Festivals connect sister cities

Ashland has its Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Guanajuato, Mexico, has its Festival Internacional Cervantino — or International Cervantes Festival.

Started in 1972, the International Cervantes Festival began with the staging of short plays by the Spanish novelist and playwright Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

Cervantes' novel, "The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha," is considered a classic of Western literature. Accompanied on his adventures by a slow-witted sidekick, Quixote is best known for his attack on windmills.

Born in 1547, Cervantes was a contemporary of William Shakespeare. Many scholars believe Shakespeare read "Don Quixote," although it appears unlikely that Cervantes read the works of the English playwright.

Meredith Reynolds of Southern Oregon University's School of Business was there in the fall of 1972 when the International Cervantes Festival first started.

Today she coordinates the delivery of SOU's Master in Management program at the University of Guanajuato, but back then, she was a student in the Spanish Department at Southern Oregon College, as SOU was known at the time.

She remembers standing in the rain with everyone from government officials to the woman who sold vegetables in the market, listening to a performance of one of Cervantes' short plays. Some stood bare-headed in the downpour, while others sought meager shelter under newspapers.

The play was performed in Czech, even though most of the people in the audience spoke Spanish. The International Cervantes Festival attracts tourists and performers from all over the world.

Reynolds said the audience knew Cervantes' play so well, they responded in all the right places even though most couldn't speak Czech.

"Here we are, watching a play in another language in the pouring rain and everyone's having a great time," she recalled.

During the International Cervantes Festival, Reynolds saw her first opera, listened to the Vienna Philharmonic and saw the American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. She watched ballet stars from Russia and Cuba.

She said the level and variety of performing arts at Guanajuato's festival are probably unsurpassed by any event in the Western hemisphere.

"Guanajuato just becomes a stage for the fine and performing arts. There are concerts in churches and theatrical performances on the plazas. An esplanade by a museum becomes a staging area for free public concerts," Reynolds said.

With a mix of free and moderately priced performances, people from all social classes get involved, she said.

Reynolds — who grew up in Ashland and lived for six years in Guanajuato — said Ashland and Guanajuato have many similarities, including that both cities have unusual access to the fine and performing arts for their size.

And while the residents of Guanajuato and Ashland sometimes feel that their communities have been taken over by tourists during the International Cervantes Festival and at the height of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Reynolds noted, "Both cities are enormously grateful to have the privilege of hosting these events."

The two cities will have still another connection this summer, when the Oregon Shakespeare Festival will stage "Don Quixote" from June 3 through October 10.

Christopher Acebo, associate artistic director for the Shakespeare Festival, traveled to Guanajuato in October 2008 to see the city come alive with street performances, concerts and theater.

Without giving too much away, Acebo said the Shakespeare Festival will borrow some elements of street theater for its production of "Don Quixote," including the use of everyday household items.

He said the Shakespeare Festival would have liked to take its production of "Don Quixote" on the road to Guanajuato, but with the economic recession, this year is not the time for such an endeavor.

"We hope we can coordinate something in the future," he said.

Actor Armando Duran, who swept up audiences last year with his portrayal of Eddie in Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge" at the Shakespeare Festival, will play Don Quixote.

For more information, visit www.osfashland.org.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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