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Monday, June 20, 2011

OSF 2011: Unprecedented Bowmer Theatre drama! (Updates)

Earlier I wrote, partly tongue-in-cheek, about how OSF dealt with bad weather in an outdoor performance, so I must follow up here with how they deal with a real problem: on Saturday it was discovered that the main supporting beam in the Angus Bowmer Theatre (the largest of the OSF indoor theatres) was unsafe, and the theatre would have to be closed until it was fixed.

Bowmer house: OSF photo
Whoa! This is the  height of the OSF season and most performances at the Bowmer are sold out; people travel here from all over and plan their OSF visits for months in advance.

 Historic Ashland Armory open!
Photo by Paul from blog:
How the Festival and audiences are dealing with the situation is a classic example of "the show must go on." Here's the OSF press release, and here's a report from a blogger who happened to be here for one of the improvised performances. Great story! Be sure to review the comments to that post, as well. Bravo! I do love this town.

I hope this problem with the Bowmer doesn't cause big financial losses for OSF, which has weathered the Great "Recession" very well so far. If I had a ticket to one of the cancelled Bowmer performances, I'd count myself lucky to see what they do in the Armory.

Update: The problem is in a huge beam that goes all the way across the ceiling in front of the stage and supports other beams. Apparently, a loud crack was heard during a rehearsal Friday night and an engineer was called in right away. The theatre closing also affects the spaces under the stage that cast and crew use for both the Bowmer and the Elizabethan theatres: they're off limits until the beam is fixed, so I can only imaging the scrambling going on for things like costume changes at the Elizabethan, which has three plays in repertory and is still open.

The Ashland Daily Tidings reported June 22, "Actors needed the outfits that night for a production of "The Pirates of Penzance" in the Elizabethan Theatre — which connects to dressing rooms underneath the Bowmer stage. With the dressing rooms deemed unsafe, employees set up makeshift changing spaces in the festival's costume shop. For the next two nights, actors had to rush off the Elizabethan Stage and across the festival's campus to change for their next scene."

Plays are being performed all around town (and even in Medford, with shuttle service provided by OSF) until early in July, when the Bowmer will come home to a large tent now being set up in Lithia Park (just next to the OSF campus). It's full circle - back so the early Chatauqua days, of events in a tent in the park!

Click on this "OSF Connect" link for ongoing status updates including links to photos showing repairs, performances, and tent construction. The OSF home page has a crawl with new stories. Here's one they posted, an audio interview with actor Tony Heald and Executive Director Paul Nicholson. Heald describes the sound of the crack, which occurred as he was delivering a soliloquy, and denies that it was the power of his performance that caused the damage to the beam. Nicholson says the damage is "fairly significant" and describes how the repairs are proceeding.

And check out the audience comments on the OSF update page: http://www.myosf.org/connect/ They're priceless.

The story continues to unfold - here's a YouTube of audience reaction after seeing the restaged Mockingbird at the Armory:

UPDATE: OSF just posted this on YouTube - the actors' reaction to working in the alternate theatres!

Here's another blog post I found - it describes two of the OSF theatres, including the Bowmer (as well as the Green Show, the Varsity, the Columbia Hotel, and Ashland's Dog Bar). Interesting blog on topic such as public spaces, history, and architecture.
Full circle - back to the Chatauqua tent in the park! OSF photo of tent under construction.

Meanwhile, the tent's going up in the Park - I went over there to be a sidewalk superintendent the other day. I will at least get to see a slightly different version of the wonderful Measure for Measure in that venue, since the Bowmer won't be open yet on the date of my ticket. It will be fun to compare it with the full production I've already seen twice, in the Bowmer. And I have a ticket to a talk by Bill Rauch (director, and OSF artistic director) about the play soon. If you come to OSF, be sure to catch some of the lectures, Park Talks, and Prefaces.


The saga continues - July 7, the new "Bowmer in the Park" theatre opened! Here's OSF's special page about it with links to photos and more.

The last update: The tent is being taken down now, and the Bower was back in business on Tuesday, Aug. 2. What a ride it has been for OSF. Anyone who cancelled their trip here on account of the Bowmer problem has missed being a part of what will always be remembered as one of OSF's greatest moments. I'm glad I did get to see a performance in the tent - on the last day of Bowmer in the Park - Measure for Measure on Sunday July 31. It was fabulous.

PS And now there's a movie! This lovely short doc was screened at this year's film festival: http://www.bowmerinthepark-movie.com/

PPS 1 Here's how one fan remembers it months later. Some inaccuracies, but a very nice piece that is quite accurate in what the spirit was like. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karen-kimseyhouse/happiness_b_1511217.html


Vincent said...

Sorry I didn't get a better shot of the Bowmer for you. Being enthralled with the beautiful architecture in Ashland, I really wanted to. But alas, the ushers inside really didn't want me too! The one shot I did get (dimly) shows some cedar beams in the lobby. Is it one of those beams that is structurally unsafe?

Christine Menefee said...

Hi Vincent. Your lobby photo was nice, and there aren't many of the lobby. I used this OSF one as it shows the location of the problem beam - "The 70-foot beam, 78-inches tall and 14-inches wide, is the main support of the theatre, spanning the ceiling in front of the stage from side to side, and supporting 30 glu-laminated beams" as the press release describes. I probably should have quoted that in the post. Your blog is fascinating, by the way -- a great mix of public life and space, history, theatre and I've just scratched the surface. I appreciated your review of Equivocation and that's a tough play to write about.