The "Bricks" were crammed with high-spirited spectators Thursday night, sitting on new banks of seating, children romping and munching on free popcorn, dancers dancing — one of them dancing ballroom-style with a man in a wheelchair — and everyone reveling in what felt like a new, fourth theater for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
It’s outside, in the courtyard in front of the Bowmer and Elizabethan theaters, featuring a bigger, more solid stage, overhead lighting, slightly steeper hill for better sight lines, much enhanced handicapped access and four times the seating it used to have.
The upgrade, handled by Adroit Construction, cost $5.1 million. The Bricks remodel project received $500,000 preliminary funding from local residents Judy Shih and Joel Axelrod, part of the couple’s $1 million gift to the Festival in April 2016, with fundraising continuing for the final $200,000.
The renovation design team was led by Walker Macy Landscape Architecture in association with Hacker Architects, both of Portland.
The seven-month construction job was completed just hours before Thursday's celebration, and the longed-for removal of fences was accomplished then, said OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch, whose office looks out on the "Bricks." He said the first thing he saw in the new space was hundreds of young people laughing, running around and jumping up on the new stage to play act.
“I said, ‘This is what it’s all about — coming together,’” Rauch said happily. “As we move into our 83d year, I’m so proud.”
Veteran OSF actor Shirley Patton, who started at the festival in 1958, said, “We’ve made this day a celebration, and it’s my goal to see it as a memory bridge between the past and present."
She knew festival founder Angus Bowmer, noting he always favored diversity with culture, race, economic standing and handicap, a big feature of the new locale of the Green Show.
“If Shakespeare himself could be standing on this stage, he would say the same thing,” said Patton.
Former state Rep. Peter Buckley, a friend of the governor and many legislators, said they all are keen on the festival. “This is not a heavy lift for them. They know what a gift this is ... May this be a place of beauty and joy for many decades.”
Eddie Wallace of OSF media relations called it “a fabulous day of reopening the 'Bricks,' very accessible-friendly to everyone, especially folks with mobility issues, who’ve had trouble in the past here.
"It’s really a new chapter here at OSF," Wallace said. "This 'Bricks' area is the heartbeat of the campus, a natural gathering place. This is an exciting time for OSF.”
Melissa Markell of OSF's Tudor Guild said, “It’s fantastic, more seating, more shade for performers. It’s fresh, clean, safer and the 'Bricks' are now set in cement.”
Performances at the free Green Show are at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The schedule can be found at www.osfashland.org. The coming week features:
June 16: DanceAbility International, mixed-abilities dance company
June 17: Infinite Flow, L.A.-based wheelchair ballroom dance company
June 18: DanceAbility International
June 19: Juneteenth, OSF’s commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S., will be held at noon on the Courtyard Stage. There will be poetry, dance, music, visual art and theater excerpts.
June 20: AirMazing Science! with ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum
June 21: Flat 5 Flim Flam, acoustic swing from the ’30s and ’40s
To see a photo gallery of the event, click here.
— Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at email@example.com.
June 16: Story updated to include names of designers and major donors.