OSF takes plays on the road

Packing for a trip can be a hassle, but imagine trying to load more than 60 costumes, props and the entire set of a play for a cross-country journey.

Workers at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival crammed all the parts for the play "Equivocation" into a truck, then sent it off for a six-week run at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

"Equivocation" is one of three OSF plays that recently have been sent to other states.

First premiering in 2009 at OSF, "Equivocation" imagines that William Shakespeare is given the uncomfortable task of writing a play promoting the government's official — and questionable — version of a failed Catholic plot to blow up the English parliament.

The play, with its original actors, props and set, is winning rave reviews during its current run in the nation's capital. It opened Nov. 18 and continues through Jan. 1, 2012.

Some of its costume pieces were redesigned. OSF's costume department also replaced several shirts that had worn out during previous stagings of the play in Ashland and Seattle, said OSF Design Associate Nancy Zaremski.

The costumes were sent with copious instructions — from laundering directions for getting stage blood out of particular garments to the amount of time an actor has to quickly change from one costume into another, she said.

One actor in "Equivocation" has 16 costume changes, Zaremski noted.

OSF even sent patterns and extra fabric so a replacement can be made if a costume is damaged or ruined, she said.

There is one traveler's nemesis that OSF doesn't have to deal with — wrinkles.

"We don't really worry about wrinkles as the costumes are steamed and pressed when they are unpacked at the destination theater," Zaremski said.

As for the "Equivocation" set, OSF Scene Shop Construction Supervisor Joe Porto said it was designed — like all OSF sets — to be quickly dismantled and reassembled.

"We build everything to go together and break apart because we're a rotating repertory theater," Porto said, speaking of OSF's annual practice of staging 11 plays in its three theaters.

For the "Equivocation" run in Washington, D.C., workers packed set pieces into a truck, filling in small spaces with costumes and props.

"You want the small items to be evenly distributed throughout the truck. As you're driving across the country and going around curves, you want things to be packed tightly," Porto said. "The goal is to create a tight pack and an efficient pack."

OSF uses a commercial trucking service to transport play pieces, he said.

OSF workers have packing down to a science after years of sending plays to other cities.

In addition to dispatching a truck for "Equivocation," they recently sent off trucks to remount "Ghost Light" at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in January and February 2012.

"American Night" will be brought back to life at two different California theater companies from January into April 2012.

"Equivocation" actors Christine Albright-Tufts and John Tufts rehearsed with their cast mates for three weeks in Ashland before flying out to Washington, D.C.

The married pair said it was surprisingly easy to remember their lines, so cast members worked on delving deeper into the play that they had already performed together more than 100 times.

In describing the differences between Ashland and Washington audiences, both said Ashland crowds love the insider Shakespeare references in the play, while political topics get reactions in the nation's capital.

"Here, in D.C., the play resonates on a much more political level," Albright-Tufts said. "Jokes about balancing the budget, the references to weapons of mass destruction and torture all get huge responses from this crowd."

Tufts said when he quoted an off-color line from a Shakespeare play in "Equivocation" in Ashland in 2009, the audience would go crazy.

"In D.C., I get crickets and an occasional chuckle that I might be mistaking for a cough," he said.

Cast members have noticed that Washington, D.C., audiences dress up to go to the theater.

"Most of our Ashland audience is on vacation, and no one in Ashland ever wears a suit, even to church. So when they go to the theater, they wear whatever they wore rafting that afternoon," Tufts said. "But here people wear suits all the time. They put on ties just to go get a hamburger. So I've been very impressed by the shoes I've seen in the audience."

Tufts said actors are essentially nomads, so he didn't pack much except a suitcase, some winter clothes, and a few personal items to make him feel at home, including his kitchen knife and cutting board.

"Theater housing all over the country always has pretty bad cookware, and I can't do without a good knife and a cutting board," he said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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