Playwrights who are creating history-inspired works for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival have traveled across America and even around the world to research their plays.
OSF sends playwrights to far-flung locales so the plays they create for American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle are even more authentic.
OSF is in its third year of presenting plays commissioned for the History Cycle program, a 10-year effort to craft 37 plays based on American history.
Minnesota-based Navajo playwright Rhiana Yazzie went to the East Coast and visited a museum dedicated to the Jamestown Settlement — which was founded in 1607 in Virginia and became America's first permanent English colony.
Yazzie is creating a play about a sister of Pocahontas, the famous Native American woman known for befriending Jamestown settlers.
David Henry Hwang has traveled the farthest afield, visiting the Philippines for his future play about that nation's relationship with America.
This season, information that playwright Robert Schenkkan gathered from a Texas museum devoted to former President Lyndon Baines Johnson will inform the play "All the Way."
Running from July 25 through Nov. 3, "All the Way" dramatizes Johnson's first year in office after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Alison Carey, director of the History Cycle, said sending playwrights to different locations is just part of what OSF does to support their work.
The playwrights also can work with OSF actors in acting labs to hone their pieces, she said.
OSF lets the writers come up with their own ideas for plays, believing that's the best way to get impassioned work, she said.
Every year, the commissioned playwrights meet to discuss their pieces.
They make sure they're not duplicating the same subjects. At the same time, they often find that the subjects they are working on complement each other.
The LBJ play "All the Way" is set in the 1960s, as is "Party People," an American Revolutions play written by the group Universes that explores the experiences of Black Panthers and Puerto Rican Young Lords during that tumultuous decade — and into the present day as they enter their senior years.
"Party People" runs from July 3 through Nov. 3.
This is the first time OSF has staged more than one History Cycle play in a season.
"It gave us an exciting contrast," said Carey. "The 1960s was such a pivotal period in the development of so many of our audience members' lives. When you're able to perform both plays in the same season, it's thrilling."
Plays that are in the pipeline for future years will cover a range of topics, from the impact of the slave trade on people working on the docks in Rhode Island to the fate of an industrial town after its industry dies, Carey said.
"We want to get an impressionistic quilt of American history over time," she said.
With 37 plays planned for the History Cycle, not all will be staged at OSF. Many will be produced at other theater companies.
OSF has teamed with other companies to commission many of the works, and also has received generous grants to fund the History Cycle.
Some plays already staged in Ashland have traveled to other venues.
Staged in 2010, "American Night" — a play about Latinos' experiences in America — has gone on the road for performances in multiple venues around the country.
"Ghost Light" from OSF's 2011 season has traveled to California.
Works that got their genesis as playwrights traveled, exploring American's history, are destined to spread out across the nation, offering insights to audiences far from Ashland.
"The plays are definitely having lives, which is fantastic," Carey said.
Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.