking, is still piped into drinking fountains in Lithia Park and the Plaza, Ashland’s town square.
Ashland has much more to offer visitors than Lithia Water (its bad-egg taste pronounced ”yucky” by many a daring drinker). There are plenty of excellent restaurants, and shops, bookstores and galleries line Main Street, the Plaza and the recently renovated Historic Railroad District. Nearby are abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation, like rafting on the Rogue River about 20 miles to the northwest through tour groups like Noah’s Rafting & Fishing Tours.
Indoors, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is presenting “Romeo and Juliet”, “The White Snake”, “Medea, Macbeth and Cinderella”, “All the Way”, “Seagull”, “Troilus and Cressida” and the world premiere of “Party People”. The nation’s first outside theater opens June 5th with “Henry V”, “The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa”, “As You Like It” and “The Green Show” which takes place in the festival courtyard.
The opening of the Elizabethan Stage and the beginning of summer are traditionally marked by the Feast of Will, a buffet-style chicken barbeque dinner with Elizabethan music in Lithia Park. This year it is on June 15. Tickets are $15 and are available through the festival box office.
For entertainment that’s less high brow, the Oregon Cabaret Theater, at First and Hargadine Streets, (541) 488-2902, www.oregoncabaret.com, is an enjoyable option. Since 1986, it has staged musical comedies in a 1911 Baptist church converted to a 140-seat theater. “The Big Bang” is dubbed the most extravagant musical ever written and is new to this season. For a complete list of plays you can call the box office or visit their website.
A popular event is the First Friday Art Walk, on the first Friday of every month from 5 to 8 p.m. Ashland’s more than two dozen art galleries stay open late, offering free food and music. Maps are available at the Chamber of Commerce, 110 East Main Street and a booth on the Plaza, and at participating galleries. Information: Ashland Gallery Association, (541) 488-8430 and www.atasteofashland.com.
The Britt Festival, June 6 to Oct. 12th in Jacksonville, 20 miles north of Ashland, features many well-known pop, jazz and classical artists, including Earth, Wind and Fire, Bill Cosby, Mellisa Etheridge and Primus. Tickets range in price, for details calls (800) 882-7488 or visit www.britfest.org.
On a sunny day, nothing is more pleasant than strolling through the 93-acre Lithia Park. Scenic Ashland Creek runs through it, with a parallel jogging path. There are two duck ponds, Japanese and rose gardens, a band shell, a picnic area, a playground, tennis courts and, of course, a Lithia Water drinking fountain. For information on the town, see www.ashlandchamber.com.
On weekends from May through October, the Lithia Artisans Market sets up on Calle Guanajuato, a pedestrian walkway next to Ashland Creek behind the Plaza. On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., you’ll find handmade dolls, birdhouses and candles and furniture made from salvaged materials. The Growers and Crafters Market offers fruits, vegetables and arts and crafts at the Armory, 2140 East Main Street, every Tuesday 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; (541) 472-9409. Information from passport2ashlnd.com
Three wineries are just a few miles from downtown, and visitors are welcome for tastings. Weisinger’s of Ashland is at 3150 Siskiyou Boulevard, (541) 488-5989, www.weisingers.com, and is open daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ashland Vineyards and Winery, specializing in merlot and cabernet sauvignon, is at 2775 East Main Street, (541) 488-0088, www.winenet.com; open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. Paschal Winery, six miles from Ashland in Talent, (800) 446-6050, www.paschalwinery.com, is known for its pinot gris; open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
In the restored Historic Railroad District, the A Street Marketplace, Oak and A Streets, (541) 488-3433, is an assortment of boutiques, galleries, salons and restaurants in a former factory. Among them are Tibet Treasures, with clothing, jewelry and house wares from Tibet, and Gathering Glass Studio, complete with a working kiln.
Where to Eat
Cucina Biazzi, 568 East Main, (541) 488-3739, serves Tuscan food in a small house with a terra cotta patio shaded by wisteria and grapevines. A four-course fixed-price meal, including antipasti, pasta, an entree and salad, costs $25 to $30 a person. There are three-course and à la carte menus, too, with entrees $18.50 to $23.50 and pasta $10 to $15. Dessert and wine ($3 to $7 a glass) are extra. Open for dinner daily.
Next to the historic hotel of the same name, the Peerless, 265 Fourth Street, (541) 488-6067, presents a contemporary menu in a contemporary setting that seats 60 and 30 more in a courtyard. The menu includes lavender-honey-lacquered Tasmanian steelhead, riesling-braised Oregon leg and roasted saddle of rabbit, and lamb loin encrusted in oven-dried tomatoes. Dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Dinner for two with wine, $80.
”Texas Mediterranean” is the featured cuisine at Beasy’s on the Creek, 51 Water Street, (541) 488-5009. The warm, semicircular dining room, with booths facing a fireplace, has large windows overlooking Ashland Creek and the hills to the north. Steak and seafood, like char-grilled Salmon Inca Inca (with a creamy garlic, jalapeño and lime sauce), and Cadillac mixed grill (sirloin, chicken and shrimp), dominate the eclectic menu. Dinner daily; for two with wine, $60.
For a more casual meal, Pasta Piatti, 385 E. Main Street, (541) 488-5493, is open every day for lunch and dinner, serving new wave Italian fare at an affordable price. Sesame Asian Kitchen, 21 Winburn Way, (541) 482-0119. They serve lunch and dinner daily as well as offer serving a variety of Asian cuisine at a reasonable price. Both restaurants offer carry out as well as group reservations at their restaurants.
If you are planning to visit Ashland for a night or for a week visit our accommodations. Being blocks away from downtown, being across from safeway and with our heated in door pool, free laundry service, coffee shop, affordable prices and more. We will do all we can to make the Stratford Inn feel like your home away from home.