OSF prepares for wildfire smoke by using Ashland High School's Mountain Avenue Theatre

The smoke from wildfires isn't here yet but the Oregon Shakespeare festival said it’s ready when or if it arrives. OSF will move its outdoor performances to the Mountain Avenue Theatre at Ashland High School when the air quality isn't safe. 12 matinees will also be available there starting in August.

Posted: Jul 11, 2019 11:14 PM

ASHLAND, ORE. -- The smoke from wildfires isn't here yet but the Oregon Shakespeare festival said it’s ready when or if it arrives. OSF will move its outdoor performances to the Mountain Avenue Theatre at Ashland High School when the air quality isn't safe. 12 matinees will also be available there starting in August.

Last year’s devastating fire season and the smoke that came with it is promoting changes at OSF. The staff still remembers how hard it was to make sure a scheduled play still happened.

“I’d never seen anything like it before,” said Assistant Production Manager Ben Jones.

“It was physically and emotionally exhausting,” added OSF’s Stage Operations Manager Matthew Carleton. “We'd set up scenery for the potential to have a show and a show may or may not have gone on. It was disheartening.

This year OSF is being proactive. Thursday, OSF held a technical rehearsal for one of its outdoor plays All's Well That Ends Well at the Mountain Avenue Theatre. Every member of the cast and crew is learning how to adjust to this theatre ahead of the smoke, unlike last year.

"We have a place to go. We have a second home," Jones said.

"Even though the venue here is smaller, 400 seats vs 1,200, we can guarantee patrons who may come from 100 miles or more to visit Ashland and to stay here in this city,” said Acting Executive Director Paul Christy. “We can guarantee if they buy a ticket they'll see a performance that night."

The back-up theatre will be used whether the smoke returns or not.

Since it is already planning to have plays there just in case, Christy said it just made sense to also have more permanent matinee shows.

“We made the decision that we would craft sets and all that goes with it in two locations, one in the smaller theatre here and then in the outdoor theatre. We had sunk the effort into having that available. We realized that they are just sitting there unused in the afternoon so let's move all of our actors and our technical folks down here," added Christy.

Last year OSF had to reschedule 26 shows at the last minute and cancelled a few. OSF said it’s ready for this year’s potential smoke but hopes not to need the Mountain Avenue Theatre because of terrible air quality.

"I would like nothing more than for everything I've done at the Mountain Avenue Theatre this summer to be obsolete," Jones said.

"I hope we've prepared for the worst and we don't have to use it," added Carleton.

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