The outdoor theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland is a marvelous place to view performances. Photo: T. Charles Erickson courtesy of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival began as a three-day event featuring two plays, but that was 85 years ago. In short, it’s no longer just a festival and it’s far more than just Shakespeare. Away from the Pacific Northwest it seems to be a closely-guarded secret, but it has evolved to be one of North America’s premier acting companies. Each year over 800 performances during their eight-month season are viewed by 400,000 attendees. Offering up to eleven different plays over the season and occupying three stages twice a day for much of that time, the Tony Award-winning festival doesn’t have trouble selling out performances, especially during the summer, when nearly perfect weather occurs with almost alarming predictability.
After glorious mornings of birding, that include Rich’s famously delicious picnic breakfasts and lunches in stunningly gorgeous surroundings of mountain meadows and coniferous forests, we’ll return in time for a daily performance in the theatres just a short distance from our comfortable hotel. We’ll have the opportunity to see five of the year’s offerings, including at least one but no more than two Shakespeare plays. The 2020 plays have not yet been fully announced, but they tell us, “Next year’s playbill includes the enchanted comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the joyous adventure Peter and the Starcatcher, the transformational magic of The Tempest, the heroic modern-day epic Black Odyssey, and an exciting selection of other classics, new plays and world premieres!”
The delightful setting of Ashland is often underappreciated by its loyal theatregoers, many of whom make an annual pilgrimage to see as many as nine plays in a few days. It is located in a natural wonderland away from any metropolitan area and surrounded by rugged mountains, wild rivers, national forests, and wilderness areas, and it’s within driving distance of Oregon’s only national park (Crater Lake, which we visit), a national monument, and several national wildlife reserves. Despite this, Ashland is also a charming and surprisingly civilized small college-town with many fine restaurants within walking distance of our hotel; we’ll sample a different one each night.
This tour can be taken in conjunction with our tour Oregon in Summer.
Day 1: Our trip begins at 6 p.m. in Ashland. After an introductory meeting and group dinner, we’ll see our first play, an evening performance.
Days 2-3: Our first birding will likely be near Ashland in a valley surrounded by forested hills. The oak and madrone woodlands are home to the common California Scrub-Jay along with the more local California and Spotted Towhees, Oak Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Acorn Woodpecker. Bushtit, Lesser Goldfinch, and Black-capped Chickadee are common garden birds in town, and even American Dipper can be found in the city park. As we wander farther from town, the back roads through mixed conifer forests are good for Mountain Quail, Sooty Grouse, and Northern Pygmy-Owl, three of the harder to locate western specialities. We’ll be back each day by early afternoon for the 1:30 pm theatre performances. Nights in Ashland.
Day 4: We’ll take advantage of the one day free of performances to travel a bit farther abroad into the Klamath Basin, famous for its teeming national wildlife refuges. En route are diverse coniferous forests where we should see Dusky Flycatcher, White-headed Woodpecker, Cassin’s Vireo, Pygmy Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, and Mountain Bluebird. We’ll drive around the enormous Upper Klamath Lake in search of Ruddy Duck, Western and Clark’s Grebes, and American White Pelican. Staying overnight far from civilization among pine forests and sedge meadows, we’ll enjoy a home-grilled dinner on the patio, cooked by your leader. Afterward we may be lucky enough to hear Yellow Rail in its only known breeding location in western North America. Night in Fort Klamath.
Day 5: We’ll visit magnificent Crater Lake National Park, checking the coniferous forests on the way up the mountain for Williamson’s Sapsucker and Cassin’s Finch. Birding above treeline at the lodge and the rim overlooking the crystal blue lake (the deepest in North America) could produce Clark’s Nutcracker, Canada Jay, and possibly Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. It will be a memorable day in one of the most scenic national parks in the country. In the afternoon we’ll return to Ashland and the festival and attend the evening performance. Night in Ashland.
Day 6: During the last day we’ll repeat our pattern of birding in the morning and theatre in the early afternoon. Options for today’s birding might include Mt. Ashland, where wildflowers attract several kinds of butterflies; searching for Great Grey Owl, which breeds in all the surrounding mountains; or working our way up the Rogue Valley to look for Wrentit, Yellow-breasted Chat, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-breasted Sapsucker, and Red-shouldered Hawk. If we have the energy, we can even spend a few post-theatre minutes looking for Western Screech-Owl in the park behind the theatre. Night in Ashland.
Day 7: The tour ends this morning in Ashland.
Updated: 17 November 2020