OSF celebrates Juneteenth

The folks at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival know how to throw a party. As part of its Juneteenth celebration, OSF will feature a concert reading of "OSF Presents: Ameriville," by UNIVERSES, at noon Monday, June 23, in the Angus Bowmer Theatre. UNIVERSES is OSF's company in residence. It is the New York-based ensemble that, in OSF's 2012 season, brought us the multimedia piece "Party People," which examined the rise and fall of the Black Panther and Young Lord parties in the 1960s and 1970s.

At 11 a.m. the same day, a free, interactive, educational Juneteenth pre-show, directed by OSF actor Christiana Clark, will take place on the bricks in front of the Angus Bowmer Theatre. The pre-show is a family-friendly performance featuring OSF company members and will offer live music, dance and physical art. The courtyard can fill up quickly, so come a little early to stake out a good spot on the lawn.

Juneteenth commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States, marking the day on June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger led 2,000 Union soldiers into Galveston, Texas, to enforce the emancipation of slaves. Though President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation became official 21/2; years earlier, on Jan. 1, 1863, Texas and other Confederate states did nothing to enforce the proclamation. So, it was joyous news to the African-Americans in Galveston when Granger arrived to take possession of Texas and read from General Order No. 3 that "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free."

The finally freed slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets. Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year. The event was officially made a Texas state holiday in 1980. As of last year, 43 U.S. states, including Oregon, have recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or special day of observance.

Today, people of all ethnicities and religions often come together to acknowledge a period that shaped the country's history and continues to influence society. Though Juneteenth is less well-known on the West Coast, a number of Oregon cities mark the event with parades, festivals and social gatherings. Over the years, Juneteenth also has become a time to emphasize African-American education and achievements.

OSF has celebrated the date since 1998, when actor Aldo Billingslea, who is from Texas, hosted a fundraising barbecue to help African-American students attend the festival's annual Summer Seminar for High School Juniors. His efforts led to OSF's Juneteenth Scholarship Fund, to which a portion of "Ameriville" ticket sales will be donated. Since 1998, Billingslea's simple fundraiser has grown into a full-on annual celebration with loads of music, performances and a whole lot of people having a grand time.

"Ameriville" examines our country through the lens of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The piece is a 90-minute theatrical exploration of race, class, poverty, immigration and politics that blends hip-hop, poetry, flamenco, standup comedy, music and spoken word. The company includes Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, Gamal Chasten and Ninja (aka William Ruiz). The members of UNIVERSES are talented performers and writers who offer well-researched, thought-provoking and very entertaining theater.

"Ameriville" and the Juneteenth pre-show are part of OSF Presents, a program designed to offer OSF artists an arena to share their art with the public on a larger scale than they may be able to do independently. The artists are made up of company members, Green Show guest artists and playwrights.

Tickets for "Ameriville" are $25 for non-OSF members, $20 for members and $10 for youth. For information or to purchase tickets visit www.osfashland.org/osf-presents.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at decker4@gmail.com.

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