The `Speare Bearer’s Ride: Epic Theater Time at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR, 06/12-06/16, Pt. 1 A couple things I want to start with on the record. My research has not been exhaustive, and is quite intuitive, but I will say, that of the cities I’ve been to, between Tampa, FL, and my current location, Salem, OR, the best two cities for theater, or for a theater artist, in the country right now are Las Vegas, NV, and Ashland, OR. My journey into Ashland started with me leaving from my hotel room in Yreka, CA, getting on the interstate, to do an arduous, grueling, and perilous ascent/descent over the mountains, nearly 4000ft elevation to finally make it into this town, that I specifically turned inward from the Californian coast to visit the OSF (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), nearly two weeks prior. I finally made it, and in one piece, THANK GOD. But I still didn’t have a place to stay. My friends Megan McDonald and my mentor Dennis Elkins, as well as a fellow artist I met in San Fran, Scott Bieben, were all scrambling to find me a host, as I wanted to stay 3 nights in town. Dennis connected me with Claudia Alick, a producer at the festival. When I arrived I met a wonderful couple, Lew and Kate, who were volunteering at the OSF information desk (Another incredible innovation these folks do is offer incredible volunteer-ships to the entire community. To my understanding, anyone in the community can donate just 24hrs of their time to OSF throughout their 10 month season, and get free tickets to the ENTIRE season. What a brilliant way to get good labor, at a great value, substantially lower operating costs, and at the same time really give the community investment and ownership of your theater… these people are fucking geniuses.). I told them about my trip, and we chatted for a little bit, then I stumbled out in a punch drunk stupor of exhaustion to try to find Claudia and track down a place to stay. Claudia was generous enough to offer free tickets to shows, which was incredible, but not a place for me to crash.. I didn’t feel like camping on the outskirts of town, or paying to stay in a hostel… as if I could even afford that… so I turned to warmshowers.org. ML to the rescue! I stayed 3 nights with an awesome lady named ML who lived down the street from OSF in a beautiful house. She’s a really cool and sharp lady, and we has some pretty awesome conversations while I was around. Somehow I didn’t get a picture of this but I did visit the Theater Arts department at Southern Oregon University, the next day, after my 1st night at ML’s, as she lived right down the street from campus. I performed a Twelfth Night scene for some of the students who were all waiting to take a final, and met Professor Kyle Haden, a friend of my mentor, Dennis. There was a great vibe over there. While I was in town I performed a bit in front of a resteraunt on the OSF campus called the Black Swan. Had some good audiences there, and made some money, and while I was performing, this guy walks by with his family, and he’s like “hey alright, street Shakespeare!,” and I am STUNNED. I say “dude, don’t you recognize me???” He doesn’t at first. It is Barrett O’Brien, his wife Erica, and their beautiful daughter Miranda. “It’s me Ralf! From CAT!!” Barrett and I were Actor/Teachers together on the CAT Team, City University of NY’s initiative to bring actors into classrooms as teachers to supplement their literacy curriculum. We worked together for 5 months, and it was one of the last jobs I had in NY before leaving for my tour. Barrett and his wife, both terrific actors had since relocated to Ashland to be part of the OSF company for the season, and Erica was just about to open As You Like It as Rosalind for the Festival. They had time to see a Twelfth Night scene themselves and were really gracious to me. It was a splendid reunion, so so good to see a welcome familiar face, and meet the rest of Barrett’s family. I’d run into the, again a few more times during my stay. I had always helped Barrett in high esteem, he seems like such an upright guy, and he has a wonderful family, I’m going to be sure to stay in touch. I got to see something called the Green Show shortly after I met with Barrett, which is an INGENIOUS program OSF does, that is coordinated by Claudia Alick. For pretty much every night of the festival, (which is nearly year round) on a central outdoor stage, in their courtyard, the OSF presents basically a different incredible vaudeville act, acts from around Ashland, around the country, around the world, bands, clowns, rappers, dancers, and any other fascinating, fun act that can fill 30 min. OSF may not have invented this kind of program but it suits the festival so well, and is an ingenious way to attract audiences, integrate itself into community, and to introduce a vaudeville aspect to a Shakespeare festival… Beyond inspired (on a similar note, the OSF offer about 10 productions a year, and one of their offerings this year is the vaudeville era berzerk Marx Brothers comedy Animal Crackers. I’ve always dreamt of doing a Marx Bros. Show, and the fact that these folks have elected to produce one as part of their Shakespeare festival really says something about the spirit of their work.). Anyway, during the Green Show met Bernie, another actor in the company who is in Trolis and Cresseda, and Henry V this season, and his girlfriend, actor and screenwriter, Jackie. Barrett introduced us and they insisted coming out and seeing me perform at noon the following day on the main lawn of the OSF campus. That following day I went to the lawn as planned, Bernie and Jackie did indeed show up, and I did a little show, and the folks waiting around for the days matinee shows gathered round. Producer Claudia Alick even showed up and watched a bit. It was a wonderful show, the audiences were gracious, and afterwards Claudia got me tickets to a matinee of Romeo and Juliet, AND invited the Speare Bearer to perform as the preshow for the Green show that evening.
