As you may know, we have been working to reestablish the Stratford, Connecticut Shakespeare Festival. All this Shakespeare festival talk has reminded us of perhaps the most wonderful theatre happening we have encountered: The Oregon Shakespearean Festival.
The story of Oregon is so incredible! A young man living in Oregon said to himself one day, “I know what! We need a Shakespeare festival here!” This was in 1932—in the middle of the Depression—and therefore, incredibly unlikely.
However, Angus Bowmer just went ahead and did it!
Angus L. Bowmer, an enthusiastic young teacher from Southern Oregon Normal School (now Southern Oregon University), was struck by the resemblance between the Chautauqua walls and some sketches he had seen of Elizabethan theatres. He proposed producing a “festival” of two plays within the walls, in conjunction with the City of Ashland’s Fourth of July celebration. The City cautiously advanced Bowmer a sum “not to exceed $400” for the project. SERA (State Emergency Relief Administration) funds provided a construction crew to build the stage and improve the grounds.The Oregon Shakespearean Festival was officially born on July 2, 1935 with a production of Twelfth Night. The Festival presented The Merchant of Venice on the 3rd and Twelfth Night again on the 4th. Reserved seats cost $1, with general admission of $.50 for adults and $.25 for children.
Can you imagine? When everyone else was saying no! no! no!, Angus (thankfully) was saying yes! yes! yes!
Today this is the largest Shakespeare festival in the world—equaled only by Stratford, England. They have three theatres (2 indoor and 1 outdoor) and present many Shakespearean plays from February to November each year.
They pride themselves on being “inspired by Shakespeare’s work and the cultural richness of the United States, we reveal our collective humanity through illuminating interpretations of new and classic plays, deepened by the kaleidoscope of rotating repertory.”
A glorious theatre happening!