Here’s a pop quiz: What U.S. city is home to the nation’s largest repertory theatre company? This company has a combined acting troop, production crew and administrative staff of 500 professionals—not to mention a legion of volunteers—that presents up to 800 performances of eleven plays with an annual audience of about 400,000. It’s got to be New York City, right? Wrong! The answer: the small rural town of Ashland, Oregon. Nestled in the south end of the Rogue Valley near Interstate 5 and the California border, The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) annually produces Shakespearean dramas and comedies, in addition to classical and contemporary plays with an annual operating budget of $26.8 million. OSF is the largest regional repertory theatre in the country and the second largest employer in Ashland, second only to Southern Oregon University.
This past week, I had the pleasure of seeing a wonderful performance of Pride and Prejudice, directed by OSF’s Libby Appel. This is stunning and unique period adaptation of Jane Austen’s 19th century classic. The play does not use the narrative voice, as is the case in Austen’s novel and many other play adaptations. Instead, the play unfurls the interwoven desires of each character in a sprightly drama. The characters are captivating as the outwardly snooty Mr. Darcy woos the shrewd Elizabeth Bennet. Hilariously funny portrayals of the Rev. Collins and the matchmaker mother, Mrs. Bennet, are superbly cast and serve both as comic relief and reminder of Austen’s witty criticism of 19th century English class system.
The staging is highly effective with clever lighting and character tableaux, which transform the actors in time and space—without the need for elaborate scene changes. In the end, love prevails while preserving every parent’s wish to see their offspring marry well — or at least with the family’s dignity intact. Pride and Prejudice runs through October 31, 2010.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. If you’re traveling to Oregon, OSF is a must see experience. Three OSF theaters await you with outstanding plays and backstage tours. Ashland is within reasonable driving distance of major cities like Eugene or Portland. I’m told serious theatergoers spend an entire week in Ashland, taking in as many as nine plays! Bed & Breakfasts and fine restaurants abound. For more information and the current season’s listing, check out www.osfashland.org. For a glimpse at the OSF campus, view my photos on Picasa Web Album.
Recently I had the privilege of hearing the spoken talents of three great women: my wife (okay, I’m slightly biased here), my sister-in-law poet, and a 93-year-old Chicago artist, activist, and writer. What united these three ladies? A love for educating and a passion for overcoming the inequities of our society. My wife organized an event to celebrate black history month, held at the University of the Rockies, Colorado Springs on Saturday, February 27. She put together a diverse and talented group of performance artists, poets, storytellers, and educators. The event’s honored guest speaker was Dr. Margaret T. Burroughs, internationally prominent artist, educator, writer, and renowned as the founder—along with her late husband Charles Burroughs—of the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, Illinois.
During the event, I was reminded how vital it is to recognize the talent and gifts that we all possess. I’ve come to realize the greatest challenge in one’s life is oneself. While self-deprecation can be an expression of modesty, chronic self-doubt is a toxic affliction. Failure to be confident in our abilities—or worse, failure to recognize our God-given talents—squanders our legacy. Yes, legacy. Dr. Burroughs spoke passionately about lasting human legacy in her poem entitled, “What will your legacy be?” The poem speaks of the great accomplishments of civil rights pioneers. By overcoming tremendous social adversity, these leaders left a lasting bridge of hope and a brighter future for generations to come.
What bridges will you build for future generations to cross over? Burroughs’ lesson is profound yet simple: Pursue your passion, do great works, and help others along the way. By applying these principles throughout our life, we can leave a rich and enduring legacy for future generations.
Listen to Dr. Burroughs’ reading her poem, “What will your legacy be?” during last month’s black history celebration.
I was awed by Monopoly!, a hilarious and riveting one-man performance performed recently in Colorado Springs. Written by master storyteller Mike Daisey, this 100-minute monologue brilliantly weaves his own autobiographical stories with seeming disjointed historical tidbits, which in the end, reveal a profound and unified tapestry of philosophical and historical events. In Daisey’s own voice, he brings to life George Parker of Parker Brothers Monopoly fame, inventors Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, the quiet genius Nikola Tesla, and even billionaire Bill Gates in an unscripted and extemporaneous tale that leaves you howling with laughter, and by the end, inspired by Daisey’s sublime poetic verse.
Have a peek at Invincible Summer, Daisey’s sharp-witted, personal accounts of New York City.