On top of that, Bernie, so kind and gracious, sneaks off for a bit after I do the show and we chat, and comes back with….. a ticket to the opening of
As You Like It that evening and an opening night ticket to HENRY V.
Let me tell you, if you don’t realize. Henry V is my favorite Shakespearian character. He’s the one I relate to the most. I thought it was Hamlet, but he’s an ill fit for me. But this past summer when I was reading all those new plays to gather material for the One-Man Shakespeare I happened to read the Henriad (
Henry IV Pt. 1 & 2, and Henry V), a trilogy that follows Henry V’s life, and FELL IN LOVE. Love that character and love his story, and I understand over the previous 2 years the same actor has played Henry in the Henry IV’s and would now take up the role for the third time in the magnanimous conclusion Henry V. I FREAKED OUT. I could have cried. I was so happy to receive those tickets… now I just had to get ML to let me stay with her an extra night.
Romeo and Juliet was terrific. I usually don’t care for “concept” productions, but they set this R & J in Spanish Californios in the late 1800’s. My word, what a beautiful production. A largely latin cast, some key words in the script were changed to their Spanish translation, like Juliet’s parents would use “Mi hija” as a substitute for ”daughter”, or “Darling”. I loved that, I even loved the sets and the costumes, for the texture they brought to this world. Loved it. The play was directed pretty well, wonderfull pacing, the action just drove through, great performers, I loved Juliet’s Dad, I dug the Prince of Verona, the Friar, my fav character in the play was knocked out of the park, the Mercutio gave one of the best Queen Mab speeches I’ve ever seen, sturdy Benvolio, angry angry Tybalt. Juliet was really insincere and heartfelt, and for such a young lady, really really did a great job with the language, making it understandable, while keeping a good clip, and being fluid with her emotion, wonderful comic timing as well.
I think it’s no secret amongst theater people that Romeo’s tend to suck. As a job for young male actors, it’s rare you can find a young guy with enough wit, and substance, AND sensitivity, who has a enough a of a leading man’s chin to make that work. As soon as the Romeo appeared (How I loved that he was obviously a young latin guy) I thought, this guy might be a good one. And he was. Super witty, sly, acting through every beat of the play, invested in his other characters, he and Juliet had a palpable chemistry, intense when he needed to be, wonderfully lucid and able with the language, and really wonderfully physical, which I love. I think he and Juliet also did one of the most interesting, compelling, and even suspenseful balcony scenes I’ve seen (mind I’ve seen like maybe 2 other R & J’s, I’m young, but this was really good.).
Well, the production was lovely, I was almost teary when it ended… I find there’s a Q & A afterward, open to everyone with the Romeo. Young Shakespearian actor talking about his experience, I’ve got nothing to do til’
As You Like It that evening, why not??? So I go and listen… And it’s revealed, that the Romeo, a charming, exciting young actor named Daniel Jose Molina went to Savannah College of Art and Design! My alma matter!!! He graduated from the Performing Arts department just four years after me!! I even remember professor Sharon Ott talking about him when I visited to preview my tour in January! I was stunned, but raised my hand and made myself known, and was luckily able to catch up to Dan after the Q & A and chat a bit. Ashland just seemed to be charmed for me. God is good.
A bit more story to come in part 2.