SEVERE WX : Red Flag Warning View Alerts
STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

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.

Confirmed Cases: 19366

Reported Deaths: 328
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah449793
Washington284923
Marion269268
Umatilla206024
Clackamas142136
Malheur67610
Deschutes5408
Lane5233
Lincoln3959
Jackson3941
Union3882
Yamhill38611
Jefferson3113
Morrow3051
Polk29612
Linn25410
Klamath1961
Wasco1703
Hood River1690
Benton1576
Douglas1341
Josephine1071
Coos850
Clatsop820
Columbia790
Crook431
Baker330
Lake320
Tillamook300
Wallowa191
Sherman150
Curry140
Harney80
Gilliam40
Grant20
Unassigned00
Wheeler00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 516851

Reported Deaths: 9441
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles1938774702
Orange37813651
Riverside37011695
San Bernardino33432418
San Diego29883565
Kern20651144
Fresno15083138
San Joaquin11885180
Alameda11524189
Santa Clara10794191
Sacramento10122145
Tulare9745189
Imperial9448222
Stanislaus9221112
Contra Costa8033127
Ventura734476
San Francisco691661
Santa Barbara616760
San Mateo5683119
Marin509270
Monterey492430
Kings445356
Merced428550
Solano361137
Sonoma311339
Madera194330
Placer192516
San Luis Obispo190216
Yolo157242
Santa Cruz11524
Butte9417
Napa8888
Sutter7976
San Benito6474
El Dorado6371
Lassen6260
Yuba5024
Shasta3909
Glenn3321
Colusa3314
Mendocino3229
Nevada2991
Tehama2341
Humboldt2334
Lake2081
Mono1451
Tuolumne1412
Amador1260
Calaveras1251
Del Norte880
Siskiyou730
Inyo611
Mariposa572
Plumas330
Trinity50
Alpine20
Modoc20
Sierra20
Unassigned00
Medford
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 95° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 80°
Brookings
Overcast
57° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 57°
Crater Lake
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 74°
Grants Pass
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 79°
Klamath Falls
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 74°
Thunderstorm chances ahead
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events