Daedalus Project celebrates 20 years

In Greek mythology, Daedalus is known for being the most intricate of craftsmen and for building wings from feathers and wax to save himself and his son by flying from the depths of an elaborate labyrinth. But in Ashland, the name Daedalus represents a different kind of freedom: the hope to help people break free of AIDS.

Monday marked the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 20th annual Daedalus Project. The Daedalus Project began in 1988 as an effort to honor, celebrate and cherish those who suffered or were lost because of a dreadful new disease sweeping the world. In response, festival officials decided to fight back by raising money for a cure.

"The passion came from the loss, and I would never wish to feel that kind of passion or need again," said OSF actor and director James Edmondson of the early drive toward the project.

Edmondson was one of the first founders of the project along with the late Jerry Turner, who was the OSF Artistic Director at the time, and others.

The project began as a variety show. Since no one who wished to perform that first year was turned away, the show contained 48 entries and ran more than five hours in length. The project soon grew into much more than a variety show however, as people began to express their desires to help in more ways than performing.

Soon bake sales, T-shirt sales, art and treasure auctions, a run/walk, a play reading, and raffles became important aspects of the project.

"Not everyone wanted to perform," said Edmondson. "But they still wanted to help."

Last year, the Daedalus Project raised about $60,000 for local and international AIDS projects. The majority of the money raised by the project in given to local organizations. The rest is sent to international projects such as Africare.

"Without our support, local AIDS organizations can have a really tough time finding financial support," said David Dreyfoos, OSF producing director.

Dreyfoos began working on the Daedalus Project his first year at OSF in 1997, and made this year's project his 11th.

"I always feel as though I must be involved in AIDS benefits because it is just so important," said Dreyfoos.

This year hundreds of volunteers from the OSF Company and the community of Ashland donated time, efforts, treasures and money to the Daedalus cause. The project began on Friday, with Daedalus T-shirt and raffle ticket sales on the OSF bricks. On Sunday morning, a five kilometer walk/run raised even more money for the cause. Beginning at noon on Monday, a bake sale, as well as an arts and treasures sale, was held in the lobby of the Angus Bowmer Theater, and altogether raised more than $10,000.

At 2 p.m. in the Angus Bowmer Theater itself, a reading of "In The Continuum" was presented by the festival's own Gwendolyn Mulamba and Greta Oglesby. The play, which was written by New York University graduate students Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter, centers on the parallel lives of two women who both learn that they have HIV. Although one lives in Zimbabwe and the other in Los Angeles, their difficulties in coping with the news of contracting the virus as well as their struggle to decide whether to speak the truth to their families about their diagnosis, makes their stories so similar that the miles between them disappear.

In the evening, a special Greenshow presented the local folk band "Hamfist." After their performance, the Daedalus Variety Show opened in the outdoor Elizabethan Stage to a full house.

The show began with a celebratory dance, called "For Libby," dedicated to retiring OSF Artistic Director Libby Appel. When the tribute was over, Appel was greeted onstage by a standing ovation. Ray Porter, the master of ceremonies for the evening, presented the many acts of dancers, singers, comedians, and musicians.

Before intermission, the infamous "Underwear Parade" commenced, and many departments of the festival flaunted their under garments for the cause. The "Hot Cop" House Staff raised $2,800, the most money of any department.

The evening and the project ended with "The Witnessing." Members of the OSF Company and then the audience members themselves shared who they stood in honor of that evening. Candles flickered in the darkened theater as hundreds of people stood in silence and remembrance.

"It's a phenomenal day," said Dreyfoos.

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