'Don Quixote' props go to auction

Playgoers who loved "Don Quixote" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival will get a chance to take a piece of it home by bidding on 15 of the play's animals — sheep, birds, geese, an owl, a vulture, a donkey — on display at the Tudor Guild gift shop.

The blind auction of props is a first for the festival and is drawing considerable bidding interest, says guild president-elect Betty Van Trump, adding that OSF theater-lovers seem to fancy the imaginative objects both as art and as enduring pieces of the festival's history.

"The interest has been fantastic. It's a major topic of conversation around here," says Van Trump. She said a large owl and menacing, red-eyed vulture are getting the most attention.

In the spirit of the manic title character, who is clearly "living in his own world," the puppets are all made of found objects and recycled materials, notes shop manager Raj Kamaran.

"They're being coveted — that's a good word for it," Kamaran says. "We've got 50 bids so far."

Bids will be accepted at the shop, on the bricks in the OSF courtyard, through Nov. 2, with winners notified on Nov. 7. All money raised will go to benefit the festival.

Volunteers at the Tudor Guild are "hot" bidders, says Patt Rao, who bid on the owl and a goose and notes, "You bid your highest and best and hope for the best."

Although guild members can't know the level of the closed bidding, Rao says bidding starts at $25 and that figure is "way out of the question."

Sunny Anderson, volunteer coordinator, says, "They're one of the more creative things I've ever seen — and Don Quixote had a very creative imagination. If I win, I plan to put a bird in my garden in summer and bring it in for the winter."

Prop master Paul James Martin said the pieces are especially appealing because from more than a few rows back, they appear as dazzling pieces of expensive art, but up close, they are clearly an assemblage of common, cheap stuff.

"Everything is made of found objects," says Martin. "That was the theme the director decided on, all costumes, armor, everything. Don Quixote's armor is made mostly of flattened tin cans."

Seven sheep are made of old, stuffed tube socks from festival actors, stapled to a plastic drum — and when Don Quixote, thinking them enemy soldiers, "kills" them, they flip on their sides, revealing red socks, for blood. Their heads are counterweighted to bob up and down and from the audience, says Martin, it's very effective.

The three birds are made of feathers artfully cut from milk cartons and affixed, along with myriad white buttons, to a Styrofoam body. They are the smallest of the objects at about 3 feet long. They were all designed by Lynn Jeffries.

The three geese are decked in cable-knit sweaters and get wheeled along by broomsticks. The vulture is made from lengths of old bike tires, with carpet pad for a ruff.

A 5-foot-tall owl is cobbled together with gardening gloves and garden cultivator "claws," then sprayed lightly with dark paint for that lived-in look. Its wings spread and fold.

"These are pieces of art. The ingenuity and artistry of these puppets is wonderful. We have a place picked out for the owl, if we win it," says Rao, adding that it will be in a prominent spot in the hallway where it's sure to be a great conversation starter.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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