OSF will hold plays in Lithia Park tent

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival was given the go-ahead to erect a stage and 600-seat tent in Lithia Park for housing its productions originally scheduled to be performed at the crippled Bowmer Theatre.

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission held a special meeting Wednesday to hear a proposal from OSF Executive Director Paul Nicholson, which outlined the impact that hosting the festival might have on the park, mitigation from OSF for damages, and the best site for hosting the productions.

The commission approved the proposal unanimously, and determined that the 66-by-120-foot tent will be located on the Feast of Will lawn, which is south of the park's lower duck pond and directly below the Elizabethan Stage.

"I'm very happy with what the board adopted today," said Nicholson. "We had a great amount of community support in the face of some great adversity."

The 600-seat Bowmer, the festival's second largest theater, was discovered Saturday to have a cracked main support beam and was closed immediately by OSF due to the possibility of the beam completely buckling.

Since then, the festival has been hosting the Bowmer's canceled performances as free re-staged versions in the Historic Ashland Armory and Dorothy Stolp Theater at Southern Oregon University; those shows can only be attended by ticket holders of the original Bowmer performances.

Nicholson said it likely will be several weeks before the Bowmer Theater is up and running again. A timeline from Adroit Construction, which was hired by OSF, gave a minimum of three weeks before the building could be restored to its former condition, but up to six weeks depending on the availability of materials.

In the meantime, Nicholson said, it would take about a week for the festival to complete its setup at Lithia Park and begin production there.

In addition to the Feast of Will lawn location, OSF considered using the existing bandshell in the park. Nicholson said, however,the location was too close to the road, and had too challenging of an ambient environment to control during the productions.

The armory and the Dorothy Stolp Theater were also considered, but the availability of the armory limited OSF's ability to schedule plays, and the Stolp's inadequate capacity would have left nearly half of the ticket holders seat less

The primary concern of the commission was to protect the trees that surround the lawn where OSF plans to setup. Although nothing has been finalized, it was agreed that the tent will remain outside of the trees' drip line, and away from their roots; in order to prevent compaction, and subsequent death.

The festival is also being required to place a raised platform inside of the tent, primarily to reduce ground compaction, and to allow workers to setup a drip system that will continue to provide water to the lawn while the tent it erect.

"We'll push the tent as far away from the trees as physically possible," said Parks Director Don Robertson, "but I suspect you'll need to be prepared to see it very, very close."

The commission and OSF are also facing the challenge of navigating a 12,000-to-16,000-pound crane and several trucks to the isolated lawn, and doing so without causing any damage to the parks walkways, irrigation lines, and tree root systems along the way.

"I know the damages can be restored, and the short-term impacts I trust that we can deal with together," said commissioner Joanne Eggers. "Irrigation can be replaced, but the roots are the issue "… be sure that it is done in a way that is not damaging to any tree."

The trucks and crane will access the lawn either via a pathway leading into the park from the downtown plaza, or over a bridge crossing Ashland Creek, about 100 yards south of Nutley Street's intersection with Winburn Way, said Robertson.

"I think everybody came into this meeting wanting to make this happen," Eggers said. "I think it really depends on goodwill and trusting on both sides "… we can work a lot of these issues out as we get further along."

At the park location, the festival has agreed to provide 24-hour security, refrain from serving alcohol, and follow lighting and noise ordinances from the city and the parks department during its performances.

The festival will continue to hold re-staged versions of it's cancelled productions while the tent is being set up in the park. Today, the festival is scheduled to show "To Kill a Mockingbird," at 1:30 p.m., and "Measure for Measure," at 8:30 p.m., in the armory. On Friday and Saturday, the re-staged performances will move to the Dorothy Stolp Theater at SOU, and then back to the armory for Sunday; the last scheduled day of the readings.

For more information on the location and show times of the re-staged performances visit: www.osfashland.org, and click on the banner at the top of the page; which reads, "Updates on Angus Bowmer Theater Closure."

Nicholson, who has been caught up in a flurry of meetings since the crisis began is looking forward to the atmosphere that the Lithia Park setup will offer OSF patrons, and the entire Ashland community, and he hopes that this will bring things a little closer back to normal.

"We believe it's time to now turn this crisis into an opportunity," he said. "This could become the season that everybody talks about and remembers."

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or swheeler@dailytidings.com.

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