The play's the thing in Ashland, Ore., where the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has celebrated the works of William Shakespeare since 1935.
The Tony Award-winning festival started as a summer event that eventually put Ashland on the map, but since then it has turned into a theater season stretching from February into November.
Each season, the festival features 11 plays - not all of them written by Shakespeare - in repertory among three theaters. About 400,000 people attend more than 780 performances annually, more than any theater in the country. Tickets can be notoriously hard to come by.
But festival aficionados find the festival has more than just world-class performances of "Hamlet" and "Macbeth" to take in. Backstage tours, question-and-answer sessions with thespians, and the Green Show - a play before the play - have become fan favorites as well.
In revitalizing the southern Oregon town of 20,000 through the years, the festival has attracted numerous other cultural arts groups, including community theaters, musicians and visual artists.
So while it is known for its distinctive Shakespeare experience, Ashland is becoming a cultural tourism destination for tens of thousands of visitors every year.
The Bard himself couldn't have staged it any better.
HOW TO GET THERE
Ashland is in southern Oregon, about nine and a half hours from Whatcom County. Follow Interstate 5 south and take exit 19 toward Ashland. Merge onto South Valley View Road, then turn onto Oregon Highway 99 South. Go 2.2 miles and turn right onto South Pioneer Street. The festival grounds will be on the left.
Preview shows for the 2013 season began Feb. 15, with the season officially opening Feb. 22-24. Previews for Elizabethan Stage performances begin June 4, with opening weekend June 14-16. The season runs through Nov. 3. For ticketing information, go to osfashland.org.
Angus Bowmer Theatre
"The Taming of the Shrew" - Through Nov. 3
"My Fair Lady" - Through Nov. 3
"Two Trains Running" - Through July 7
"A Streetcar Named Desire" -- April 17 through Nov. 2
"Dreams of the Muse" (working title) - July 24 through Nov. 2
"King Lear" - Through Nov. 3
"The Unfortunates" - March 27 through Nov. 2
"The Liquid Plain" - July 2 through Nov. 3
Elizabethan Stage/Allen Pavilion
"Cymbeline" - June 4 through Oct. 11
"The Heart of Robin Hood" - June 5 through Oct. 12
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" - June 6 through Oct. 13
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival provides several off-stage opportunities to learn about theater. Check the festival website for more information.
If you have a reservation, you can take a walking tour of the festival's theater auditoriums and areas behind the Elizabethan Stage. The tour has several flights of stairs, and both indoor and outdoor spaces.
Before seeing a play, visitors can learn about the story, themes and characters. Prefaces are offered every night a show is performed. Tickets available at the box office.
Want to learn more? - attend a lecture by a theater member on Wednesdays or Fridays. On Thursdays, an education staff member presents Preface Plus, with more information about a particular play. On Saturdays, you can participate in demonstrations, workshops or theater forums.
Actors and other festival company members share what they know about the festival, and host a question-and-answer session. The free talks are at noon Tuesdays and Sundays in the Bill Patton Garden.
The Green Show is a show before the show. The free performances happen in the festival courtyard before evening shows, every night but Monday. They feature music, lectures, stories and other entertainment.
Southern Oregon is home to many other theater companies. Check out some of the non-Shakespearian options available throughout the year.
Oregon Cabaret Theatre
Musical revues in a club setting.
First Street and Hargadine Street
Regional opera company made up of local talent.
33 N. Central Ave., Suite 424, Medford
Camelot Theater Company
Semi-professional troupe that performs year-round.
101 Talent Ave., Talent.
THINGS TO SEE
Ashland hosts an array of cultural attractions, from music to film, and more.
Southern Oregon Repertory Singers
42-voice ensemble has built a reputation as one of the Northwest's best choral groups.
Outdoor summer festival presents dozens of concerts, featuring classical, jazz, blues, folk, bluegrass, world, pop and country.
Jacksonville, 15 minutes north of Ashland
Ashland Independent Film Festival
Five days of independent film at various theaters.
April 4-8, 2013
93-acre forested park surrounds Ashland Creek, with hiking trails, duck ponds, and ice skating in the winter.
59 Winburn Way
WHERE TO STAY
Ashland has a range of accommodations for visitors, from hotels to bed-and-breakfasts to vacation home rentals. Many are within walking distance of the festival grounds.
Ashland Springs Hotel
Short walk from Lithia Park, Oregon Cabaret Theatre and galleries.
212 E. Main St.
Bed-and-breakfast offers farmhouse charm just off the main boulevard.
34 Union St.
Restored Italianate mansion one block from the festival has Victorian-style suites and guest rooms.
153 Oak St.
WHERE TO EAT
At some point, you're going to have to tear yourself away from the theaters to grab a bite. Here are a few options.
Noble Coffeehouse & Roastery
Hand-roasted, Fair Trade coffee
281 Fourth St.
The Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant
View of the mountains and homemade grub, including game, seafood and organic vegetarian entrees.
51 N. Main St.
Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine
Showcases the food and wine of Oregon inside Ashland Springs Hotel.
212 E. Main St.
Eric Lochridge is a Bellingham-based writer and editor.