Oregon Shakespeare Festival dedicates new rehearsal center

The days of Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors rehearsing in the lobby of the Angus Bowmer Theatre and other improvised spaces are over.
Theater lovers gathered Friday for a dedication ceremony for the new Hay-Patton Rehearsal Center on First Street in Ashland. The three-level building has room for full-cast rehearsals, perfecting dance numbers and relaxing in lounges with bistro-style seating and kitchenettes.
OSF Executive Director Cynthia Rider, who became head of the theater company’s business side in 2013, said more rehearsal space has been sorely needed for years.
“As a (job) candidate, they had me go to rehearsal, and I said, ‘Aha! This is the Achilles heel,’ ” she recalled.
Outgoing OSF Executive Director Paul Nicholson stayed on as a consultant to help shepherd an extensive remodeling project that started in November 2014 and cost more than $4 million, OSF officials said.
A 1920s-era building that had served as a parking garage, bowling alley, art school and later an OSF prop, scenery and maintenance facility was transformed into the rehearsal center. Those other OSF operations were relocated to a production building in Talent that was finished in 2013.
The new rehearsal center is named after the late Bill Patton and Richard L. Hay.
Patton, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 83, started as a lighting technician in the 1940s when OSF was an amateur local theater operation. His other roles at the festival included actor and wardrobe assistant before he was tapped to serve as OSF’s first general manager and executive director until his retirement in 1995. He was OSF’s first full-time paid employee.
Actress Shirley Patton, his widow, received a standing ovation during the dedication ceremony.
“Oh, my heart is so full,” she said.
She said her husband would get letters after his retirement from supporters who said OSF should name a building after him. But she said he never showed any interest in that honor.
Bill Patton, however, was interested in seeing Hay, his friend and long-time co-worker, honored.
Fighting back tears, Hay recalled how Bill Patton convinced him to come to Ashland in 1950 to be a lighting assistant — an invitation that changed his life.
Hay rose to become a senior scenic and theater designer who completed William Shakespeare’s canon twice during his decades-long career.
“I’m honored to have my name connected with Bill Patton on this building,” said Hay, who was also given a standing ovation by the crowd.
Artistic Director Bill Rauch said Hay is a bridge between OSF’s past, present and future.
Rauch said having a central building for actors and other staff members to gather for rehearsals will allow artistic cross-pollination and collaboration.
“It changes the equation in terms of the spirit of the work,” he said.
Actress Vilma Silva said OSF’s past system of having rehearsals scattered across various buildings reminded her of family gatherings in her childhood when no one had a big enough house to allow everyone to sit together at a dining table in one room.
“We were balancing our plates everywhere,” she said.
Silva thanked everyone involved in the project.
“Thank you so very much. We love this building,” she said.
Ogden Roemer Wilkerson Architecture of Medford created the plans for the building, and the renovation was carried out by Ashland-based Adroit Construction. The project was made possible by many donations, including from lead donors Helen and Peter Bing, Roberta and David Elliott and The Goatie Foundation, OSF officials said.

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