A temporary stage is assembled for Ashland's Shakespeare Festival at Lithia Park Saturday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Where there's a will ...

A tragedy for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland has turned into an instant tourist attraction as onlookers marvel at workers constructing an outdoor theater soon to be enveloped by a massive tent.

"I think it's better outside anyway with the weather," said Rick Bosshart.

The 47-year-old Eagle Point resident was surprised to learn that a split beam in the Angus Bowmer Theatre forced its closure for repairs last week during the height of the summer season.

Festival officials shifted performances to the Historic Ashland Armory and to Southern Oregon University, but spied a spot that would work even better for a temporary stage and 600 stadium-style seats.

As Shakespeare's Richard III proclaimed, "Up with my tent there."

Next to the pond at the entrance to the park, the Feast of Will lawn surrounded by trees provides enough space for a structure suspended above the ground that went up as fast as an erector set over the weekend.

The 66-foot-by-112-foot tent will be only a short distance from the Bowmer Theatre, built in 1970.

A firm specializing in temporary stages throughout the country, Noel Lesley Event Services In. of Ashland, dropped everything to come to the aid of the festival.

"We don't often get a chance to do something in our own backyard," said Carolyn Lesley, president of the 31-year-old company. "We jumped at the chance."

She said she couldn't give an estimate of when the tent structure would be completed, noting that there are other logistical concerns at play.

For instance, the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department is working with the festival on a plan to keep the trees watered while the sprinkler system under the temporary stage is shut down.

At the Bowmer, workers hefted two temporary vertical support beams beneath the cracked main beam on Sunday.

OSF has explored three options for the theater's final repair. The proposals include two 44-foot steel beams on either side of the existing beam, or a 60-foot beam beneath the existing beam, or pinning and adding support cables to the existing beam.

In addition to the stage and seating, Noel Lesley will construct smaller tents nearby to serve as dressing rooms for actors.

Passersby, curious at the scaffold flooring suspended above the lawn, were kept a safe distance under the watchful eyes of security guards.

Lesley said the white tent will be 25 feet at its peak, but she said there are no plans to dress it up in the style of a pavilion from the Elizabethan era unless festival officials request it.

Though some rumors suggested the tent could be ready later this week, Lesley discounted them, saying it would take longer.

But, she said there is a lot of pressure to get the project done as soon as possible.

"Time is of the essence," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail

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