Ashland's lesser known theater

Peter Alzado works off-Broadway. Way, way, way off Broadway.

Nearly four years ago, he opened Oregon Stage Works, a contemporary small theater in Ashland, a town where Shakespeare is King.

Housed in a remodeled steel works and spotlighting lesser-known, cutting-edge playwrights, the house has often been half-empty.

"To do my theater, it's very prohibitive without a lot of support," Alzado says. "If we're dedicated to classical American works, a literate theater, that kind of goes against the conventional wisdom of what works, which is to do a lot of popular entertainment."

Still, the theater is catching on in Southern Oregon: The theater filled 39 percent of its seats in its first year and 62 percent in the past year. Attendance in that time went from less than 4,000 a year to more than 6,000.

The theater has staged everything from Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" to "Panama" by the little-known American playwright Mike Folie and Michael Frayn's challenging "Copenhagen."

Some have raised questions about Alzado's vision.

"I don't know if a theater can stay true to doing just this certain kind of thing and be financially successful in this environment," says Brandy Carson, a veteran actor who has performed in several OSW plays. "Even (the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) does a lot of crowd-pleasers."

OSW in its first year had an influx of $45,000 contributed by members, foundations and patrons, followed by a second-year drop-off as Alzado concentrated on putting on plays.

Giving has increased again, to $35,500 in contributed income this year. The budget grew about 10 percent this year, to $210,270.

Alzado acted on Broadway and on TV soaps, taught acting at Long Island University and The University of Rochester and was artistic director of Actors' Theatre in Talent for five years.

OSW was born in late 2002 when Alzado's contract as artistic director of Actors' Theatre was not renewed by the theater's board.

Alzado left and founded OSW, putting on plays where he could, from the Ashland Springs Hotel to the Black Sheep restaurant and pub.

"We have devoted followers," Alzado says. "We just need more of them."

One solution may be a more aggressive fundraising effort. OSW has received grants of $5,000 to $12,000 from the Meyer Memorial Trust, the Carpenter Foundation and the Gardner-Grout Foundation.

Ultimately, Alzado said he would like to have a permanent company of actors and technicians in residence.

"It's a stronger way of having a theater," he says. "This way doesn't allow a skill level to develop."

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