The Playgoer: Festival Hopping

Custom Search

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Festival Hopping

Two critics check out some big North American theatre fests.

London's Michael Billington travels to Canada to check out Stratford and Shaw--and is very pleasantly surprised!

San Francisco's Chloe Veltman also heads north, but to Ashland, OR and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (an 8-month season, not just summers, btw).  She provides a wonderful description of the vibe in the town during festival season, something to give us hope in theatre's future in America:

The first thing that struck me about Ashland is that apart from Stratford-upon-Avon, I can’t think of another town so completely consumed by theatre. Go into any restaurant or bar and the wait staff will want to compare notes on shows they’ve seen with you and offer recommendations. Every book store is packed with theatre books. The local frozen yogurt dispensary gives you a 15% discount for saying you’re seeing plays at OSF. It’s a very special place.

The second thing that comes to mind upon visiting OSF is how vibrant the actual festival is. There are always three plays going on at once. There are fantastic pre-play concerts in the central courtyard. Pre-show presentations and backstage tours are a daily occurrence. There is so much buzz about the place.
Veltman is also absolutely right that it's outrageous the Bay Area papers don't cover this nearby theatrical attraction. Let alone the NY Times, which is too busy sending Ben Brantley to London for what, a month now?

When you think about it, NYT's privileging of London theatre over domestic regional fare is so class-biased-- and not just in favor of the British accents. Note also how the assumption is NYT readers are more eager for London theatre tips because they can afford to travel internationally. The reality is most of us in, ahem, the middle of an economic catastrofuck, would be lucky to make it out of the tri-state area.  But at least Canada or Oregon are slightly more realistic.


Thomas Garvey said...

Just btw, the Stratford Festival (though not the Shaw) has often been seen in New York (in fact didn't "The Importance of Being Earnest" just close there?). I'm a big fan of both festivals - and in fact I left the Royal Shakespeare Company productions in New York thinking, "You know - these are good, but not quite as good as the best of Stratford or Shaw . . ."

Anonymous said...

If you want to fly from NYC to Medford, OR (closest airport to Ashland) it's $54 more expensive than flying to London. Cheaper living costs in Ashland versus everything else London has to offer? You make the now not so obvious call. Of course, Canada's a different proposition.

It's tough to get The SF Chronicle to cover Shakespeare Santa Cruz--and that's only an hour and a half away.

I also note that Veltman found the two Shakespeare productions and the Moscone/Taccone play disappointing. Yeah, let's fly cross country to see The Pirates of Penzance!

Playgoer said...

Yes, fair point that airfares to Ashland from NYC can be as expensive as London. (Although, aren't there lots of extra fees flying international?) And having been to Shaw Fest I can say it's not a cheap trip since it's quite an expensive littler town.

Still, my point about NYT still holds since it aspires to be a national newspaper, doesn't it? So readers from Chicago and points westward might be prime candidates to visit Ashland.

Thomas is correct that some Stratford hits have come to B'way lately (King Lear, Earnest) and another (Superstar) is imminent. But in the earlier cases I believe NYT did go up and review it, probably courted in hopes of a transfer.

Anonymous said...

In fairness to The SF Chronicle, here is their review of this year's first two SSC productions.

Anonymous said...

I'm just catching up on all my blog reading, and, even if it's a little late in the game, I wanted to address an inaccuracy in your Oregon Shakes item.

The beam damage was in their largest INDOOR theater, which displaced 4 productions. From my understanding of the situation, the only performance that was cancelled was the matinee on the day the damage was found. By that evening, community members in Ashland offered various spaces for streamlined restagings (free to the original ticket holders, who also had the option to refund, exchange, or donate their tix), until the tent structure was built. All the while, the company managed to have the beam repaired by the end of July.

It was quite the story and a study in crisis management. Considering your recent post on the NY Times' incomplete coverage of American regional theater, I think the impressive way this was handled does deserve attention from the national theater field at large, instead of just Oregon.

That being said, I do appreciate that you thought it worthy of mention.

Anonymous said...

"Still, my point about NYT still holds since it aspires to be a national newspaper, doesn't it?" The NYT considers itself national because it thinks the rest of the country is interested in NY, not the other way round.