November 8, 2008

“Ashland Nerds”

My wife and I have been travelling down to southern Oregon to visit the Oregon Shakespeare Festival every year since 1996, before we were even a couple. But it is only this year that we seem to have become “Ashland nerds.”

It might have been the fact that we made the trip twice this year, as our usual five-day trip, this time in June, wasn’t enough to get us the plays that everyone was talking about. We returned in October to catch this year’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler.

It might have been that we have stayed in the same bed and breakfast for the last three trips. Or that the proprietors of the Shrew’s House are particularly social and friendly.

Or, it might have been the arrival of a new Artistic Director and the inevitable speculation this change would create in the “regulars” about what changes this might bring to the Festival.

Whatever the reasons, I’ve found myself engaged in conversations with strangers about the Festival throughout the year. Our visit in the spring featured the usual talk around the breakfast table about the plays we’ve seen and are seeing, but it really didn’t get started until someone noticed the 2009 season’s list, which included The Music Man, which is something of a departure for the Festival. This, combined with the disastrous addition of songs to the season’s sad version of A Comedy of Errors, motivated the discussion of what this change could mean.

Weeks later, I found myself engaged in a similar conversation with another stranger, in a much stranger context – on the most remote section of the Pacific Crest Trail, according to Backpacker Magazine. One of my companions on an August trip to the Canadian border is also a regular at Ashland. He visits each year and writes about the plays for an alumni magazine. So we spent some time along the way, as we walked, talking about our experience with the Festival and our concern with what might be a different direction for the coming years.

In fairness, given all of this concern with the future artistic direction, I am told that the new Director is conducting community forums this year, which strikes me as a very good sign, considering how intertwined the town and the stage are.

My wife coined the term “Ashland nerds” during our visit two weeks ago, when we found ourselves spending an hour or two each morning discussing the Festival, our experiences, our likes and dislikes, and our questions about the new Director, with the innkeepers and their guests. It was the end of the season, everyone had seen most of the plays, sometimes more than once, and it was just cool to be member of this club.

Possibly more hooked than heretofore, we find ourselves considering another two trips next year. Apparently, once is no longer enough.