Our favorite – site 21 in all its 100′ glory
Each time I return to Ashland, my home for a few years once upon a time, it is a new experience. For the longest time, it was quite emotional because I felt torn, not quite an outsider, but no longer a resident. That feeling slowly subsided and I can now just be a tourist again. I see friends and shows and enjoy just hanging out at Emigrant Lake. This trip was the first time I’d been back since Covid, and lots has changed. Many of the changes are sad, like businesses not making it through the pandemic and closing doors. It is a town largely dependent on Shakespeare Festival tourism and is populated by many artists and performers, people who can ill afford prolonged shutdowns. There is also the tragic loss of Sammy’s New Cowboy Bistro in Talent, which burned to the ground during the Almeda Fire in 2020. Meanwhile our former house on Henry Street has really deteriorated. We put a lot of time into fixing that place up, back when we were young and stupid and had energy. It looks like all the houses on that block are getting boarded up and it is likely the nearby college will just tear them down and extend the parking lot. Oh well.
Oh sigh. We did a really good job restoring that built in bar.
On the other hand, our son has moved up there and works at the local elementary school. The schools seem great, he seems happy, and life keeps swimming.
Most people were masked.
The Festival itself has changed too, and I recognize almost no names in the playbill anymore. Same with the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, where I used to work. We weren’t sure how we felt about seeing shows but purchased tickets anyway. Judging by the low audience numbers, it seems many people are not sure how they feel about seeing shows. We ended up deciding to mask up and brave it, and I’m glad we did. We saw “The Tempest” in the outdoor Elizabethan theatre and that felt pretty safe. I guess. I don’t really know. It’s all very confusing. We also went ahead and saw indoor shows in the small Thomas Theatre and in the great big Bowmer. Almost everyone was masked indoors, so that’s something. And they check vaccination cards before they let you into any of the spaces. But it is impossible to ignore the feelings of unease as we tentatively dip our toes back into the waters of what we took for granted in the pre pandemic world. I remember a few years back, when they did shows in a huge tent outside in Lithia Park because a giant beam had cracked in the Bowmer. At the time, I thought, “This is history. No one will ever see the likes of anything this strange again.” So wrong.
Their selection of shows does not shy away from difficult subjects, that’s for sure. This resource page is posted in every bathroom stall.
We enjoyed every show we saw. “unseen” is a three woman play that packs a powerful punch, exploring how a conflict photographer bore witness to tragedy and trauma in the middle east. “How I Learned What I Learned” is a one man show told from the point of view of August Wilson and chronicles his life as a black artist in America. And finally, we saw a “concert performance” of “Once on This Island,” a musical rendition of a Caribbean myth that centers on the star-crossed love between descendants of natives and colonists. The performance could not be done normally, due to several breakout cases of Covid, and injuries to the understudies who had attempted to keep the show going on. Another reminder that we are not back to normal yet. But rather than cancel the performances altogether, they assembled the actors on stage, sitting in chairs with music stands. They took multiple parts, and the Assistant Director took on some roles as well. Then they simply sang the show with minimal staging. All performances got standing ovations, which is normal for Ashland theatre, but one imagines a large part of the feeling right now is about gratitude. Some of the performers clapped right back, as if to say “Thank you for braving the uncertainty. Thank you for coming.” I know I was thinking, “Thank you. Thank you for trying.”
The Allen Elizabethan Theatre
There is no more gift store because the space where it used to be costs rent that could not be supported in a lockdown. They have plans to move it, but it might not happen this summer. We went out for dinner every night and managed both calories and Covid the best we could. If you are going through town, I give high ratings to Thai Pepper, Skout Taphouse, Gils, Taqueria Picaro, and Happy Thai Express. Brothers Restaurant is still there, thank goodness, and that is always great. And we indulged at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Shop, Mix Bakeshop, and Zoey’s Ice Cream. Sadly, Standing Stone Brewery is gone. But happily, our son introduced us to Market of Choice for grocery replenishing and that is a great food market with excellent produce.
Site 16 also has a rocking view.
We had to move campsites for the last night, but that timed nicely with needing to dump tanks anyway. Site 21 on the end is spectacular, but so are any of the ones on the lower loop that look out over the lake. And those sites are more proportionately sized for a tiny trailer. There was water in the lake, perhaps not as full as it should be, but better than it was last summer.
Skout Taphouse is cute. It also serves the biggest soft pretzels you have ever seen in your life.
The only other thing of interest I can report is that I tried using a closed caption system for the first time during the performance of “Once on This Island.” I loved that so much. They give you a tablet on a stand and come set it in front of you right before the show begins. Someone controls the pace of the text as it scrolls on the screen, which is presented in nice big lettering. I highly recommend it for anyone who struggles to hear live theatre. I really want someone to figure out how I can always have this technology, especially with Richard, because he mumbles.
Climbing up to Mt. Ashland with Shasta in the background.
I’m so glad we came. I do worry about the future of the Festival and how it would impact this tiny oasis of exceptional art if it doesn’t make it. Theatre life is hard, and I can’t say I don’t miss it, but I also don’t think I would do well with that much uncertainty. Richard enjoyed coming too and got in a ride up to Mt. Ashland and back down. He notes for future reference that we could totally exit the freeway at Callahan’s and take Old Highway 99 down to the lake next time, rather than deal with I-5’s 6% grade down the pass, huge trucks, and major construction. The road is perfectly Doryable and in good condition. We will certainly look for any opportunities to come back for a visit with dear friends, a couple of shows, and a glimpse of our grown-up guy.
Total miles (from Fowler’s): 94.1, 17.2 mpg, 2 hours 10 min. Site RV 21, then RV 16. Full hookups, though 21 is made for a huge rig and the hookups are so far back in the site, you’d be way too far away from the picnic table. Excellent solar and cell service. Used sewer in RV 21, but in 16 the inlet was raised up above ground and therefore awkward. Used campground dump instead, which was good.