The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is noteworthy for many reasons, not the least of which is its improbable history.
Founded in 1935 during the Depression in an out-of-the-way place, the festival took firm root for reasons that defy economic common sense. A new book, "Images of America: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival," just out to commemorate the festival's 75th anniversary, provides a pictorial documentary of how it all came about.
The slender paperback volume with the trademark sepia-toned cover image of Arcadia Publishing was conceived as a spin-off of Arcadia's "History of Ashland" by Joe Peterson, which also appeared recently in bookstores.
In September of 2008, Arcadia's Pacific Northwest Acquisitions Editor Sara Higginbotham contacted OSF Media Relations Manager Amy Richard looking for someone to do a history of Ashland. In discussing potential names with OSF Archivist Kathleen Leary, Richard saw an opportunity to do a separate volume devoted to the festival.
The only problem was the publisher's April 2009 deadline. By the time the project was contracted, Richard and Leary had less than four months to complete the work.
When asked how many photos they went through, Leary shook her head and said, "thousands." Selecting images that would best portray the festival as it grew and changed was only part of the problem. There were also publisher's requirements to consider. The dimensions of the volume dictated mostly horizontal shots. And once a photo was selected, there was the challenge of accurately identifying actors, staff, and community volunteers going back more than 70 years.
Some of the faces recognizable to locals include Dave Marston and James Giancarlo performing at the Green Show and Arnold Kohnert helping mount a display at the exhibit center. Nationally known personalities such as William Jennings Bryan, Duke Ellington, George Peppard, Ginger Rogers, Stacy Keach and William Hurt also make cameo appearances.
In compiling the history, Richard said, "We chose a chronological format, and tried to highlight community support, how the town grew with the festival." She pointed out that reception of the book demonstrates how locals continue that support. "It's available not only at the Tudor Guild and Bloomsbury, but also in the drug store and the hardware store."
Volumes in Arcadia's "Images of America" series are strictly limited to 128 pages. Text consists of short introductions to each chapter and captions for 180 to 240 black and white photographs.
Some readers may wish for an index or something more in the way of where OSF fits in the broader context of American theater. But these are quibbles. Given the publisher's constraints, the volume succeeds admirably in highlighting critical scenes in the story of how the miracle child of Angus Bowmer became the lifeblood of Ashland.