If the eruption of applause before the first intermission of "August: Osage County" was any indication, the opening of Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Bowmer in the Park Thursday afternoon was a resounding success.
"They're loving it," said Steve Sunde, 60, of Lynnwood, Wash., who was sitting in the fourth row for the opening matinee. "The audience is totally engaged."
Performances of "August: Osage County," "Measure for Measure" and "The Imaginary Invalid" are being staged in the park after OSF's 600-seat theater, the Angus Bowmer, closed June 18 because of a cracked beam that threatened to collapse.
Sunde said he expected an "immediate theater" experience in the oversized tent in Lithia Park, with a stronger focus on the acting, and he wasn't disappointed. "I have tremendous respect for the actors moving this very serious piece of theater "… I know how alien it must seem," said Sunde's partner, Joanna Goff, 57, a former theater professor of more than 15 years at Edmonds Community College. "It's such a great coincidence that we bought these tickets months ago and we get to see the opening performance here."
Immediately after the closure, re-staged versions of the Bowmer performances were moved to the Historic Ashland Armory and Dorothy Stolp Center Stage Theatre at Southern Oregon University while OSF officials worked to find a better temporary replacement.
Now, with the 598-seat Bowmer in the Park tent and sets redesigned by OSF Associate Artistic Director Christopher Acebo, the company is back on its feet and operating at normal capacity.
A fourth production, "The African Company Presents Richard III," will make its debut at the temporary venue on July 20.
Tickets for the Bowmer in the Park performances went on sale Wednesday, and ticket holders of the original Angus Bowmer performances scheduled through July 10 are being asked to return those tickets to the OSF Box Office, where they will be replaced with tickets for the new venue. Ticket holders of Bowmer performances scheduled for after July 10 are being asked to wait for further instruction from the festival.
OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch said the "essence" of the Bowmer productions will remain the same in the tent, and Executive Director Paul Nicholson said the festival went to great lengths, including shipping in state-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment from all over the country, to assure the tent performances would meet the festival's exceptional standards. OSF is the largest regional theater in the country.
"It's just astonishing that they are pulling this off in such a short time and doing this good of a job," said Anne Bundy, of New Haven, Conn. "And I love the setting; walking out the doors and seeing the ducklings swimming around, it's such a beautiful place for theater."
Some audience members said they could hear the tent's air conditioning during portions of the play and that the acoustics weren't perfect, but they remained impressed by the overall production.
"I'm enjoying it tremendously," said James Bundy, also of New Haven, Conn. "I came in excited to see how everything would be adapted, and it's kind of heroic to watch."
Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email email@example.com.