The show must go on — but where?

How crazy is this Angus Bowmer thing? Crazy as a peach orchard boar chasing a long-tailed cat in a room full of peachwood rocking chairs. Stark, raving, minute-by-minute nuts.

Imagine you're putting on a play, no, three plays, two performances a day, six days a week. Each involves a dozen or more actors, costumes, high-tech lights, sound, computerized cues, directors, designers, assistants, technicians, volunteers, building crews who put it together and a running crew to move it all around.

For the past week, since the main beam in its Angus Bowmer Theatre cracked, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has been putting on plays in the old Ashland Armory just down the hill from the OSF campus and out at Southern Oregon University's Dorothy Stolp stage. Both are nice spaces, but both have limitations, and — this is the key point — neither is available every day.

So people are coming to see your plays from all over the West Coast, the nation and beyond, there's serious money at stake, and as of Saturday afternoon nobody knows where this moveable feast is rolling.

This has been back and forth and back again. As of 3 p.m. Friday afternoon, the plan that was on the verge of being announced was to move three OSF performances to Medford's Craterian Theater for next weekend. I'd begun this column then as follows:

"Here's something you don't see every day. In fact here's something you've never seen: OSF plays in Medford. In case you've been vacationing someplace without Twitter (a deep coal mine in Outer Mongolia? Atlantis? The outer rings of Saturn?), the OSF's Angus Bowmer Theatre has been closed since actors performing "Measure for Measure" a week ago heard the sound of wood cracking ... "

Stagings of Moliere's comedy "The Imaginary Invalid," Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" and the final performance of the OSF's current production of "To Kill a Mockingbird" would have taken place Saturday and Sunday, July 2-3, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater. But you wouldn't have been able to buy tickets. The festival was doing the replacement shows for current ticketholders only.

"It would get too crazy" to try to sell more tickets, OSF Director of Media Relations Amy Richard said Friday. "It's a gift to the people who own tickets. We're doing these performances for them."

But by Saturday afternoon things had changed, the Medford option appeared to be dead, and the one new thing that could be reported was that OSF workers on Saturday had begun erecting a very large tent in Lithia Park. Nobody knows how long this will take.

Meanwhile, plays will go on at the old Armory and/or SOU, neither of which seats as many people as the Bowmer (the Craterian seats about 100 more), and neither of which has the capabilities of that all-season workhouse of the powerhouse OSF.

"We're trying to add more props and costumes," Richard said. "There are some lights, what they can provide, but we don't have time to do the tech. It's pretty improv.

"They're trying to do their blocking (actors' movements on stage) the same as they do here, but they don't have as much room, certainly not at the Armory."

The festival has been turning people away at SOU because there aren't enough seats, something it doesn't want to do.

"They were gracious but disappointed," Richard said.

How big a deal is this? The Bowmer seats 600 and mounts a dozen shows a week. Tickets are $20 to $71.50, most of them $64.50 or $71.50, plus a few going for $20 and a few for $51. Call it $55 average. Assuming sales of 90 percent of its seats, the Bowmer would be generating $356,000 a week, or something like $1.5 million a month.

When the news broke a week ago Saturday, I was home in Medford, and Marty Hughley, the Oregonian's fine drama critic, and I were hanging out while he was in town to see plays. Marty got a call with the news, and I got the same call a moment later. When Marty said the actors heard the sound of something breaking it didn't come to me, in that split second you have to crack wise, to ask if it sounded like a string breaking and if it died away sadly.

That's the stage direction for Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard." The sound comes in the second act and again at the play's end, and it is heartbreaking. I'm not going any further with this because the OSF, unlike Chekhov's poor Madame Ranevskaya, will surely soldier on. Just want to note that the OSF did a fine production of "The Cherry Orchard" in 2007, directed by Libby Appel, and Todd Barton created a marvelous tragic twang for the string-breaking sound. The stage was the Bowmer.

Wherever shows wind up being staged this summer, this isn't the first time the festival has presented plays outside its own theaters. In 1951 they presented four productions at the old Lithia Theater next to the Ashland Elks Building, calling it the Vining Repertory. They did eight the next year before a fire destroyed the building and they moved to Churchill Hall at what's now SOU. There were plays at Ashland's Varsity Theater in the 1960s. There was also the festival's short-lived experiment producing plays in Portland, which lasted from 1988 to 1993 when Portland Center Stage became an independent theater.

Richard said an announcement on the Bowmer would be coming soon. In the meantime, figure 99 percent for sure on the July 2-3 shows happening at the old Armory, not the Craterian. Although the way it's going, I wouldn't bet the farm.

Editor's Note: It's a good thing Bill Varble didn't bet the farm. Late Saturday night, long after Varble had gone home, Richard called to say it looked likely that OSF would be at the Craterian July 3, and probably July 2, too. You can go to today and probably get the definitive answer.

Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. If you have comments or suggested topics for the column, please send them to

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