Ashland, Oregon is a town filled with thousands of other towns. You can step into one of the theatres at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and find yourself in Ancient Greece, Iraq, or the fictional land of Arcadia. I did just that with 29 other Pinewood students.
On the night of our arrival, we disembarked the bus to light rainfall, a novelty to us Californians, and walked into the heart of Ashland. During our hour of independent dinner, we not only discovered the sprawling beauty of Lithia Park, but also a store full of tchotchkes (decorative objects that do not serve an obvious purpose) and eclectic souvenirs. After dinner, we came across the town’s resident sheep herder, complete with two sheep on leashes. We hadn’t even seen a show, yet we were already wildly entertained.
Our first taste of Ashland theatre came in the new musical, “Head Over Heels.” This show followed the adventure of a king trying to save his family from what he thought to be dreadful prophecies. My description of the musical sounds tragic, but we were reminded time and time again that the show was neither tragedy, nor comedy, but actually a romance- a blend of both. Nevertheless, I, along with many of my peers, was roaring with laughter throughout both acts.
The second day of my stay in Ashland began with a backstage tour, showing us the work behind the shows that thousands of people come from all over the world to see. It was interesting to see behind the scenes of the show we had seen the night before. The magic and music that had seemed to permeate the entire theatre during the dark evening hours, was reduced to a tired echo the next day.
Later that evening, we took a hike in Lithia Park, where we were led in a yoga and tai chi session by English teachers Sabrina Strand and Eric Schreiber. Next, we attended the first and only Shakespearean play we would see on our trip. Pericles tells the tale of yet another king who experiences grief, betrayal, and something near madness over the course of 19 years. Although the king, “Pericles,” thought he had lost both his wife and daughter, spoiler alert: his despair is remedied at the end of the play, when he is reunited with both of them, alive and well.
The very next morning, we had the privilege of meeting the lead actor who had portrayed Pericles. An exciting and comedic hour of question and answer took place with our new friend Wayne T. Carr. We have yet to discover what the “T” stands for.
After free time and lunch, we attended a matinee performance of “The Happiest Song Plays Last,” my favorite show by far. This play followed two cousins in different parts of the world. Elliot, an Iraq war veteran, begins a new career as a movie star. As he shoots on location in Jordan, the events of Arab Spring take place three countries away in Egypt. Elliot is haunted by a specific day of his time in the military and struggles with post traumatic stress disorder throughout the play. His cousin, Yaz, is a selfless woman who works constantly to feed the homeless in her community in Philadelphia. She is faced with the corruption within her city and strives to correct the grievous mistakes her community makes.
I left the theatre with a sense of weightlessness and heaviness, all at the same time. The play showed us some of the happiest moments in a person’s life, but did not fail to show the ugly side of the world that we must all try to overcome.
Wish you were there,