There’s something electric about live theater. Nothing compares to the brief moment of darkness at the beginning of a show that suddenly transports us to a different world once the stage lights illuminate the set.
You can tap into that exhilarating experience at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. With a rich history dating back to the turn of the 19th century, the festival attracts thousands of patrons from around the world each year to experience transformative theater on three distinct stages, including one of the oldest outdoor Elizabethan theaters in America. Here’s how to enjoy world-class theater, dining, and outdoor adventure on your next trip to Ashland.
Be Transported by Classic and Contemporary Theater
Although the festival is named after its history of exclusively performing the works of William Shakespeare, it’s not all the Bard all the time. The festival also showcases contemporary works, musicals and classics while continuing to reimagine Shakespeare for modern audiences.
“The 2023 season is about reimagining, revitalizing and reinvigorating,” says Nataki Garrett, the festival’s artistic director. “We are reimagining the future of theater. We are revitalizing the art form by centering artists and their work. We are reinvigorating the intersection between artist and audience by empowering the artist to create transformative experiences and by providing access for audiences to engage with powerful storytelling.”
The 2023 season runs from mid-April to mid-October, with performances generally running Wednesday to Sunday, including evening and matinee shows. Visitors can select seats and buy tickets ahead of time through the festival’s digital box office. The festival’s campus is easy to navigate, with all three theaters grouped together right off Main Street.
Some highlights of the upcoming season include classic Shakespeare presented with a modern twist, as well as more recent works. “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Garrett, explores present-day class divisions within a community on the West Coast. The iconic Pulitzer prize-winning musical “Rent” will highlight stories of friendship during a tumultuous time. A blues- and jazz-infused “Twelfth Night” will be performed on the outdoor Elizabethan stage. Inspired by Alexandre Dumas’s French-Haitian heritage, an adaptation of “The Three Musketeers” centers the Black imagination. “Where We Belong” is a contemporary solo piece exploring a Mohegan woman’s question of belonging when she moves to England to study Shakespeare.
Get Dinner and Drinks Before or After the Show
Ashland’s dining scene offers an array of superb options, from dishes inspired by the local region to unique cocktails with hints of Indian flavors. Chef Josh Dorcak has created an inventive seasonal prix-fixe menu of what he calls “Cascadian cuisine” at his fine-dining restaurant MÄS, which was recently named one of the 50 best restaurants in America by the New York Times. Reservations are essential. Oysters are a highlight of the popular happy-hour menu at its sister restaurant, Nama, which also features an izakaya menu focused on fresh fish and seafood.
If you’re looking for more traditional American fare, Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine hosts a farm-to-table experience. Enjoy a glass of Oregon wine, a craft cocktail or a local beer at their historic vintage bar from the 1920s, then savor their house-made meatloaf. Luna Cafe + Mercantile features fresh and local ingredients on grilled flatbread pizzas, burgers and salads, as well as unique cocktails. Alchemy’s menu thoughtfully pairs an Oregon-focused wine list and creative cocktails with crowd-pleasing dishes like crispy duck leg confit.
In downtown Ashland, Blue Toba serves flavorful traditional Indonesian dishes like chef Birong Hutabarat’s specialty rendang from West Sumatra, a tender beef curry with coconut turmeric rice. For Indian-American fusion, Masala presents Indian-inspired cocktails alongside a robust menu of dishes like the eponymous masala and biryani, as well as fusion plates like Punjabi fish and chips.
Stroll Through Gardens and Shop Artisan Goods
Ashland is a town at the convergence of lush natural scenery and world-class arts and theater. Before or after the show, stroll through the 100-acre Lithia Park, which is within walking distance from the festival grounds. This forested wonderland features groves of sycamores, a rose garden, duck ponds and wild woodlands. At the heart of Lithia Park, the newly opened Ashland Japanese Garden is a tranquil retreat with free admission. Take a walk through a bamboo forest before arriving at the peaceful sand and stone garden.
From March to October, the outdoor Lithia Artisans Market opens on the weekends for shoppers to purchase the wares of local artists, from body care to woodworking, directly from the artisans who made them. Families with younger children should visit ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum, where kids can experience science and nature with hands-on, interactive activities and exhibits year-round.
Stay in a Historic B&B or a Luxury Apartment Suite
With a wide range of lodging options, Ashland has the perfect accommodations for your stay. Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites offers cozy hotel rooms and luxury apartment suites, some with views of Pompadour Bluff, as well as on-site spa services. The landmark Ashland Springs Hotel is just down the street from the festival. For those seeking a cozy stay in a historic building, The McCall House is a boutique inn that is a 5-minute walk to the theater. Ashland Creek Inn provides a luxury B&B experience, with creekside suites and an in-house chef.