Playing upon the Stage
by Brian Libby
"All the world's a stage," William Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It, but if he were performing in the 21st century, he'd probably take advantage of recent innovations in indoor theater design. In the spirit of the Elizabethan bard, a new building at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland resets the standard for flexibility in repertory theaters.
The "New Theatre," designed by Thomas Hacker Architects of Portland, Oregon, has won the Honor Award for design from the Portland chapter of the American Institute of Architects. As well as giving actors a flexibility Shakespeare never had, this little gem illustrates how contemporary architecture can be a good neighbor in a historic setting.
Dating back to the Chautauqua movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which brought culture and entertainment to rural areas, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) is a well attended, award-winning theater company despite its location in a small town hundreds of miles from the closest big cities.
Its name notwithstanding, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival repertoire now extends far beyond the bard. Until recently, however, the company lacked a flexible, intimate space for staging contemporary productions. The new facility, remarkably, is flexible enough to change the audience configuration from arena-style seating (encircling the stage) to avenue-style seating (audiences on either side of the stage) — and back again — in the course of one day.
As Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night, "If this were play'd upon a stage now, I would condemn it as an improbable fiction." To disassemble and reconfigure a stage and hundreds of seats is no easy task. That's why, even though flexible seating exists in other theaters, it would be rare for it to be changed on a daily basis. >>>
The "New Theatre," designed by Thomas Hacker Architects at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.
Photo: Pete Eckert
The rich wood interior of the theater lobby provides warmth reminiscent of the Northwest Style made famous by Pietro Belluschi.
Photo: Pete Eckert
Click on thumbnail images
to view full-size pictures.