The Oregon Shakespeare Festival became home to the music, words and even food of Latin America starting on Wednesday.




A student music ensemble from Guanajuato, Ashland's sister city in Mexico, entertained people in the brick courtyard in the afternoon, while a jazz quartet led by saxophonist David Valdez played in the evening. A van parked in front of the New Theatre dispensed traditional Latin American food.




That night, Spanish-speaking audience members could watch the action and read a translation of Arthur Miller's play "A View from the Bridge" as lighted words scrolled on a small screen set on the left side of the Angus Bowmer Theatre stage.




The events kicked off a week of cross-cultural and bilingual activities that will last through Sunday as OSF celebrates its first Festival Latino.




"We think it's wonderful," said long-time OSF patron Baiba Calhoun, as she sat with her husband listening to the jazz music. "We hope to come some other nights. It's a good idea to have this kind of variety."




In between bites of food he bought from the Latin American food van, Juan Perez said he came to Ashland from Los Angeles and will perform jarocho music at 7 p.m. today in the musical group Son de Madera. Perez speaks both Spanish and English, but is visiting here with friends from Veracruz, Mexico who speak only Spanish. He said he will probably go with them to a Spanish-captioned play this week.




Liz Hardy, an English as a Second Language instructor for Rogue Community College, came to watch "A View from the Bridge" with her students.




"Most of my students haven't been to a play. They work all day and go home at night," she said.




The students ranged across four levels of English proficiency, so Hardy said the subtitles for the play were especially welcome for those at the beginning stages.




Originally from Bolivia, Hardy said Festival Latino is not only a time for non-Latino Americans to learn about Latino culture, but for people of different Spanish-speaking nations to learn about each other.




"It's fantastic to have these events here to bring the Latino population together and realize there are so many things we can share together," Hardy said.




Kiersta Gostnell, coordinator of the English as a Second Language program, said a federal grant paid for the students' tickets to the play. The grant aims to get students out into the community so they can make connections. She said with the Latin American music and captioned play, Wednesday night's events were the perfect opportunity to use the grant funding.




"I think it's absolutely fabulous. This is an entr&

233;e for these students. They might come back for other shows," Gostnell said.




With its immigration theme, "A View from the Bridge" was the ideal play to kick off Festival Latino.




Trouble strikes Eddie Carbone's household when relatives from Italy immigrate illegally and seek refuge in his home. The play is set in the 1950s but has resonance today as Americans debate the pros and cons of immigration, especially from Mexico.




The parallels between Italian and Latin American cultures are obvious, with their emphasis on close-knit families, Catholic traditions and loyalty to the community.




But it is Eddie's struggle to come to terms with the fact that his niece &

who he took in after she was orphaned as a child &

has grown into a mature young woman that is at the heart of the play. He is unwilling to loosen the bonds of affection, understanding and love they share enough to let her begin her own life.




As might be expected for Festival Latino, the capacity crowd was more ethnically diverse than most OSF play audiences. But there were also more working age people &

in contrast to OSF's more typical audience mix that is weighted toward high school students and retirees.




Regardless of age or ethnicity, the crowd responded enthusiastically to "A View from the Bridge," giving the cast cheers and a standing ovation.




For a list of the week's Festival Latino events, including music and dance performances, lectures and talks, captioned plays and backstage tours, visit /plays/festival_latino.aspx.




Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.